It’s that time of year again… where we all begin to focus a little bit more on what we’re grateful for. I admit that usually I am annoyed by this custom… especially when people bitch and moan all year long and then for just one month they decide to have an attitude of gratitude. Although if it helps people who otherwise forget to be grateful to think about things for a month, I suppose that’s a good thing.
So I thought I would get real with my list this year… and make it one that focuses entirely on the things I have to be glad for after death. These aren’t just things I am creating to make a list, they are the daily experience of my life, the things that keep me going and make my life still worth living each day since Drew died. Many of them are also not things I would have ever thought to be so deeply grateful for before experiencing a loss that rocked me to my core and left me completely incapacitated in many ways. I hope that it gives a small glimpse into my daily world of learning to live on…
1. I’m glad I’m alive today. Living and freely walking about without any hindrances to speak of aside from the exhaustion of grief. I am tired almost ALL of the time now, my body and mind depleted by the constant ebb and flow of grief that never really slows down too much. But even with all of that – even though sometimes I just get plain fed up with being so tired and having to work so hard to keep going and keep finding hope…. I still have a life, and that’s a big deal. The world doesn’t guarantee that life will be easy or fair, and no matter how hard it is at times… its still an incredible privilege to have, and I try never to forget it.
2. I’m thankful that today is not my “hardest day”, because for someone out there… Many someone’s, it is. Someone out there right now is losing a person they love dearly, or going through something else traumatic. And their life is – right at this moment – being changed irrevocably and exploding into pieces… pieces that will leave them terrified that they might not even survive it all. And they can’t eat right, or sleep right, or think right, and they feel handicapped by all of those things, and scared and alone. I’ve had that day. More than once. And I’m thankful that today, as of right now, is not that day for me… and that the worst thing wrong with my day is that my feet hurt a little and I miss my love.
3. I’m grateful that no one else in my life has suffered any sudden death or serious illness or trauma. My grandmother died this year, but she was 100, went peacefully, and was ready to go. I am grateful that has been my only new experience with death since last summer.
4. I’m grateful to have a best friend. Nothing can replace a best friend. The one who has walked through the fire with me, who gets that Drew is still just as much a part of our lives as he always was, who holds my hand each day, who reminds me to be silly, and who listens when I need to cry. Who always has my back. Who – even though at first I did not want her to – took on the role of my best friend when my best friend and soul mate died. She’s made him proud, and I know without a doubt he picked her to show up for me.
5. I’m grateful that I can listen to our song again. For over a year, I have been unable to… and in August the time finally came that I could – and that it wasn’t painful, but instead comforted me, and brought me crystal clear memories of beautiful times we shared.
6. I’m glad I know who my true friends are, the ones who will show up at my worst and keep showing up for the long haul, no matter much it pains them to be so near to my pain.
7. I’m grateful for massages. No seriously, it probably sounds sad, but it’s the only physical touch my body gets now, and our bodies need touch. I’ve become infinitely appreciative of the simple act of one human giving another human healing and love through massage.
8. In the same way, i am grateful for pedicures and manicures. It’s the only time that my hands and feet are touched with such kindness and care. The only person who did that before was Drew. Now, I let others and I appreciate each moment of being taken care of in that way.
9. I’m thankful for the waitress at a restaurant who brings me food when I eat alone – because she too is taking care of me, bringing more than a meal, but also kindness. I let her kindness wash over me and allow myself to feel the love coming through.
10. I’m thankful for the videos, pictures, and many writings my fiance left me with so I can always remember him, our endless laughter, and his lessons. Anytime I am really missing him badly, I can just open up pictures, watch videos, and read old conversations or journal entries and feel comforted.
11. I’m so grateful for every individual – friend or stranger – who does not run away from my pain… who is not afraid to sit in it with me for a moment and just listen. For the ones who treat me like a normal person still and do not try to tip-toe around me because of their own fears about death. You folks are priceless to me feeling human.
12. I’m thankful for dental floss. Last year, for 4 months I was out of dental floss… and my brain was so completely fucked up by the trauma that I could not remember to buy any. I would go to the store… i would even walk down the damn aisle every time, and every time I would walk out with no dental floss and not realize it until I got home. Of course every time I realized it I just sighed in frustration… I felt handicapped mentally in everything that I did for a long time. I even made lists for everything, but I could not remember even making the lists so that was a fail too. It took a long time, but now, I can think more normally again. Now I can actually keep a thing like “dental floss” in my mind, go to the store, and actually come home with it! I am really thankful for that.
