On a gray, rainy Monday afternoon, as I sat with my mom in a consultation appointment with her new surgeon, the definitions of two words came to life for me in a new way, offering a glimmer of hope during a cloudy season.  When I heard my mom, who has been my dad’s main caregiver for several years, tell her surgeon that I asked her to please take care of herself, I was both thankful and grateful.

My husband recently bought two beautifully decorated wine glasses for us to enjoy using this fall. One has the word ‘grateful’ painted in gold across it while the other one has the word ‘thankful.’ One of us will blindly choose a glass and then say, “I’m thankful (or grateful) today!” But, what is the difference between these two words and does it really matter?

The words are interconnected with a subtle difference. Thankful is defined as feeling gratitude or being glad about something. Grateful is defined as feeling or expressing thanks, but also comforted.

So, yes, I was thankful, or glad, that my mom made the choice to schedule this consultation; but I was also grateful – comforted – that she listened to my concerns and followed through. One of my main fears about my mom for a number of years is that she will allow herself to become completely run down caring for my dad. This is the scenario that played out in my grandmother’s life (my mom’s mom) and I’ve often told my husband that I refuse to watch it happen to my own mom.

While we are further down this path than I care to admit, it is a comfort to me that mom is choosing to address her physical and health issues before they become worse and further threaten her quality of life. I was both thankful for and comforted by the surgeon we met who took an interest in my mom and her health issues – for once an appointment was about mom and not dad.

In this season, there are plenty of unknowns looming ahead of me with both of my parents and their increasing needs. Understanding the connection of ‘comforted’ with the word grateful has been healing to me at this time. It’s propelling me forward in a positive way. It’s helping me to find and think deeper about the things I am thankful for and the things I am comforted by, which keeps me looking up instead of down or inward.

This new insight helps me see my mom in a new light, understanding that she does desire to take better care of herself but becomes overwhelmed by my dad’s health issues. To be fair to her, she can only handle so much in a given week. I know she is grateful for my presence in her day-to-day life and is thankful for my help. I feel the same way about her; thankful she is still in my life, and grateful to her for always being a wise and good listener.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner and this theme of thankfulness in front of us, I plan to uncover additional things in my life that I can be thankful or glad for, but also those things, no matter how small, that I find comforting.  

Today I think I’ll choose the grateful glass. What are you thankful or grateful for today?

“Gratitude is one of the most medicinal emotions we can feel. It elevates our moods and fills us with joy.” – Sara Avant Stover


Tammy Stauffer