When my husband died and I began my grief journey of losing him, there were a couple things that I did very intentionally. One of my dear friends was a therapist and I asked her to watch me. I asked her to be a gage for me and to let me know when I was slipping away too much. Along with this help, I sought out group support, really all kinds of professional help to make sure the boys and I would be able to deal with our lives from that day forward. I really didn’t know how I was going to make it and I knew I would need a scaffolding to hold me up until I figured it out. I also didn’t want my boys to be haunted by their dad’s death their entire lives…don’t get me wrong here…I know it will always be a part of them, but I wanted them to have healthy, loving relationships and lives. The next thing I did, mostly an internal function, was to practice gratitude. I knew my life had taken the worst turn I’d ever faced. I also knew that if I could find things to be grateful for, I would be able to hold on each day. In the earliest moments, I was grateful he was not suffering anymore. I was grateful to make my bed in the morning when I got up and grateful to collapse into it at the end of the day. I was grateful to have the boys. It was sparse, but I clung to something nearly everyday. There were days when I was angry, exhausted, defeated, heartbroken and thought that being gracious for something was ridiculous and cliché…I mean really, look at my life! I was left here with these children, alone. My “happily ever after” was ripped away from me…but, regardless of these intense and valid feelings, I would grasp for maybe one thing I was grateful for…many of those days, I was just grateful the day was over.
As the years passed, I kept getting up each morning and I kept scraping together things to be grateful for. I was truly grateful for every single one I could muster up. There have definitely been challenges along the way. Many days I scream to the heavens, “Really?” I’m guessing many of you have those moments when those lovely phrases fly around you…”God won’t give you more than you can handle”…Really? “The things that don’t kill you only make you stronger”…Really? And there’s my all time favorite, “God has a plan”…Really? I must have really been on God’s shit list to have gotten this plan!
Even with all of this, even with the complexities my sadness brought, even with the exhaustion that sole parenting provides and even with my heart in tiny crumbles on the ground, I searched for something to be grateful for…even when I really thought I wouldn’t think of any.
So, this Thanksgiving, I was reflecting on this habit of mine. I was reflecting on the fact that although I don’t always feel as blessed as I felt all those years ago when he was alive…I still feel gracious. Many of the reasons why don’t change. As Thanksgiving comes and goes so does my wedding anniversary. This year I marked 15 years…he only made it through eight…I am nearly to a point when I have marked as many without him as I had with him. It’s such an odd thing. Why do I still count? I know that the anniversary means something. I know that I am grateful to have found him and to have had the years together that we had. I know who I am today is reflects in the fact that I loved him and he loved me…but I don’t know if the counting does any good for either of us anymore…I don’t know if I can wrap gratitude around seven years without him…
What I can wrap gratitude around is the woman I continue to become in spite of my heartbreak and because of my heartbreak. Certainly, I am different. Certainly, I am more self sufficient, tolerant (well, most days), and know that I will survive. I am grateful for the depth of gratitude my heart now feels. I am not grateful about him dying…don’t get me wrong but I am grateful for the depth of feeling this loss has brought me. I knew before he died that many times I was more grateful for something when I lost it. I counted the blessings in my life before cancer knocked on our door. I loved my children and others before such immense heartbreak penetrated my being. I didn’t know that walking through my grief, letting my sadness rip through me, seeking out the help and trying to be grateful would lead me to a place where I could feel things in a more meaningful way. I hoped it would, but I really, really thought that the only thing the heartache and grief would do was kill me. Well, it didn’t. It has left me with a redesigned heart. My heart will always be able to touch the depth of my sadness, but it will also be able to experience the depth of joy in new way. My heart that once lay shattered on the ground is reassembled…those who dare to look closely will see the wounds. Those who dare to look closely will also receive the depths of feelings I am now able to experience. I am terrified of this and grateful for it all at once. I am who I am today, only, only because he died. I am who I am today, only, only because of how I experienced his death. I am who I am today because I choose to be grateful for my journey…no matter where it has taken me…because today, I feel again and it is not only the sadness I feel down to my bones, but the good things too.