Updated: Nov 15, 2022
Guest Blog: Mary Welsh
At What Age Do You Learn Gratitude and the Value and Impact of Giving Back?
How does your upbringing and the challenges in your life impact your expression of gratitude and appreciation in life? How does it affect you, your family, your friends, and those within your community?
As a young child with six siblings, I learned the importance of sharing and appreciating what we had early in life. My mom was the strength we all relied upon as my dad passed when I was 12, which led to changes in our home life. As she worked, I watched my younger siblings, thus developing my caretaking skills at a young age. Although things were tough, mom always encouraged us to help others, take less whenever possible, share with family, friends, and those in need in our community, and always express gratitude.
As a young single mom, I taught my children the same respect for being appreciative, resilient, caring, helping others, and expressing gratitude in their everyday activities. It takes nothing to smile and say hello, hold open a door, thank your server, helps when you see someone struggling, and spend a moment conversing with someone to brighten their day and give back to the community. I taught my kids to ring the bell for Salvation Army, wrap presents for Cops for Kids, share their goodies with their friends or classmates, cut the neighbor’s grass and shovel their snow, and appreciate and be thankful for what they have and realize someone else always has less. Show gratitude in all you do; it is the right thing to do.
Challenges in life teach us different lessons. The loss of my daughter Susie five years ago has impacted me, our family, those who knew her, and those who have learned of her through our books and nonprofit Susie Q’s Kids. Susie had a lifetime of illness but always smiled and looked for the positive in everyone she touched. She spent months in the hospital with numerous health situations but made friends with the doctors, nurses, assistants, cleaning team, transporters, volunteers, and patients. Her radiant smile would put others at ease, make them comfortable, and her attention would make others grateful for their relationship, whether for a moment or a lifetime.
How is it possible to move on after losing someone so precious? How can you find hope, healing, and gratitude in the situation?
Susie was 31 years of age. In her lifetime, she always gave to others in time, funding, or in-kind donations. She baked goods and donated clothes to the local shelters. She offered to tutor students struggling with their studies to build their confidence. She treated everyone as if they were the most important when talking with them and followed up to ensure they were OK. She always took selfies of herself with others, documenting their importance. She was grateful for her relationships with her siblings, nieces and nephews, grandparents, extended family, and mom and dad.
When we lost her, how could we heal? How could we find hope? How could we find anything to be grateful for? It was not easy and still challenges us. Her loss left a vast chasm of grief, uncertainty, and loss. Her birthday arrived two months after she passed; what should we do? We gathered at our home; the pool was open, the barbeque was grilling, and about 75-80 showed up to celebrate her life. It was not a pity party; we gathered and did what she did in life; we helped each other grieve and helped others by creating comfort bags for kids in foster care. She had a young friend named Felicia and always thought it was wrong that she only had a few items. We honored these two ladies.
That afternoon, family and friends took their kids shopping to buy things for other kids not as fortunate to show they cared about them and were grateful for what they had in life. As a group, we created 50 duffle bags so complete that it took two people to hold them together so a third person could zip it shut. The laughter, the sharing of stories, the hope, the healing, and the sense of gratitude filled the air.
We took the bags to Big Family of Michigan, a foster care agency, and were gratified for what we were dealing with and the contributions we made to other children. The Executive Director expressed his delight that the bag would not help only one child but numerous children as he was going to use them as door openers to other Department of Human Service offices to share his mission and help multiple families and children, gratitude on steroids😊 Ultimately, a child and family would be grateful as recipients of the bags, we wanted to brighten and inspire their day.
I laughed as I was a broken woman who simply missed her daughter and did not know how to fill my time. During that first year of grief, I went for therapy, and my therapist encouraged me to write my story as I had a unique outlook and it could help others. I had journaled and written snippets that year, which helped me focus on how to write a book. In reflection, I realized I always approached life with the cup more than half full; I look for the positive, whatever the challenge is.
The Four Aspects of Positive Reflection
In writing about my grief journey, Journey into the Looking Glass; finding Hope After the Loss of Loved Ones, I realized that I used this technique throughout my life regardless of the challenge, gaining something, losing something, whether it be a person, pet, place, or thing. I coined the process:
The Four Aspects of Positive Reflection: to Remember, Reflect, Recreate and Relate.
We must remember the person, pet, place, or thing, making the best of the situation and the memories involved. When looking at a person's loss, we often put the person on a pedestal; we are all human and have our strengths and weaknesses. None of us are perfect; thus, placing them on a pedestal is unrealistic and harms our healing process. My daughter Susie and I were not always at our best, but we were loved without exception.
What impact did this person, pet, place, or thing have on us and us on them? Looking back on our journey together, we can reflect on those critical and ordinary moments to appreciate and feel gratitude for their impact on our life. Susie always told me, sent me notes, and wrote on Facebook how much she loved and appreciated me and was grateful that I was her caretaker, cheerleader, advocate, and best friend.
Susie taught me how to be present, to appreciate and be thankful even though it hurt, she missed out on gatherings and essential moments, but she created her own to make everyone know how special they were. The Christmas before she passed, she had to make no-sew blankets for all her aunts, uncles, and cousins; she wanted them to feel extra special and show her gratitude for their support and love.
Embrace your day, as you are the “Author of Your Day” daily. Each day is a new chapter; you can start it on a positive note and put it to bed at night in preparation for a new day. Many call it a new normal; we have new normals as we progress through life and the challenges it presents. Take a look at your perspective; changing it slightly can be the difference between going down the rabbit hole of despair or finding a positive outlook.
When my daughter’s fifth anniversary was approaching, my husband told me to flip my perspective as I struggled. After reflecting, we talked about the 6,000 kids that have received comfort bags, how we have written four books, become Community Partner of the Year for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP), and other achievements. Although Susie died from Sepsis, we feel it is essential to address our youth's physical, emotional, social, and mental health: "It’s OK not to be OK.”
This phase is three prongs: to practice self-care, help others, and give back to the community.
It is important to practice self-care as it is necessary to find balance in life. In my journal, I ask two questions to help you find balance.
What did you do for yourself today?
What did you do for someone else?
To help others, I help with my books and speaking. It is my way of Weaving Susie’s story and mine forward. We can help others, heal ourselves and find hope in their situation. It involves looking beyond yourself to help others and create a sense of alignment and purpose.
Giving back involves doing something in the community through sponsorship, donating time or in-kind donations, or simply offering your support. We have taken something tragic and devastating to find ways to help others and inspire other kids. We help others through our nonprofit Susie Q’s Kids, which provides comfort bags to kids in need in hospitals/health situations, foster care, foster care, autism centers, schools, and grief centers.
Susie Q’s Kids is grateful to those that help us create the bags, and the kids are grateful for them.
Susie Q’s Kids' mission includes three pillars:
to support local nonprofits with comfort bags for the kids in their programs,
to involve “Kids in Helping Kids” and
to brighten and inspire the lives of kids in need through our comfort bag program (panda bear, blanket, socks, a bag of activity items like coloring books, crayons, colored pencils, UNO cards, playdoh or silly putty, cars, stickers…) and some hygiene bags and other sensory items (fidget spinners, poppers, squishy and stress balls,…)
Gratitude can provide a passion and purpose in life; what are you grateful for?
JOIN US NOV 15, 2022, at 6:30 pm MST for an incredible lesson of gratitude!