And Sorrow Begat Gratitude

In my home culture this is the season we count our blessings and take a moment to say thanks for  all the good and wonderful things in our lives.  But sometimes Thanksgiving falls smack in the middle of sorrow.  What then?

In my first 40+ years I had lost relatives and said goodbye to dear friends, but had been spared the Sorrow that shows up every day – unwanted, unwelcome, and unrelenting.   Then my mom showed undeniable signs of Alzheimer’s.  As providence would have it, I was on a year of home assignment, living near my mom and dad, as we started down this unfamiliar path of a long goodbye.

The symptoms and stages my mom experiences have been textbook Alzheimer’s, but there’s no normalizing these things when it’s your mom.  When the most generous, kind person you know becomes suspicious and angry.  When the person you could always count on to faithfully cheer you on can no longer show up for the game.  When the person who nurtured and loved you your whole life can’t remember your name.

Sorrow kept showing up in the morning and wouldn’t leave though I tried to shoo her out the door and refused to let her win.  Until I could not.  All the options had been exhausted and I was left helplessly watching my mom slip into confusion, anxiety, and well, nothingness.  Then Sorrow came in like a flood, carrying all my strength and motivation into murky, muddied waters.

I didn’t want this long goodbye.  I didn’t want my ever-faithful dad to endure all the trauma and heartache a caregiver experiences as his sweetheart leaves him bit by bit.  And I sure didn’t want to come face to face with my own disappointing lack of strength, my profound capacity for foolishness, my own frailty.  My preference was escape, to stumble down a path of denial and cowgirl toughness.

But once I accepted the invitation to walk with Sorrow, the long goodbye morphed into a journey of gratitude.  Sorrow led me down paths of memories of the richness of all my mom had poured into me.  I remembered my mom stroking my hair as I laid my toddler head in her lap while she worshipped.  I remembered snippets of wise words and gentle laughter and grace-filled admonitions.  And most of all, I recalled her ordinary, everyday acts of extraordinary, selfless love of which I was a primary beneficiary.

Sorrow instructed me to pay attention as my mom continues to teach me, this time how to live in the moment because frankly, that’s all she has. Loss shifted to gratitude.  Lament became praise.  Longings to understand changed to longings to just be with my mom on this journey.

Sorrow begat gratitude

Sorrow did something else for me, marking my soul with deeper, richer understanding of the ways of the Man of Sorrows, who is well acquainted with grief.  And for that, I am grateful beyond measure.


Where in your journey are you learning to let Sorrow lead you to gratitude?


Feature Photo Credit: danna (curious tangles) via Compfight cc


  1. Holly Dove November 26, 2013

    Still struggling to find gratitude in the sorrow of an eighteen year old brother killed in a car accident a year ago. He was only a month away from coming to visit us for several months, my kids’ first chance to really get to know him, and my chance to get to know him as an adult. Gone. Gone. So senseless.

    Haven’t really even gotten a chance to sorrow for our sweet baby, miscarried in October.

    I have gratitude for many things though, don’t get me wrong. Just not through these.

  2. Patty Stallings November 26, 2013

    Dear Holly, I can’t even guess at what you are experiencing. May the Tender Shepherd guide you through this valley of sorrow and fellowship with you in the deep places.

  3. Amy Young November 26, 2013

    Holly, we are told to be grateful in every situation, not for every situation. I’m truly sorry that your kids won’t get to know your brother — my uncle died years and years ago when he was 19 and my mom was 23 (it was a car accident and he fell asleep). Similar to you and your brother, he was just becoming old enough for them to know each other as adults. That was over 50 years ago — he was my only uncle. Your children will grow up hearing the stories, as my sisters and I did. But it’s not the same. And a miscarriage. I’m so sorry.

    1. Patty Stallings November 27, 2013

      Holly, I’ve been thinking of you at various moments throughout the day today.

      1. Holly November 28, 2013

        Thank you, Patty. Not all days are as low as the one when I commented. God gives grace to keep on, and shows us joys amidst our sorrows.

  4. Danielle Wheeler November 27, 2013

    Patty, you honor your mother today. Aching that you have to walk through this long good-bye, but the way you are walking it is clearly a gift to her. And you grace the rest of us by sharing here. Thank you.

    1. Patty Stallings November 27, 2013

      Thank you, Danielle. I am so grateful to have had a mom who has loved me so well. I only hope I can reflect that depth of love and grace to others!

