In the story of our family, the Wednesday before Heather died was full and significant. It was a day where the height of reality violently buzzed through every cell in my body. I simply couldn’t decide if I knew she was dying or if I was just allowing doubt to fill my being – doubt that she’d be healed miraculously and live. I don’t think there had ever been a day when I felt more like a helpless child in charge of the world. Exactly one week after that soul shredding day, we buried her.
Late that night, as the hours of literal hell continued, I sat on the floor of our bedroom with my laptop. My brother laid in the room trying helplessly to alleviate any amount of distress, and Heather lay on her side of our bed breathing very slowly. Sometimes we could drip water or fruit juice into her mouth, in an attempt to help her, and feel like maybe we were doing something.
But for a few minutes, as Tyson laid near Heather, I sat there on the floor and began typing. In an attempt to keep the outside world updated on Heather’s progress, and to record my own experience, I wrote a CaringBridge entry. The house was quiet, and no lights were on in the room; so it was there, in the dark, that I put the best words I had into trying to describe what I felt. And in doing so, I borrowed Heather’s word – gratitudings – and let myself really feel what I was grateful for.
This morning, I was reminded of that small window of time sitting on the floor in the dark. I literally woke up and pulled my covers in closer and curled up; just like I surely looked huddled there on the ground in our bedroom three years ago. But then – this morning as it happened back then, too – the tempering agent came…
A gut-wrenching, soul-binding emergence from my deepest self – pure simple gratitude.
Thanksgiving was Heather’s favorite holiday. She loved the food and the family oh so much. But also, I think she had a sense of the power of being thankful – really, truly thankful.
And there, that night, I learned it, too. Sometimes, I feel like we do our whole selves some serious injustice by negating or dismissing the horrible and harsh experiences we have. As such, I have heard many times how a grateful heart can make one forget their ills, or that if we insist upon gratitude from ourselves (or others) we’re demanding the cure for life’s dissatisfactions. But I disagree with this nuance – I don’t think true gratitude hides or magically poofs-away the hardships of life. Rather, allowing the sense of feeling truly grateful to permeate our souls is the prevailing balance to all the ‘yuck’ – the inner power innate to our selves, that helps us carry our burdens.
So I wrote that night. I wrote of my gratitude for Heather in my life despite all that we were impossibly dredging through. And I didn’t just write it, I felt it. I let it consume me. My love for her was inseparably connected to this thankful feeling – I don’t think gratitude can exist without love. But love is the prize I got and chose that also made the inevitable loss of her so indescribably awful. Gratitude is what made the loss capable of navigation.
Like I said, I think it’s balancing. All of life could be one hand full of darkness and difficulty, without our ability to feel and experience gratitude – that is what comes along in the other hand and allows us to stand up straight. With a thankful soul, I think our natural resilience can do its job, and we continue through the journey.
I am thankful for Heather. It overwhelms me still, and allows me to keep breathing even though she is so entirely gone. I am thankful for my children; that they each are part of my silly life, and love me so much.
I am grateful for the people around me – friends who have become family. Support and love that is beautiful and poignant and rich.
I’m thankful for real thoughts and open souls and growing up. For good food, good drinks, good shows, minutes where the house is clean, and a body that’s still working after the literal torture I have drown it through over the last three years.
I’m grateful Heather’s parents still help me, and our life is pretty damn abundant.
This morning as I felt overcome with sadness, I felt it balance as I was literally filled with gratitude that my sister, who has waited and tried for ten years, will finally be getting her baby in February.
And again – I’m grateful for Heather. I would choose her again and again, and I feel like I do, as I live a life as authentic and as honoring to myself as I can, because she loved and knew me like nobody else ever ever did. I’m grateful I know how she saw me, and that I choose her view of me to inspire my evolution and continuation through life.
I’m grateful I know that she loved me.
It’s wonderful to know and exercise this power on hard hard days like today. I’m thankful that gratitude balances the hell enough that I’m not still in bed, even if it never takes away the reasons I could be, or the desire to stay under the covers. I’m glad that on days when I cannot get out of bed, gratitude provides enough balance that I at least still breathe.
Whoever you are, I’m thankful that you’re balancing me, and helping me walk upright with something in both hands, by knowing and loving and appreciating our story. May you be gifted with a swell of this gratitude for yourself.
I miss you my Heather, just as I told you I would. And I love you. As ever. No – actually, more.