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COMMENTARY: June brings condolences and thanks

COMMENTARY: June swirls the dial on our memory banks. The trick is to stop forgetting, start acknowledging and then find ways to metabolize the pain. With prayers of condolences and thanksgiving.

In his book, "Thanks!" the world's pre-eminent authority in the science of gratitude research, Robert Emmons writes: "Recall that two of the primary obstacles to being grateful are: No. 1. Forgetfulness and No. 2. Lack of mindful awareness.

Forgetfulness. That human tendency. We forget our benefactors, we forget to take time to count our blessings, and we forget the many ways in which our lives are made easier because of the efforts of others. Awareness is a pre-condition for gratitude: we must have noticed whatever we are to be thankful for – we cannot be thankful for something of which we are unaware. Therefore, we need to remind ourselves and to become aware."

Awareness is a precondition for gratitude. You have to have noticed the thing in order to remember it. Sounds so obvious and simple, but the facts are: if we were looking the other way, or out of the room or distracted by what was happening in another chapter of our lives, we can't remember that thing. If we were unaware or if it was not directly relevant, we forget about it.

For me, June has always been a swirl of grief and gratitude. I know that with pain, there are moments of relief and also some profound joys may rise. June is the month when both of my parents and our daughter Angela were born. June is the month when both of my parents and my brother-in-law, Walter, died. June is my personal month of a pendulum swing between joy and sadness. Gratitude is the emotion that bridges a heart between memories and emotions. 

The past is a file folder of reflections, and over time, we can revisit past events, re-open doors to rooms that may have been sealed and shrouded in mystery and misery. Sometimes, years pass before we decide to unpack a memory. We are vulnerable because the memory may contain pains we had chosen to forget. Acknowledging the past through a lens of gratitude can help to dislodge the memories that swirl with feelings of sadness, joy, celebration, and loss.

Robert Emmons describes past events that were emotionally charged, unpleasant or haunting as "open memories". (Emmons, 2013 Gratitude Works! Page 142) An open memory could be a romantic rejection, the loss of a job or an academic failure. Perhaps the memory is about a betrayal of trust, a theft, a sexual transgression, an emotional abuse or an instance of physical violence. Perhaps the memory is the story of some horrific ordeal or a beloved place, now destroyed. 

Open memories stay fresh and bubble to the surface easily. Sometimes we keep revisiting an open memory without finding any solace or resolution. The science says that gratitude can help, even when the pain is profound, and the wounds are oozing.

This week, we heard about the discovery of the remains of the 215 children in a residential school yard in Kamloops. The children died – by accident, by neglect, by abuse and indifference – while being "cared for." Canada's residential school system is a heartbreaking and painful story. This narrative remains an open memory and festering wound.

The first step to healing is to acknowledge the pain and feel ashamed. Locally, flags are flying at half-mast and candles are being lit. The Town of Banff writes: "We grieve for all Indigenous children who never made it back to their homes and use this tragic reminder to encourage all Canadians to take time to remember."

June swirls the dial on our memory banks. The trick is to stop forgetting, start acknowledging and then find ways to metabolize the pain. With prayers of condolences and thanksgiving.

With the full power of positive thinking, grit, open-mindedness and genuine gratitude, Lorraine's book is now on the desk of an editor. Launch date: Fall 2021. To learn more about  Grassroots Gratitude, contact lorraine@grassrootsgratitude.ca and follow her on Instagram at: lorraine_widmer_carson