Over the last week many of us have seen as part of our national newscast and cable news shows about the death of actress Natasha Richardson of a massive brain injury after a seemingly harmless fall while taking a ski lesson on a beginner's slope.
While her death at age 45 was the end of a short life and a tragedy leaving behind two teenage sons, many I know looked at is as a classic case of the media trumping up the death of Hollywood royalty. To an extent I see their point, but I also know it opened up a discussion about safety precautions and how a seemingly harmless fall turned deadly. Who is to know if she had gotten more immediate care, if she might have survived in some form, but it again put a spotlight on brain injuries and how some may be preventable.
And for me, the tributes and coverage have actually been decidedly low-key. Much like the actress' life itself. While I have seen her in film before, she was hardly the first name basis on par with Julia Roberts or Reese Witherspoon. But one moment from all the coverage stands out to me particularly. It was of Richardson's mother, Vanessa Redgrave. Redgrave, undoubtably, is suffering from the loss not only of her daughter but from seeing her grandson's lose their mother. However, in a shot I saw this morning of her leaving the funeral this weekend, Redgrave did not hide her face or wear dark sunglasses, she bravely faced the world with a kind smile and waved to on-lookers while saying, "Thank you." In her greatest grief, she was able to muster gratitude for the fans and well-wishers paying their last respects.
When we lose a loved one, there are a lot of conflicting feelings. There is anger, sadness, and of course a huge sense of disbelief. Gratitude is hardly the first thing we think of. Over the last few years, I have just begun to learn about gratitude amidst loss. I remember the first time I saw the movie Grumpy Old Men and hearing Ann-Margret's character talk about the loss of a friend and how she could be thankful for having the privilege to have known him. It made an impact on me, but it was a movie, I had never seen someone react that way in real life. Since then, in my own losses and losses of others that I have witnessed, I have been humbled to find that gratitude for the time we had with the person we lost, no matter how brief, and for who that person was, is a key to healing.
And in a very real way this lent, I am thinking of gratitude. I mostly am remembering a popular t-shirt from my teenage years that read something like, "I asked God how much He loved me, and He stretched out his arms and said, 'This much' and died" accompanied by a picture of Christ on the cross. Do we always have gratitude for the sacrifice Christ made for us? Are we thankful for the time we have with Christ in our crowded, secular world? Do we thank God for every moment we are given, good, bad or indifferent?