  5. Morielle November 27, 2013

    Oh, Patty, those last three paragraphs are so so beautiful. I have not had to walk with Sorrow yet, but my grandfather who was there with and for me throughout my childhood has just been diagnosed with Parkinsons. It hit me hard when I visited the states last summer and saw him so changed. I will treasure your words (especially those about remembering all the gifts he gave me, and praying to share them with others), and the words of and about our Lord, who is indeed well aquainted with grief. Thank you.

    1. Patty Stallings November 27, 2013

      Morielle, I am sorry to hear about your grandfather. I love your heart to want to share with others the gifts he has given you.

  6. Jennifer November 27, 2013

    Somehow walking with sorrow seems more real to me than anything else right now. One step at a time. One day at a time. I am not going to deny for a moment that it has been and is challenging and right now is more than a little overwhelming and yet there somehow still is a sense of gratitude and awareness that every step I take I do not walk alone, and everything has worked to bring me to just where I am today, to be just who I am.

    1. Patty Stallings November 27, 2013

      Jennifer, there is something about “sharing in the fellowship of suffering” that is unique to walking paths of sorrow, isn’t there? I’d love to hear how God has met you along your path.

  7. Elizabeth Legendre November 27, 2013

    “But sometimes Thanksgiving falls smack in the middle of sorrow.” I understand this thought. My grandmother died on Thanksgiving day three years ago. It’s a bittersweet time of the year. I have to admit I’ve never looked at sorrow this way. I’ve always tried to disassociate Thanksgiving with the sorrow. But I can also understand treasuring and learning from the moments you still have. I’m trying to learn to do that in life right now.

    1. Patty Stallings November 27, 2013

      May the God of all comfort mark this Thanksgiving for you in a special way, Elizabeth, as you remember your grandmother. Thank you for sharing with us.

  8. Amy Young November 27, 2013

    Patty, I loved this the first time I read it and I love it now because it speaks to the reality behind the pretty table. As I type this, my folks are at the doctor getting the results on the latest CAT scan and working out the next steps for treatment. We have talked often these last few weeks about how rich our lives have been and how much it STINKS to get old. Both are true. Sometimes I love the tension of this world as it calls me to be better. And sometimes I get tired and just want to lay down 🙂

    1. Morielle November 28, 2013

      I get tired too, Amy. So many little and big ways our Lord is working to make us better, sometimes I just wanna ask: can I have a break?

    2. Patty Stallings November 28, 2013

      Amy, thank you for the reminder that both can be true at the same time – and often are. Your phrase “the reality behind the pretty table” is so descriptive.
      By the way, I am thankful for YOU!!!

  9. Jessica Hoover November 27, 2013

    Oh friend, this hit too close to home for me right now. I have a dear aunt, who has been like a grandmother and mother all wrapped in one to me has been struggling for a few years with Alzheimer’s. In recent months it has progressed very quickly. It is heartbreaking and in the last couple of days I’ve been really coming to terms with losing her in the near future. It is an ugly disease and one that I am finding it difficult to find gratitude in. Thank you for these words and the reminder that sorrow is a place to find gratitude of the Man of Sorrows.

    1. Patty Stallings November 28, 2013

      Jessica, I’m sorry you and your family are experiencing this. A thought I often return to is that there is a part of my mom that Alzheimer’s can never touch. I am convinced the Gentle Shepherd is leading her through this valley in ways I cannot see, and there is coming a day when He will welcome her into His home where all tears are dried and sorrow is vanquished.

  10. Sarah November 27, 2013

    This was good for me to read tonight. Tomorrow, November 28th, is Thanksgiving, but it also marks the third anniversary of my beloved grandpa’s death. It also was my now 3 year old’s due date… but she was born a month early, here, in a developing country. Three years ago, I had such a strange mix of joy and sorrow as I rejoiced in God’s blessing of a new baby and His protection over her, but was also grieving the loss of my grandpa and that I was too far away to have said good-bye or to go to his funeral. Over time, I grew to be so thankful for how all of the events unfolded. While I was so sad that my grandpa never got to meet our daughter in person, I was thankful that her early birth (although it was scary!) allowed for him to know her name, see photos, and even give her his own nickname. God worked it all out in his perfect timing and has revealed this to me in a way that now, three years later, I can rejoice and give Him thanks!

    1. Patty Stallings November 28, 2013

      Sarah, I imagine you as a carrier of hope.
      Thank you for sharing this journey with us!

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