Let me start off by clarifying that I’m not grateful. I realize that is not the typical way to start off writing about gratitude but it is the truth. I wake up every morning thinking, “here I go, another day without Mike.” There might also be some swear words mixed in there (and before and after) but I’ll leave those for your imagination.
As I climb into bed at the end of the day his side is glaringly empty and I sigh a deep sigh of exhausted sadness. I miss telling him about my day and listening to him tell me about his. I miss eating popcorn in bed as we watch our favourite shows. I miss him holding me and squeezing me so tight as he drifted off to sleep. Admittedly, he did work night shifts half the time so I went to bed by myself but I was not really alone. He would always call me to say goodnight and I’d wake up in the night to read his text. Plus, he would be there in the morning and I somehow managed to gain some energy at 5 am on those days so that we could talk and laugh before I began my day and he went to sleep. I miss having him to start and end my day with in some form and for that I am so incredibly ungrateful.
My lack of thankfulness in my life permeates my thoughts constantly. However, sometimes little bits of gratitude seep through. Even shortly after Mike died I would catch myself feeling thankful for small pieces of seemingly insignificant things compared to what I was facing. I would feel my heart warm briefly for my family who stayed with me and took care of me, for my girlfriends for setting up a schedule of being “on call” for weeks afterwards, for friends and family who didn’t wait for me to instruct them on how to help but just found a void and filled it, for the many people who cooked for me and helped me financially, and for the people who simply showed up and cared. It certainly didn’t replace Mike and I’d trade all the help in the world to have Mike back. However, I couldn’t help but see that throughout all the immense emptiness and disaster that I felt, I was still fortunate in other ways.
I found it difficult to acknowledge my thankfulness at the time. I didn’t think it was an emotion I should be feeling or even deserved to feel. I felt guilty that I even thought of being grateful so I pushed it aside and ignored it. Even now, I feel somewhat guilty thinking that I had these inklings of gratitude in such a terrible time. Shouldn’t I have been solely focused on the fact that my husband died?
Gratitude doesn’t work like that though. I’ve come to the realization that “complicated” is how all things work as a young widow. Nothing is straightforward. Everything is a dichotomy. You can feel ungrateful for the terrible parts and thankful for the good things at the same time. One emotion doesn’t negate the other. Just because I am appreciative of my family and friends doesn’t mean I’m appreciative of the fact that Mike died. I will never be even the slightest bit thankful for that. That’s okay; gratitude doesn’t have to be an overarching quality or view that extends to all areas of life. What I can do though is acknowledge that losing Mike sucks but not everything in my life does.
"You can feel ungrateful for the terrible parts and thankful for the good things at the same time. One emotion doesn’t negate the other."
When I came to this realization I decided that I wanted to be reminded to be grateful for the good parts in my life. This was a bit of a challenge since I had previously been focusing my energy on being only ungrateful. However, with a little help from Pinterest and the thought of some new, cute decor (some things won’t change with me) I decided to start a gratitude jar. The concept is simple: you write down things you are grateful for and put the notes in the jar to read at a later date.
Although the concept is simple the act of doing it was not so easy for me at first. I put it out at the start of January after an extremely trying Christmas and rolled my eyes at it every time I walked past. Like a deep eye roll where the whites of your eyes protrude and your eyes hurt a little. Picture a surly teenage girl being lectured by her overbearing mother and that was me looking at this jar. Except the mom was the jar and it was all self-inflicted (sounds like something this so-called mom would say). Let’s just say that jar stayed empty for a while.
When I finally started, my goal was to write the one thing I was most grateful for each week. When a friend saw my jar she asked if I was doing a daily gratitude note. No, I was certainly not going to do that every day. I thought once a week was more than enough. What ended up happening though was not what I expected. The first few weeks I’d reflect on Friday (my self-imposed due date) about what I was most thankful for that week. After a few weeks of trying this my perspective started to shift ever so slightly. I found I wasn’t just thinking about it on Fridays. If something remotely positive happened during the week I found myself thinking, “will this be what I’m most grateful for this week?”
"Gratitude doesn’t have to be an overarching quality or view that extends to all areas of life. Some things are just shitty and they should be acknowledged for what they are."
The jar started to push me to recognize moments as they happened. I started to see more and more things that I could be grateful for. I started to recognize that gratitude is not a once a week or even a once a day thing. It’s an ongoing challenge to look for the positive. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be lousy things that happen too or even that the bad events are made better by thinking differently. No, some things are just shitty and they should be acknowledged for what they are. I have sad moments every day and they will stay as difficult times. I’m allowing myself those. What I am doing is choosing to look for the good. I’m not looking for the good IN the bad but looking for the good elsewhere despite when things are rough. I’m simply acknowledging that this sucks when that’s all the strength I can muster with a willingness to try again another time. I’m recognizing that even in my deepest, darkest thoughts and moments of ungratefulness there is still light somewhere else in my life. It might feel dim and insignificant at times (after all, Mike was my brightest light) but it’s there. It’s up to me to find the light or, when necessary, search hard for a match and make the light myself…well, probably a simple light switch would be easier (that’s what Mike would say; he didn’t like to complicate things).