“I don’t feel like complaining. I can’t change what happened, so it feels good to change how I think about it.”
– Janice Kaplan, The Gratitude Diaries
In Part 1 of A Gratitude Triple Threat, inspired by Janice Kaplan’s The Gratitude Diaries, Ellen Schwartz bravely shared her story and feelings about gratitude. Ellen’s son, Jacob, now 18 years old, was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative illness called Canavan Disease at just four months.
Ellen shares: “Jacob’s appreciation for the little things in life gives me huge perspective on everything life has to offer. He expects so little and is always surprised by what he receives. Lucky for me, I get a front row seat to view pure gratitude in action. He is forever grateful and due to this he is always smiling. I follow suit.”
I am fortunate to have been personally touched by Ellen’s positive energy. My daughter, now in Grade 4, recently participated through her school in Project Give Back, “a passion based program designed for elementary students to develop empathy, build character, and ignite community-minded citizens.” The anticipation mounted before her day to present her research and poster on Make-A-Wish Foundation – definitely a highlight of the year. And a couple of weeks ago, she came home from school beaming about Ellen’s visit to her class and has since read Ellen’s book, Lessons from Jacob. I am so grateful to Ellen, and the amazing, positive impact she is having on our community and our future leaders.
Today, the inspiration continues with Lesly Title Weinstein’s gratitude journey following her son’s cancer diagnosis. I recently met Lesly on a women’s trip to Israel through the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP). Each of the 40 participants from Toronto’s Village Shul (and the thousands of other women who have made the journey before us – and with us in November – from all over the world) no doubt had personal motivations for immersing in 10 days of stimulating (and often life-changing) content, sites, and conversations. But after hearing Lesly’s story, I suspect the time away was a much-needed break from a very stressful and draining few years. In her own words:
“Our trip to Israel was so good for my soul and the positivity that was around me from all the girls was healing.”
I’m so grateful to Lesly for opening up and sharing her story with us. And a very happy 12th birthday to her son, Owen, who celebrated just a few days ago!
“Expressing gratitude is a full circle event. It goes around and picks up momentum as it is transferred from one deserving person to another making people feel good and appreciated.”
– Lesly Title Weinstein
Lesly, please share your story with us.
On January 19th, 2014 at the age of 9, my youngest son, Owen, was diagnosed with High Risk Leukemia. He was one of two people in the world with the type of trans-location he had and the doctors were “best guessing” the path of treatment to take with him. Seeing my baby go through such a painful journey really rocked my perspective on life. I am thrilled to say that Owen is now in remission and ended his treatment on February 3rd, 2016. We still have another five years until Owen is classified as cured – every day is a blessing.
What role does Gratitude play in your life? Would you say you’ve been on a Gratitude journey? Or has Gratitude come naturally to you?
Since Owen’s diagnosis, I am now familiar and appreciate the role gratitude plays in my life. I don’t think that I didn’t know – I just wasn’t aware of the blessings in my life that I was supposed to be grateful for. Now it is so clear – there is so much less “gray area.” Seeing my child suffer and experience such fear has made the world a much more transparent space. I value the kindness others share and I want them to know how much it means to me and the positive impact it has on my life and, in turn, the lives of those around me.
I really appreciate the time and kindness others have shared. It makes me feel safe and I want the people who have literally saved my family to know that their efforts are a priceless gift. I don’t know if my old self would have done what people have said and done for me, and I regret that. It wasn’t that I was selfish – I really just didn’t know what I should do. Now I don’t judge and I don’t get angry with people who have not done what would be expected of them. I really think people want to do the right thing and when they don’t, it’s probably because they just don’t know what to do.
What are you grateful for today?
It is hard to sum up all that I am grateful for in a given day. I feel that I am the luckiest person in the world for a million reasons. Obviously Owen’s health and the fact that he is happy at school with his friends today is high on my list. It is difficult to make a list – I take very little for granted and I see many opportunities for gratitude through each day, even the difficult ones.
Do you ever find it hard to feel grateful? In those times, what do you do? Do you have a “mantra” you say to yourself?
I used to find it difficult to feel grateful. I don’t think I knew what I was supposed to feel grateful for. Well I knew, but I didn’t feel it like I do now. Unfortunately, it took a cancer diagnosis for me to see what was in plain sight – life is good and people are kind.
Is there anything else you want to share with our readers about gratitude? Favourite quote? Advice you’ve received?
Maybe not gratitude – but a positive attitude. When Owen was first diagnosed I noticed that there were many families on the Oncology floor who were sitting by their child’s side looking as if they were in mourning; I knew that could not be the way we would live through Owen’s journey. We had friends come visit us two days into treatment. Jake, another patient on the floor, who just finished his cancer treatment, showed Owen the “ins and outs” of how to survive the long hospital days. He brought a basketball net to hang on the bathroom door and there was LIFE in our room again as they played. From that time on, people who came to visit were treated to funny stories, games, cotton ball snow fights and dance parties. I really believe that helped Owen through his treatment and when people were part of that positive energy, they wanted to be included in it and were very giving and thoughtful towards our family.
Finally, there is one group in particular who gives so much love and support, it’s difficult to write about gratitude without mentioning them. Chai Lifeline Canada quickly went from an organization that I had never heard of to a group of individuals who I feel saved my family’s spirit.
Chai Lifeline helped us immensely. They arranged for Owen and Josh (my older son) to be set up with “Big Brothers.” Meir, Ari and Avi – three young men who have volunteered many hours with my family visiting Owen during long hospital stays, bringing the boys to impromptu parties, movies, dinners and initiating video game marathons when Owen wasn’t up for going out. They kept Josh company when we were admitted to the hospital, taking him to sporting events, dinners or just hanging out at home when he needed some company.
Chai Lifeline has also been a sounding board for Peter and I to talk through our challenges with school, camp, and social activities. They also provided financial support for private tutors for Owen when he missed over a year of school.
Chai Lifeline has always been there to help and they have such a positive attitude and can not do enough to help us and others we know in a similar position.
“No one said this life was easy. At times, it can be rather rough. Cherish those who stood by you despite the odds. Forgive those who left.”
Thank you as always for reading and sharing. Please stay tuned for Part 3 of A Gratitude Triple Threat, featuring a story of strength and resilience by Ramona Blinick.