101: Drinking from Ola’s Cup

101: Drinking from Ola’s Cup

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

Drinking from Ola’s Cup

Find yourself a cup of tea;
the teapot is behind you.
Now tell me about hundreds of things.


It never failed. As I sipped the hot raspberry tea from the fragile china cup, I could almost see my sweet friend, Ola, sitting across the table once again. My fingers traced the delicate wildflowers painted on the cup she had given me. Once more, I was filled with gratefulness as I mulled over our unlikely friendship.

Ola was a tiny, frail wisp of a woman in her eighties who spent most of her time in a wheelchair. Under ordinary circumstances we might not have become such close friends. I was a thirty-six-year-old mother of four children. Who would think we had much in common? But we shared a bond that drew us closer than most. We met at a grief support group that met every Monday night. Both of our husbands had died recently. We were both seeking relief from the deep pain that threatened to consume us.

Naturally, there was a lot of sorrow and weeping in our group. There were some whose spouse had died, some whose parents had recently passed away, and a few who were there because of the death of a child. Some had experienced a long lingering illness with their loved one, while others were going through the shock of a traumatic accident that had taken their loved one without warning. Needless to say, our meetings were filled with much pain and anguish. Our group was a place where others really understood what you were going through.

Some group members were quiet and withdrawn, barely holding back their emotions. There were those who wallowed in self-pity, repeatedly asking why this terrible thing had happened to them. A few regulars were like pressure cookers, their rage ready to blow at the slightest nudge. Then there was Ola.

Every week her daughter wheeled her into the room. There wasn’t anything to make you sit up and take notice of Ola. She was just a tiny white-haired old lady in a wheelchair. Her physical frailties were deceiving, though. Inside that withered little body of hers lived a strong determined spirit. Each week revealed more of it.

For such a feeble thing, Ola had an outspoken personality. She was always ready to share a joke to lighten the grief. But she shared more. Her age gave her the right to offer us guidance and encouragement. We all listened, knowing she had survived many hard times in her life. She and her four children had been abandoned by her first husband. After she married again, she discovered her second husband was an alcoholic. Later he was in an explosion which left him severely deformed. Two of her children died at an early age.

One thing she shared with us stood out above everything else. In a group of people whose lives were devastated, Ola consistently reminded us to think of things to be thankful for. She promised us that our hearts would be lifted if we did. Ola told us if we couldn’t think of anything else, we should at least thank God for the air that we breathe. Through her wrinkled face glowed a light of wisdom and faith that had been born from a long and difficult journey. Before each meeting ended, Ola would begin thanking God for specific things. Some tried to follow her lead. It was amazing to see the hope in people’s faces when they joined in.

Sadly, others were too angry or blinded by pain to think of anything to be thankful for. All they could see was their own tragic heartache. They remained bitter and overwhelmed by their grief.

I chose to follow Ola’s lead. If she could be thankful despite all her hard times, I could certainly try. My heart longed to feel the hope that I saw in Ola. At first it was difficult. My loss seemed so great, I didn’t know if I would ever smile again. Though it was tempting to feel sorry for myself, I was determined to be grateful.

I decided to begin by thanking God for the wonderful gift of having Steve in my life for twenty years. I would have loved more years, but that’s longer than what some people have. And what a great twenty years it had been! My mind wandered as I thought about what my life would have been like if I had not known him. Before long, sweet memories flooded over me giving me more reasons to thank God: the walks through fields of wildflowers, exploring old abandoned houses together, the soothing sounds of Steve’s guitar filling the house every night.

Then I thought of our four children who depended on me. How empty my life would be without them. They would carry pieces of their dad throughout the rest of their lives. How grateful I was for each child and the time they got to spend with their dad.

I thanked God for my fifteen-year-old daughter, who had her dad’s zest for adventure and his fun easygoing way with people. I thanked God for our oldest son, who had learned from his dad how to stand tall as a man of loyalty and responsibility. Then I thanked God for my quiet seven-year-old son who had seen more suffering through his dad’s illness than most people see in a lifetime. I knew his deep compassion would be used in the future. Of course, I had to thank God for our two-year-old son who came as a total shock in the midst of acute emergencies and hospital stays.

Then I thought of all the doctors and nurses who had showed us such kindness during Steve’s long illness. I also had to thank God for our friends and family who had given us gifts of time, money and prayers during the hard times.

As I thought of the difficult battle we had gone through with Steve’s illness, I had to thank God for the strength that He had given us both. We had withstood something that was impossible to handle on our own.

Though I would miss my husband terribly, I had to thank God that he was finally free from the grip of daily suffering. I tried to imagine what it will be like some day when we are reunited in eternal life and I paused to thank God for the promise of that life to come which will be free from all sickness, death and hard times.

I suddenly realized that I was filled with a peaceful feeling of quiet joy! It had sprung from my grateful heart. My future shone brighter and full of hope. I knew I could go on. I knew I would never be alone. I felt so blessed!

My sweet friend Ola has since passed from this life. Every time I drink from the cup she gave me, I count my blessings. No matter what’s going on, it’s not long before I feel blessed beyond words. It has been said that a pessimist looks at his cup and sees it half empty, and that an optimist sees his cup half full. As I hold Ola’s cup in my hands and find things to thank God for, I realize that my cup overflows!!

~Eva Juliuson

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