Finding gratitude in pain

I’m not a praying kind of person and yet a few years ago, when my mom, aunt, uncle, sister, and I all bore witness as my grandmother took one last deep gasping breath, I found my favorite Jewish prayer bubbling up from within me. I think of it as Judaism’s gratitude prayer; it says, in essence, “I’m grateful to be alive to witness this moment.”

I wondered at the appearance of a prayer that is typically used in moments of joy. I could make the argument that there is a certain sad relief, a certain mournful joy, that comes at the passing of a person whose body was nearly at the 100 year mark while the personality and intellect we had known had ceased to appear years before.

I think there was something more to it, though, something related to awe. We often ascribe and notice awe at the moment of a person’s birth, their tiny bodies delicate, their new minds ripe, their lives tabula rasas on which anything might be written. Our fear and sadness often keeps us from noticing the same call to awe in the event of a death and the way a person transform into a body while whatever it is that animates them transforms from what we knew to what we cannot know. Not yet.

It is death that makes life precious.

We tend to pair our gratitude with joy. This evoked a good feeling and so I am grateful. What if, instead, we paired our gratitude with the opportunity to engage with the wholeness of these precious lives of ours?