Thankful for small things

Through hard times, Bend woman finds reason for gratitude

Published Nov 22, 2012 at 04:00AM

It may seem counterintuitive, but Erin Hasler, of Bend, first began to feel grateful after she lost everything.

When the market crashed, Erin, a self-employed jewelry designer, and her husband, a contractor, lost their home, their savings, their sense of security and the future they'd envisioned for themselves.

In an effort to remain calm and steady for their children, who were 4 and 1 at the time, Erin started going to a meditation group once a week.

It wasn't easy for Erin — who had no religious upbringing — to embrace all of the group's Buddhist teachings. But she liked the emphasis on gratitude.

So she made an effort to start with simple things.

Standing in the shower each morning, she gave thanks for the hot, clean water.

Washing dishes each night, she gave thanks for the food her family had just eaten.

Buddhists believe there is power in changing one's perspective.

“Things are going to be the way they are,” Erin says, “but if you change how you look at them, you can really affect your reality.”

So she vowed to concentrate on being thankful for what she had, rather than getting upset about what she'd lost.

“Instead of: 'Everyone else is getting iPhones,' we thought, 'Hey, we're eating tonight,'” she says. “It sounds depressing, but it ... wasn't.”

At dinner every evening, her family went around the table, each stating one thing he or she was thankful for. Erin admits that, at first, the habit felt forced.

“It was telling myself that (I was grateful),” she says. “I don't know if I believed it initially.”

Over time, her — and her family's — perspective shifted.

“I got to where I was really, within my heart, truly grateful,” she says.

In May of this year, Erin was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. One month later, she underwent a double mastectomy. In August, she began what will be one full year of chemotherapy.

“When it became apparent ... that I could lose my life at 32, that was a humongous eye-opener,” she says.

Erin felt grateful: first, that the cancer had been caught early. And that it had been caught at all.

Again, gratitude gave her a new perspective. It reminded her of how much she once took for granted.

“I'm not a winter person,” she says with a laugh. “But getting to see the snow fall for the first time this year was so beautiful, and I just felt so grateful to be here to see it.”

Now, even when her kids are throwing temper tantrums, Erin says, she feels grateful to be alive to witness them.

Each round of chemotherapy wrecks her body, leaving her bedridden for days.

Yet in each round of chemotherapy, Erin finds gratitude.

“The lovely thing about it is ... after about a week, I start to feel better,” she says. “It's like a total rebirthing each time.”

As her body recovers, she reawakens to all that she has to feel grateful for.

Food tastes good again.

She can go for a walk without having to stop midway to sit down.

Even the sun seems to shine brighter and warmer.

Though Erin feels grateful every day, today's holiday, she says, has extra-special meaning.

For years, her large family has gathered in her home every Thanksgiving.

Hosting the holiday was once stressful for Erin. She says she's not a great cook but is a perfectionist — a rough combination when tradition demands an elaborate feast.

“It absolutely has an entirely different meaning this year,” she says. “All of us are so grateful just to be able to sit together in the same room. ... In the last year, everything has been boiled down to the truest essence of life.”