The Evolution of Gratitude

cry
Hi, thanks for reading this. I am about to take you on a difficult, but necessary journey. Please share with anyone who needs this in time for the holidays.


Background…

It starts like this…I am at a family function or just sitting around my mother’s house-doing nothing in particular and he’s there or I hear that he is on his way. I can’t  put my finger on the specific distance between us, but I am always excited to see him. 

When I am in his space I feel normal and relaxed. It’s a familiar feeling, but not one that I have often these days-if that makes any sense.

….We talk casually and I tell him what I’ve been up to, he never responds and I always get annoyed like “Helloooo… I’m talking to you…don’t you care? Didn’t you miss me?! (Just being spoiled and obnoxious as usual).

…Anyway, this casual conversation goes on for a few and I start to realize he isn’t responding to me. I don’t hear his voice, nor his laugh. I don’t smell his aftershave because he never gave me a hug. I  think, “Wait. He didn’t hug me??? But we’ve been apart so long- did I upset him?!? OMG I forgot to ask him how he’s doing!”

 

And then like a ton of goddamn bricks, it hits me.
He has not been out of town.
He is not finally returning from the hospice.
He never came home.
He is dead.
And has been for some time.
He cannot hear me tell him about my day.
He is still not walking me down the aisle.
We will not awkwardly dance to the Chi-Lites, nor the Doobie Brothers at my wedding reception.
Because I am dreaming.
Again.

The realization always happens during this dream and it feels like my heart is being ripped out of my chest. It’s a fresh pain every time. I start to panic and reach for him and he moves further away.  I quietly plead “OMG Please don’t leave me again. I really, really need you. I can’t do this. ”

I never want to wake up and when I do, it HURTS. I feel abandoned, panicked, and all the other emotions I felt when I received the initial call that his battle with cancer had ended. I try so hard to go back to sleep and beg my brain to go back to the dream and to revisit where I left off and it NEVER happens. My stomach drops. It is devastating.

TEARS.
UGLY CRY FACE.
LOUD SOBBING.
It’s never a dignified cry. 

Evolution…

I have this type of dream pretty sporadically but it’s always the same. It always feels like the first time. It used to devastate me and I’d take a personal day and cry and just be a mess. But after a tearful conversation with my paternal grandmother, I decided to evolve this scenario and find the positive in the dream. And all of the triggers like songs we loved or movies we watched. I am learning to welcome them like a hug.

The positive is GRATITUDE. I am now grateful for these dreams because I realize they are visits. I find comfort in the fact that we are still connected in my subconscious. This means I have not completely lost him. I just have him in a different way now-and I must accept this reality and adjust. Just like I adjust to paying tuition in my mid-thirties, ridiculous traffic, bad breakups, etc. It’s all in how we choose to process the event. For example, I can no longer stay in the space of “it’s not fair, why did this happen to him?” Life goes on and we do ourselves an injustice by “crying over spilled milk” and staying there. We owe it to ourselves to live our best lives and that sometimes requires a shift in perspective…and everyone knows a shift in perspective requires work.
I accept that my life is different now. I am not just “thankful for food to eat” or “clothes to wear,” etc. I have a different level of gratitude to express.  


I am THANKFUL that I even realize this.

I am  THANKFUL to live in a world where technology allows me to view his Facebook page if I need to see him immediately or read his emails if I need good, honest comfort.

I am  THANKFUL that I could articulate the many life lessons/gifts he gave me into words that will live on for the future generations of our family to see.

If I need to cry, I still cry but I also whisper
“Thank you. Thank you for visiting me.” 


I hope this message resonates with those of you who have lost a loved one and try to get through the holiday season. We are part of a fraternal order that unfortunately bonds us in pain, but we can encourage each other and make the best of it.

It is not the easiest time of year, but maintaining a spirit of gratitude and demonstrating appreciation for family and friends who are here is a great way to survive the holidays and all days. Think of the positive energy this mindset can create. In my life, there are many kind people who support and nurture me, my mom & my sibs through this-especially my uncles and godfathers. And even my Grandma who put her own pain aside to help me reach this realization and decipher these dreams when we were supposed to be watching Scandal-what an awesome demonstration of love-what an awesome display of selflessness.  All of these things are reasons to go on and to be thankful.

I understand that this may not work for everyone. I wanted to get this out in hopes that it helps at least one person get through the upcoming holiday season. This is my heartfelt gift to my sisters and brothers in the struggle of  navigating life without a parent. This is my gift to the mother-to-be whose soldier will never return home. This is to the widow who now raises and nurtures her husband’s legacy on her own. This is to the man who lost a loved one in that car accident on 210. This Thanksgiving will be a difficult and new reality for him. I am in this with you all, as I would never recommend you do something that I don’t have the courage to do myself….and it takes courage to shift perspective-especially when it comes to grief.

So What Now?…
If this post does not apply to you, please think of the person in your life who is grieving especially hard during this season. Send them a kind word, offer to include them in plans, and just check in to ensure their overall well-being. We all wear tough exteriors to mask pain and vulnerability so just because a person isn’t screaming “I am so sad about Christmas. I feel so alone,” it certainly doesn’t mean that’s the case.

Think about the people you will be spending these holidays with. Think about the grudges held and how much they truly mean at the end of the day. What can you forgive this year? Who can you place ego aside for-and apologize to?

For those who try this approach, will you please let me know how it works for you?

Do you have any suggestions for coping with the loss of a loved one?

Be well.

-RLC

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