Turning to gratitude

Just a year ago, Kristen Grimes was going through the most heartbreaking experience of her life.

She was losing her beloved mother to cancer, and finding gratitude in the situation seemed impossible. And yet, she can now reflect gratefully on some moments, and these days she is intentional about looking for the good around her.

Kristen, who lives just outside of Madison, Wisconsin, with her husband and works as a director of project management for a company that does clinical research trials, shares more … 

What does living a life of gratitude look like to you? How does it show up in your day-to-day life?

Gratitude used to just be another word to convey thankfulness to me; I’d say I was grateful for something just to not use the word thankful. But I’ve learned that gratitude is so much more. Practicing gratitude isn’t easy. It requires action, and sometimes it’s really not easy to do things like recognize each day as a gift, to find reasons to be thankful for small, seemingly insignificant moments. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by everyday stresses and all the terrible things we see and hear around us and on the news, and suddenly all of our perceptions have an underlying negative tone to them. Intentionally looking for the good, both inside myself and in those around me, and in whatever situation I am in, is what allows me to truly find and appreciate moments of gratitude. 

What things are you most grateful for — big, small, anything in between — and why?

I am most grateful for all the people in my life who have supported me through all the ups and downs I’ve experienced, but especially my husband. While Patrick and I have only been married for a little over six months, we’ve been together for almost 10 years and he has been my rock through the most difficult times in my life. He supported not only me but my family as my mom battled cancer and when we lost her last year. From the littlest things like being my personal chef and making sure I was eating and taking care of myself, giving me my space when I needed it and holding me while I cried during the most difficult times, I will be forever grateful for everything he has done for me. Looking ahead, I love the life and the home we are building together, our commitment to each other and our path forward in life. It won’t always be easy, and that is where the ongoing practice of gratitude for every day we have together will keep that connection strong over the years. 

Is there a certain line of the Pink flower that resonates most with you?

To honor a hero, to be a hero. Because this is so much bigger than me.

I was initially Team Strength because the messages of the Red flower spoke to me … going through the COVID pandemic, when my mom was battling cancer the first time, when I was training for my first half marathon … bringing it, every damn day and it takes strength to do what you love.

But I realized that was me putting too much focus on myself and my journey and not spending enough time looking at the world and the people around me, not realizing the impact they were having on me and that I could have on them. 

How did you become a runner?

I started running in 2014. I played basketball in high school and running was our punishment for missed free throws and being late to practice, not something done for sport and certainly not for fun. My office started a fitness challenge and a few of the seasoned runners decided we would start a team and do the Madison Shamrock Shuffle, so I started a Couch to 5K program and made slow but steady progress until I could run the distance.

The weather for the race was brutal, I was wearing all most inappropriate clothing for the conditions and running in general, and I had to walk to get up and over the killer “Bascom Hill.” But pretty much as soon as I crossed the finish line, I was thinking about doing it again and actually running the whole thing, and that was how I got hooked.

I spent the first few years building up endurance and miles and running my first 8K and 10K and eventually my first half marathon, always trying to get faster. I would compare myself to other runners constantly. Then I found Fellow Flowers when I signed up for a Her Madison 5K and at one of the pre-race events, Mel said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” That has stuck with me ever since. I bought a Turquoise flower: Believe. To look within, to overcome. Loving myself enough.

I now compete against only myself and honor my body, thanking it for what it can do and understanding when it needs to rest. Running has been my place of connection and solitude, joy and sadness, and I am grateful for every day I lace up my shoes. 

Would you feel comfortable telling us about your mother?

Every time I run with my pink flower now, I am running for my mom. I lost her in April 2022 after an incredibly difficult battle with stage IV kidney cancer. It was her second battle with cancer; she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2018 but fought her way into remission and we thought we had completed our family’s cancer journey.

It was so hard to find anything to be grateful for during the four short months between her diagnosis and passing. The planned treatment put her into the hospital and I had to fight to be allowed to visit due to COVID restrictions. She recovered from the effects of the treatment and was set to come home from rehab when she broke her arm and went into another hospital and rehab loop. We finally got her home on her birthday, but her body was so tired that we were just watching her slowly fade away.

There didn’t even seem to be the smallest of things that I could recognize with moments of gratitude. It wasn’t until afterwards when I was looking back that I realized that this horrible situation is what had me spending almost every day during those last few months by her side. She knew that I was there for her and what I was putting aside to be there with her, and I was getting what precious little time I had left with my mom, as hard as it was some days. I was being her hero while she was being mine, and nothing will ever take that away. 

Do you live by any phrases or mantras?

A phrase that sticks with me and often comes to the forefront of my mind is “the last time.” In our lives we will do everything a finite number of times, and there will be a last time that we do everything … fly on an airplane, finish a race, watch a sunset, give our mom a hug. We often will not know in that moment that it is the last time, and yet we tend to take even beautiful moments for granted, let alone the everyday and seemingly mundane ones. When I stop to recognize this, it focuses my attention and takes me to a place of gratitude for that moment, because every single one is precious.

Do you have any suggestions for how others can access or approach gratitude?

Even during the darkest times, try to take a moment to find something to be grateful for. You will be able to find those moments when you look back from the outside, but searching for them when you need them most can help to bring much-needed comfort.

What are you looking forward to in the months ahead?

The return of consistently nice weather will bring trips to the Dane County Farmers’ Market, dinners and wine on our deck and fires on our patio, and the promise of my shoes hitting the pavement regularly. My husband and I are planning parties to celebrate our marriage with friends and family on both sides of the pond later this year, as he is from Ireland. So this year is going to bring a lot of much-needed connection and joy and many opportunities to express gratitude! 

Thank you, Kristen, for so beautifully and thoughtfully sharing your story!

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