Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Art of Gratitude

What's up with gratitude?

I've just endured the longest pause ever between blog posts because I didn't want my sulking to seem ungrateful.  After all, I'm lucky.  Lucky to be here writing, lucky my family is safe, lucky we have a warm house with food to eat.  Lucky, I can go about my life without chemo treatments.

But just the same, gratitude has been scarce the last few weeks while I've been home healing, physically, from literally getting my insides knocked around and emotionally...from having my insides knocked around.  I was angry about things.  Furious, an irresponsible teenager destroyed my car, causing me and my husband such painful injuries we barely left our house for almost two weeks, and terrified my boys.

Yet, I hear myself say:

"Our holidays were pretty good.  Things could have been worse."

Not very convincing.

It seems I'd reached the end of the gratitude road.  Gone as far as I could without the strength to summon it once more.  Instead of feeling truly happy for good circumstances, I was tired of being grateful for things that... weren't so bad. I was about to wander off the path of accepting the crap life dumps on me time and again, and wallow in the anger of misfortune, but, something kept stopping me.

Turns out, gratitude is clingy.  I couldn't quite shake it off.  Even though I wanted to, though I felt I had a right to.

It's hard to forget this kid put my children's lives in jeopardy.

BUT...

It could have been so much worse.  How can I be angry?  What right do I have to be mad? We are sooo lucky.

Can someone be grateful and pissed off at the same time?

That's the question I can't escape.  To me, it's like two rams butting heads.  The two sides just don't mesh.  It has to be one or the other.

Then something reminds me.  A blog post, an email... There, but for the grace of God...And suddenly gratitude is looking pretty good.

Perhaps, it's something we can accept only when looking beyond ourselves.

I'm not religious -- just awake.  There's so much tragedy in the world, sadness and yes, my family's tale of a head-on collision could have been among those...It's not.  We're all here.

Others are not so fortunate and it could happen to any of us, at any moment.

Today, I read Susan at Toddler Planet expressing thanks for just a few pain-free hours spent with her young children.

Yesterday, I learned Laura at The Cancer Assassin isn't doing well, though she's trying to handle all the blows she's been dealt.  Asking for help doesn't come easily, but she finds herself in that position.  If anyone reading this can help her achieve a better quality of life in Portland, Oregon, please read her story and reach out.

I'm also reminded of my brother's good friend, Guzzo, from college, diagnosed with a brain tumor in the mid 80's and suffering the physical and financial consequences ever since.

Both Laura and Guzzo are near destitute because they got sick, because treatment kills the good cells along with the bad.  Because it's nearly impossible to hold down a job when you can't drive, think straight, see, hear or even stand up.  Insurance, when lucky enough to have it, doesn't provide a free ride and just living on the absolute bare minimum is sometimes out of reach.

If anyone knows of any resources or support services for someone living with long term effects of a brain tumor, specifically in upstate New York, please email me and I'll pass on the information.



So, yeah, my car was totaled.  I got a new one.

My boys and husband are here with me.  Alive and well.

We're fine and yes, overwhelmingly grateful.

I'll take it.


Have you ever experienced conflicting emotions about gratitude?



7 comments:

  1. You know, Stace, I've always thought that gratitude is all well and good, but that doesn't mean we have to be doormats and not feel good and pissed off when crap happens. Like cancer, for instance. There are too many people out there who are all too willing to tell other people how they should feel, who 'rate' certain feelings as better than other feelings, who might even go so far as to tell Laura she should be grateful she's still alive or something. I really hate those people. So, I try to avoid doing that same number on myself by telling myself how I should feel.

    Sometimes we feel like crap. Sometimes we don't. Sometimes we feel several different things all at once. It's all okay. We shouldn't judge ourselves or our feelings, no matter what they are. And maybe that's the tricky thing about gratitude, because in a way, gratitude is not a feeling, it's a perspective.

