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Mental Health
fall 2021

Facing Grief With Gratitude

Learning to Be Thankful for the Little Things Can Help Us Through the Hard Times
Written by: Qaadirah Abdur-Rahim

Last year, I unexpectedly found myself deep in grief after losing my father to COVID-19. Hundreds of thousands experienced the same journey. Yet, it was painstakingly personal and felt more isolating than being quarantined.

At the time, I was CEO of the Future Foundation, a nonprofit working to protect and support youth in historically marginalized Atlanta communities. A lot of people were depending on my leadership; withdrawing was not an option. But answering the question how do we live life with trauma without being swallowed up by emotions plagued my consciousness.

I realized I had a choice, to either wallow in my grief or find something positive in this experience. In that moment, I realized gratitude can get us through dark times. 

I’m not talking about a Pollyannish outlook, but an authentic expression that keeps one humble and creates positive energy that changes homes and workplaces and heals communities. It’s the thing that helped a daughter process the sudden loss of her father and re-energized a community activist.

At the intersection of grief, fear and loss, my gratitude practice was born. I realized the treasure of having my father witness my marriage just mere months before his passing. That memory brought more reminders of how his influence shaped me and how his legacy of community activism lives and breathes in me still.

I learned authentic gratitude requires intentionality and simplicity. In the process, I discovered these four steps:
Practice reflection
Recognize relationships and moments that bring peace and joy. Seek nature. In the silent spaces of those moments, think deeply about positively reframing negative thoughts. Doing this builds mental resilience through gratitude and illuminates your internal light even in the darkest of times.

Activate grace

When you recognize grace and the many ways that it shows up, start saying thank you for the smallest and largest things. Acknowledge when grace has been granted to you—and be thankful. Being able to recognize grace in tragedy helped me move forward.

Apply daily

Practicing authentic gratitude means doing routine things to keep it forefront. Spreading positivity and kindness is important to my daily practice. One simple thing that I do is to end every email with the words “In gratitude.”

Make adjustments

Celebrating gratitude is not always easy. The everyday stresses of life can make us forget how grace abounds. Recognize when you fall short and embrace self-compassion. Though we may fall down, let’s not stay there.

Qaadirah Abdur-Rahim is Chief Equity Officer for the City of Atlanta and Executive Director of One Atlanta. A thought leader and status quo disruptor, she transformed her life through education and is now using what she learned to heal communities broken by inequities.