Transforming loss into gratitude this Thanksgiving

This is my first Thanksgiving without my mom but as the holiday approaches I feel such gratitude — not only because she was a wonderful mother but because of how I believe she’s doing right now.

As I’ve mentioned here before, my mom’s last couple of years weren’t her best. She would tell me all the time that she just didn’t feel like herself.

As it turned out, some of that may have been because her cancer had returned, even though none of her tests had shown it. But it was more than that; my mom didn’t feel like the person she’d been all her life.

Anxious days, restless nights

Her resilience, humour, even her faith, seemed to have deserted her. In their wake were anxious days and restless nights full of worry and fear.

That is not to say that my mom didn’t experience moments of joy with family or friends, but something in behind that temporary happiness, was missing.

After I returned home from her memorial service, I thought about how upset she’d been and I prayed that she was feeling better.

Then one night as I was doing that, I had a very strong sense of her calm, secure and confident presence. I knew that she was content and happy. The stress of the last few years had evaporated.

Temagami Trail, c. M. Romig Dawson (my mom) pastel, 1997

It seems incorrect to call this my first Thanksgiving without my mom because in some ways it doesn’t seem like she’s gone. It seems like she moved and lives somewhere else, some place I can’t reach by phone.

But I know she’s fine and that’s why I’m grateful. My mom is herself again.

In fact, that is the idea that drives BrattyKathy — to really live is to be fully yourself, no fear, no apologies, no holding back.

Happy Thanksgiving, Mom.

c 2014 Kathy Barthel

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Is what you are thinking right now, helping you?

When I got back to my parents’ house the day my mom passed away, I saw several little notes she had posted around the house. There was one on a kitchen cupboard door and another on her bedside table. They all said, “Is what you are thinking right now, helping you?”

My mom was not herself the last couple of years. When we talked on the phone she would often replay, over and over, negative stories from the past — stories of hurt, disappointment or regret.

Nothing was ever resolved; she’d just relive the same negative thoughts and feelings every time.

Is what you are thinking right now, helping you?

When she would start talking like that during our phone calls, I would often ask her if what she was saying was helping. Was it making her feel better?

I wanted my mom to stop and recognize what she was doing to herself. I wanted to help her break the pattern.

I suggested that she write that question out as a note to herself, and put it up around the house wherever she would most easily see it. That way, whenever her thoughts took a dive, she’d be nudged to replace them with something more positive.

Seeing those handwritten notes for the first time, with the words “Kath’s idea” in brackets, was a bittersweet reminder of how hard my mom tried to overcome a habit many of us have.

We play negative thoughts or experiences over and over again in our minds without even realizing it. Thoughts like, ‘I’m not good enough…’ or ‘I can’t do that..’ or ‘They’ll never hire me…’ Or maybe it’s an event that hurt you long ago, but you just can’t stop thinking about it.

Negative thoughts expand 

It really is true that what you think about, expands. If you wake up in the morning with a negative thought or memory — and don’t get rid of it — it will spread out like a glob of toxic sludge. 

It will fill up large parts of your day and suck the energy right out of you. And if you’re telling yourself you can’t do something or things won’t work out, that is exactly what will happen.

Being a brat is about ripping the rug out from under those negative thoughts and ditching them, before they have a chance to spread.

You can break negative thought patterns

You can reprogram your thoughts. It only takes about 21 days to form a new habit. You just have to do the new thing — consistently — for 21 days and you’ll begin to see change.

Mom and me in front of Tom Thomson shack, McMichael Gallery, Kleinburg Ontario

(Me and my mom, the artist and poet, Muriel Stewart Romig Dawson)

So starting today, whenever you realize you’re thinking something toxic, do what my mom did.

Ask yourself, “Is what I am thinking right now, helping me?” If it isn’t, replace that negative thought, immediately, with something positive.

Do that for the next 21 days and let me know how it goes. I’ll be doing the same, so we can check up on each other.

Brats have to stick together.;)

c 2014 Kathy Barthel