    I'm glad you and your husband are still alive, by the way. But what a lousy way to spend the holidays.

    xx, Kathi

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  2. Oh boy yes! This really, really resonates with me Stacey. It is perfectly normal for you to feel as you are feeling right now..you have been through a very frightening experience. On one level you know how much you have to be grateful for, but another part of your mind is reeling from what might have happened. The good thing is that you are aware and even though we might slip from time to time - we are only human after all - we always have a chance to become aware and begin again with gratitude for the next breath. I know I struggle with this a lot, and can easily slip into feeling sorry for myself and forgetting all that I have to be grateful for, despite recent heartbreaking losses. Please don't feel as if you should somehow stay away from blogging when you have the blues or are in a funk - it is good for the rest of us to know we aren't alone in being human! As the writer Thomas Moore says "Every human life is made up of the light and the dark, the happy and the sad, the vital and the deadening. How you think about this rhythm of moods makes all the difference." Love to you. Marie x

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  3. I go back and forth with this every single day. Its not anger though, its sadness,depression, and wondering why my life had to go this way....and then I read about others' situations and I feel, well, not gratitude but rather guilt for feeling bad about my life when there are so many in worse places than me. I have not been able to work "gratitude" anywhere into the equation yet.
    ~Nancy xox

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  4. Stacey,
    Conflicting emotions are what make us human. I struggle with this all the time, the biggest of course being, why can't I just be grateful for being alive? Shouldn't that be enough? Why do I sometimes still get really angry at cancer for disrupting my life? Why can't I be completely satisfied with my reconstructed body? Why, why, why? And then I see and read things too. I read those two posts you mentioned. Then in comes the guilt. And more conflicting feelings. It's just the way we are. It's alright to feel two conflicting emotions at the same time. In fact, it's alright to feel many conflicting emotions at the same time. It's all about finding balance. Or at least trying to. No wonder I chose that word as one of my three for the New Year! ha! Great post!

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  5. So understandable and relatable, all you have written about here. I am a HUGE gratitude proponent. I use gratitude as a tool to try and pull myself out of my darkest times. Sometimes it works and other days I just feel like crap, angry, sorry for myself, fear, you name it. But I keep coming back to gratitude because eventually it works and ultimately it is the place I would rather be when I can manage it. To feel anger after what you went through with the car accident is completely understandable and if I had to guess based on my own experiences you and ypur family suffered from some PTSD related to your cancer. It happens to me and my husband and daughter often. In fact my mother in law was recently diagnosed with heart failure and was in the hospital the week before Christmas. My whole family immediately went into 'Oh no' mode and it took us a few weeks to come out of it. Once you recognize the feelings and accept them then you can figure out how to move forward.
    It sounds like you are figuring things out, and helping others is always a great way to do that, just like your focus on your brother and Laura. You are moving forward, sometimes that is all we can do.
    Hanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings, they completely resonate with me.
    Debbie

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  6. Hi Kathi, I like the idea of not telling myself how to feel and just be, but it is certainly harder than it sounds. Guilt is a powerful feeling and I agree with you about gratitude being a perspective. I think that's very true, it's not an emotion, but it's used to replace some. Tricky. Thx.

    Thanks, Marie. It's nice to know I'm not struggling with this alone. Not to say, I'm happy we're all struggling...but, you know what I mean. It helps knowing you're out there. xoxo

    You know, Nancy, I think there's a fine line between guilt and gratitude. Perhaps one brings on the other, I'm not sure, but I do know that even as I wrote this post and felt better about things, I wasn't sure "gratitude" gets to win out. It shouldn't be a reason not to feel sadness or anger. One doesn't outweigh the other, but like Kathi says, it's perspective. We just need to get there.

    Hi Nancy's Point, I think balance is a great word for this. Without it, I don't think I'd function very well. The trick is finding it, not letting some of the negative emotions win out. I don't know, this is a hard one, but made easier by everyone's comments. Thank you.

    Hi Debbie, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I hope your mother-in-law is doing better. That is a crappy way to spend the holidays. But, I know how you feel. It's so easy to start feeling sorry for myself. The list of reasons is long, but I can't let it weigh me down. I'm begining to see it's okay to wallow for a while. I think it's necessary, but I can't stay there. I guess knowing when to move on is the key. Happy New year to you and your family.

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  7. Stacey,

    Wow, your posting is really powerful. I totally get how you are feeling about the conflicting emotions. I do believe that one can be grateful and upset about one's circumstances at the same time. Our emotions are complex, and we can't always see the world with one emotion. There are often many conflicting emotions to deal with.

    I think your feelings are completely valid.

    And I am so happy (and grateful) that you and your family are alive!

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