Count Your Blessings

(This post was first published in January 2021.)

I don’t really do New Year’s Resolutions.

I remember an old embroidery, the letters of three words carefully stitched in brown cotton against a cream background. It lived in a darkwood frame on an otherwise unadorned wall of the back parlour at my Grandmother’s house near Weymouth in Dorset. The embroidered words read simply, ‘Count your Blessings’. As a child, I remember noticing it and feeling that was odd to see it in her house.

The thing is, the older Mrs Jackson was, in many ways, a rather fearsome character. Known locally as ‘Nurse Jackson’, she was a former matron who was used to getting her own way. She was a lady who knew her own mind. She was not a woman to cross. She was a woman of few words. She never looked like someone who would be in the habit of counting her blessings.

As a child I had no idea that, in reality, she was a woman who knew a bit about life. She had lived through two world wars. She was in east London during the blitz. She watched her son and her husband go off to war. She watched as close relatives emigrated, literally, to the other side of the planet. As a nurse, she had held the hand of the lonely, the frightened, the sick and the dying. She nursed her own husband through his last years of decline into Alzheimer’s and saw her son die of cancer. She was a woman acquainted with huge anxiety and profound grief. 

My Grandmother lived to be 100 years old. In her last years, when I visited her in her care home, she seemed like a very different person. As she became increasingly dependant on the help and support of others around her, I discovered an unexpected calm in my Grandmother. The strength of character was still there, but I recognised a kind of peace within her that I had never noticed before. She was grateful for everything which was done to help her. She was grateful for my visits. She smiled as she recounted childhood experiences.  She laughed as she remembered the reaction of her neighbours when she was a girl and the first car drove through the village. She spoke warmly about her family and her time in nursing. She spoke of the kindness and sense of community which she experienced during the second world war. She spoke gently about her love for the family who had emigrated, and her love for the many people who she had known over the years. This was a woman who had coped with huge challenges. Behind the fearsome mask I had seen as a child, here was a woman who was counting her blessings.

The last 18 months have been a huge challenge. We’ve had to deal with COVID.  There have been moments of novelty and excitement, but pretty much all of us have experienced disappointment. Too many of us have experienced financial difficulties, anxiety, illness – even bereavement. We are allowed to feel anxious about the future.

I’m not sure what brought my Grandmothers embroidery to mind this week, but I have the sense that I have something to learn from it. Nothing can change the experience of last year or the impact it has had on me. But I sense that I would be in a rather better place to face the next one if, instead of allowing myself to be defined by the disappointments and challenges of last year, I stepped forward reminding myself of some of the blessings which surround me. It doesn’t change the past. It doesn’t undo the damage. But it helps me to keep it in proportion. It helps me to cope with it.

No really, I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. Also, I don’t plan to take up embroidery. But as I look to this New Year, I’m giving thanks as I remember the strong yet unexpectedly gentle woman who was my Grandmother.

And I’m be counting my blessings.

This Post was first published in 1st January 2021.

Richard Jackson is the former Executive Director of Family Foundations Trust. You can email him here,

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