Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Not writing about "Gratitude"

I sat down to write about gratitude today, and then decided against it. Today I wasn't feeling very grateful.

I've learned a lot in the last two and a half months about gratitude, but today found me unlearning it all. I was cranky, irritable, and quick to frustration. So many people and things rubbed me the wrong way. I was failing at optimism. Miserably. So I decided not to write about gratitude.

For those of you who don't know, there are 5-7 stages of grief. I say 5-7, because occasionally people combine some of the similar stages into one (shock/denial & bargaining/guilt). As a list of seven, they are as follows:
Shock or Disbelief 
Denial
Anger
Bargaining
Guilt
Depression
Acceptance and Hope
I don't number these, because they can occur in any order and last for any period of time. These 7 stages of grieving are different when the person you love is still alive. Of course, that seems obvious,  right? Well, it wasn't to me. A few months ago, I wasn't familiar with this list, and I couldn't have named all of the above, or claimed any real experience with most of them. But a few months ago, my dad was given a "death sentence" called Cancer, and even though I live every day believing that he's going to get well, and I'm certain that his time here is not through, I still grieve a little bit each day, too. Because, that's what you do.

Some days I feel mostly normal, and my thoughts are Cancer-less. Other days I dwell on all the wrong things. Rather than moving progressively from one stage to another, I feel like every day is a taste of a different stage. Sometimes I'm immersed in one alone, and sometimes I get to experience three or four stages in one afternoon. How exciting, right? It's exhausting. The person you're grieving for isn't gone, but statistics are looking grim. The patient is looking grim one day, and just like his pre-Cancer self the next. The whole family wants to curl up and groan collectively. But you can't! You're not dying from Cancer - you're living with it. So you move forward, simultaneously allowing yourself to grieve in little bits and pieces, but giving thanks that everyone's still alive. (Thank you, Jesus.)

I'm not only grieving for my dad's health, and for my family and what this means for us, but for how my life has been forever changed. My carefree existence is gone. My ability to imagine my life much more than a month or two ahead is simply not possible. My sense of security, health, and happiness is hanging in question. Very selfish things to grieve over, of course, but I think normal. Yet, it's a strange thing to grieve for something lost, but have astounding amounts of gratitude for what has replaced it.

For the first time in as long as I can remember, I have what feels like a real, daily, non-combative, honest relationship with my dad. We talk about things, and this talking involves taking turns, listening, acknowledging, eye contact, and respect. When I hug my dad, I really don't want to let go. When I'm away from him, I can't wait to come back and "hang out." I soak up his knowledge, and enjoy anecdotes which formerly went unheeded. Those prior juvenile walls are gone and the only thing remaining is just a huge amount of untainted love. I'm thankful for that, and it's been the foundation of my understanding what "gratitude" really is, and what it means. I hate Cancer, but I'm thankful for it, because I've been given an opportunity I might not have otherwise. At the same time, I hate that I'm thankful for it, and I feel awful for thinking that.

And this is where you look back at that list and you begin to see...."Aha! She's spending today with stage Guilt." Or up late at night, I'll sink deep in despair as reality, called "Depression," hits me with full force. Or I'll think our family is invincible, and a prognosis given to us doesn't mean the same as it does in all those other cases: we will overcome anything, because WE are special. That's the "Hope" talking, my friends.

There's a stage that's not on that list, but should be. It's called "Gratitude." I can't get through a day without at least a small dose of this one. Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by it when my dad comments "I feel really good right now, almost normal." My heart unclenches just a little, and gratitude washes over me, and for an hour or an evening I'm simply and utterly thankful for that small victory.

I didn't want to write about it, but there it is.... "Gratitude." It crept in. Sneaky bastard. 

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