I believe people are inherently grateful.  The kind of grateful that’s embedded deep within the DNA of our cells. The kind of grateful that’s effortless, not forgotten even when memory fails.

Love up a baby and he will stop crying. Tell a child she can go out to play and she jumps for joy. Watch a couple deep in love and notice the way they look into each other’s eyes, the non-verbal gratitude of their joy. Lovely.

Inner radiance emanates from the feeling of gratitude. The givers and receivers both light up.

When my mom was deep into the later stages of Alzheimer’s, she needed much support. My siblings and I would take turns taking care of her, helping her dress, wash, brush her teeth, eat, go to the bathroom.  We’d entertain her and search for activities that would keep her spirit alive.

"In the end, maybe it's wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices." - Elizabeth Gilbert

It felt like a never-ending depletion of energy as the disease progressed and the demands increased. At the time, I felt anything but grateful. I can only imagine how it must have felt for my mom, the recipient of the service of her children, helpless in almost all aspects of her life, except for the thoughts trapped within her.

The switch from giving to receiving, from frustration to gratitude came to me when I least expected it. After one particularly exhausting day of meeting my mom’s needs, as I was helping her into her adult pull-ups and pajamas, she looked at me and whispered, “Thank you for taking care of me." To my surprise she found the words to express her appreciation, words that had been buried deep within her.

Even had she not been able to conjure up the words, her eyes expressed her gratefulness. I just needed to pause a moment to see it, receive it and feel it. The gratitude had been there all along.

I wrapped her in my arms and allowed myself to be the recipient of her gratitude. Rescued from my river of sadness, I realized that she was the giver, not me. Her gratitude filled up my own heart with love and softness. The veil of darkness lifted. I needed to feel the gratefulness from a new perspective, accessing my own cellular memory of receiving and thus activating gratitude for loving someone so much that serving was a blessing rather than a curse.

My mom died two and a half years ago and her words echo within me.  “Thank you for helping me.” In the words of St. Francis, “It is in giving that we receive." Thank you is a prayer and a blessing for both the giver and the receiver. Lovely.

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Teresa Oefinger is a middle school science teacher and Personal and Professional Development Coach who believes understanding and addressing ones whole self is essential to living a joyful life. She has been happily married for 32 years and is the mother of two adult daughters who inspired her column called Help! Parenting Teens in the Ark Newspaper at Tiburon, California from 2005 to 2009. She blogs on issues of Whole Life Living here.

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