Thank You, John, For Sharing Gratitude

 

By Lisa Parker and Emily Skinner

Lisa Parker, is a retired teacher, and continues to conduct workshops and mentors in the education arena. She lives in Fairfield, California with her husband David. Loves being a grandma, hiking, gardening and all things in nature.

Emily Skinner, is a busy mom of 4 and puts her degree in Communication Design to good use in homeschooling (during Covid) her children, Amelia 6, Juliet 5, Wyatt 3 and her current foster bab 1. She lives in Dixon California with her husband Austin, building a beautiful life of service.

 

Deeper than the act of kindness, more than a word of thanks, is the sincere feeling of undeniable, unbridled gratitude. That is really just it: a feeling, the longing to express beyond words what the heart or soul is feeling. My name is Lisa, and together with my daughter Emily, I would like to share the profound feelings of gratitude we both have about life, how we share it, and how we show it. We dedicate the process to my brother John, Emily’s uncle.

For me (Lisa) it started by being the oldest sibling in a family of four children. My youngest brother John, five years younger than I am, was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy at the age of six. His strength, acceptance, perseverance, and thankfulness for life has been my biggest inspiration. He never complained as his body failed him daily. He made everyone around him feel supported, listened to, accepted, and happy. He never walked past the age of 9, and never breathed on his own after the age of 25. He lived a full and far-too-short life, until he passed away at the age of 42. He touched so many lives in a profound way, especially ours. He was grateful to be alive and to experience life in an uncommon way. He loved everyone he met deeply, openly, and freely. His lessons were simple: Do not stress about things that do not matter, and most things do not matter. Love unconditionally, don’t waste precious energy, look at things from different perspectives, be humbly grateful for life, and pass that on.

Each day I am reminded of his spirit, to be grateful for life, for the moment I am in, and what I am experiencing. The easiest way for me to set this in motion is to start with something as simple as breathing — especially breathing. Since gratitude is a feeling, breathing is a natural way to slow down and become aware of the moment of feeling breath, then take the next breath with intention, and feel grateful for this simple act of life. This act was denied to my brother, as a machine was necessary to do his breathing for a large part of his life. This was not something he feared, nor was it something toward which he held any resentment. Instead, he was truly and honestly grateful for the machine. He set the example for us that everything in life presents a choice to be grateful or not.

When my children were born, they also were touched by their uncle’s life. They often wrote of his courage, his spirit, and his love. In their stories, poems, and essays, they gave credit to him as they learned to not waste their lives. Their teenage years were not difficult in our house and I give their Uncle John credit for this. I often felt like I had a secret parenting superpower in him and that he was a co-parent to them in many ways. It was not easy seeing him dependent upon machines, but his smile and determination were palpable and were translated and woven into all of our lives. I know my brother’s impact was great. It was not always easy or fun, and at times it was hard to be around him. It was hard to look at the future; hard to imagine at any time he could be gone. However, in the end, the net effect was still gratitude.

As my children have grown and are thriving with families of their own, they carry their Uncle John’s superpower with them. I am grateful to see this love of life within them and the partners they have chosen.

Being a grandparent is a role I cherish. The joy, magic, and depth of love within my grandchildren is the good stuff. I love getting to share with them about their great uncle and his legacy. Since they were little I have practiced gratitude with them in a few very simple but powerful ways. When they sleep over, and we have the quiet special time before bedtime, I have them close their eyes and feel their breath and their tummies going up and down. Then we talk about their day, and what they are grateful for. We breathe, share, relax, and we talk about what it feels like to be grateful. For example, Amelia says, “I am grateful for my mommy.” And I say, “Yes, you have a wonderful mommy who loves you. How does she make you feel?” Amelia answers, “I feel happy when she plays with me.” I respond, “Yes, you are grateful for how your mommy makes you feel happy.”

Going on “grateful walks” is another wonderful way to celebrate life. In nature, there are easy ways to find things to express feelings. Sharing the feeling of joy on a walk can be in being silly, finding treasures, laughing out loud, singing, playing, and looking at nature and life all around us. I share with them how grateful I am for getting to spend this special time with them. They love taking turns saying what things they are grateful for, which often include snacks and simple things. For example, Juliet says, “I feel grateful for snack time like on picnics.” I ask her, “How does it feel on a picnic?” She answers by saying, “I feel happy with my family and my tummy is happy too.” We agree that being with your family on picnics makes you feel extra special.

My daughter Emily has instilled in each of her children a grateful heart. Following is her perspective:

When you become a mom yourself, the amazement at what your own mom did for you multiplies. I always knew she worked really hard at giving us a foundation in compassion and gratitude, but it became clear that some things were taught and some things were nurtured within us. Having my Uncle John as our constant mentor meant that we were aware, more than most, about the normal things in life to be grateful for. His uncommon life gave my mom the gifts of gratitude and compassion and in turn, we are grateful to her. She helped us understand the things that we could expect from life, and more importantly the things that were a gift. With my own kids I hope to also point out all of the amazing little things that they might not realize are wonderful, such as the ability to walk, talk, breathe, and see. It has stirred in my children the amazement of each day. When I started to really pay attention to what makes them excited and joyful, I realized I had the opportunity, just like my mom, to nurture that joy and connect it to gratitude. If I showed them how wonderful life would be regardless of circumstances, they would believe that you can find beauty in every single day. The responsibility is not always easy, but it is worth it. My children might jump up and down in the morning because it is finally raining, or be just as excited that it is sunny. They run to chase every butterfly and wave to every bird they see. I have learned that children really are the most thankful beings, and if you bring yourself to their level and appreciate the very simple things about life with them, most days can turn magical.