13. I’m grateful for art. For the act of creating. Because it has saved my life. Because when everything else in my entire world exploded, and I exploded with it, the one thing I still had was the ability to make something. A poem, a painting, a photograph… anything. For a year and a half it has been this way – breathing and making stuff… literally the only things I know how to do that make sense anymore. On the really hard days, when nothing else can ease the pain, and I mean nothing… I can grab my camera or a paintbrush or a pen, and I can DO. And in the doing I connect to something spiritual, and to him, and I let go entirely, I find God, and I find my peace.
14. I’m thankful that I’m a really good cryer. That I know how and when to let myself completely fall the fuck apart, and that I’ve come to know that peace is always just on the other side of a really really good cry.
15. I’m glad that I love and respect myself and that I know how to put myself and my own health first. That I can say “no” to obligations without any guilt whatsoever because I am taking care of me. That I can stand naked in the mirror and love all of me, even with the extra 15 pounds I’ve put on this year. And that I know now that I will not take any shit from people, most especially, from myself.
16. I’m really grateful for loud heavy metal music on the bad days. Seriously. NOTHING gets the anger out like blasting some Slayer or Pantera and driving down country roads.
17. I’m glad for good sleep. After he died, I slept only about 3-5 hours a night for at least 6 months… usually interjected with waking up about 5 times and always waking up at 5 or 6am unable to go back to sleep. Every freaking day. This year, I’ve been able to sleep through the night almost every night now. I never stop being grateful for that, because lack of sleep and bad sleep is truly a special kind of hell that affects everything else in your day.
18. I’m grateful my cats are dead. What?! I know, that sounds awful. But I must explain that they were both older and one had quite a lot of health problems at the time Drew died… and I was honestly just SO exhausted from trying to heal myself and also take care of them. They ended up passing on in the summer this year, within a month of each other oddly. I miss them so dearly – they have been the one constant in my life since I was 20 years old – but it was just too much. It’s been such a weight off my shoulders to not have to worry about them anymore. I needed to let go of that.
19. I’m grateful for the rare moments and days when I get to feel like a “regular” person again… Where pain or longing or missing him does not dominate every fiber of me. For days when I have entirely normal conversations with people now, when before, every single interaction somehow involved talking about death. I’m grateful there is a little more room now for death to share me with other things, like life.
20. I’m grateful beyond words that I have the support of my family and his and our friends to enable me to rebuild myself. His family has helped me to be able to essentially take a year or two “off” from life so that I could make my most important focus be to find ways to heal and figuring out how I will begin again. No words can ever express how much the support in my life has changed my experience of his death – coloring my grieving world with more love and hope and kindness and possibility than I have ever had in my life. The people around me have helped to change the entire course of my life in such a way that I feel I will be able to look back in 5 or 10 years and say that Drew’s death did not destroy my life, but that it – and he – made my life far more beautiful.
21. I’m thankful I’m not a nervous person anymore. Drew even told me that once, and I knew he was right. I mean I would get nervous about trying to make it to the airport and get to my gate on time… so much so that one time he even had to go in with me and help me through the process of getting my bags checked and my boarding pass printed because I was just so anxious. I really hated this quality. But the truth is that when you lose a parent young like I did, and you are left always feeling scared of the other one dying, you become a nervous person. It happens. I don’t quite know how, but him dying changed that. Somewhere in the past year, trying to put my pieces back together, I noticed those pieces were missing… the nervous pieces. And I guess I just didn’t go looking for them. I now, for the most part, I react calmly and logically to things that used to make me nervous. Airports? Piece-o-cake now. I am not a nervous person anymore.
22. I’m grateful for a deepened and more intimate relationship to a higher power/God/universe which has developed this past year and I have allowed to guide me. I have spent this entire year with the theme of “letting go” being pushed at me from seemingly all directions. Not letting go of Drew or of my love for him, but letting go of the pain and the trying to control. Letting go so that a force greater than myself can guide me to where I am needed and where I am supposed to be. I pray a lot now, I meditate daily in various ways… not traditional meditation, but activities that allow my to clear my mind and find peace. Photography is a big form of meditation. I’m grateful for all of this.
23. I’m glad to have an incredible support network of widows/widowers that I can call on when I have really rough days and just need to vent to someone who gets it. These women are fiercely projective of me, and I of them. We know all the important days to check on each other, and we have heard each other laugh and cry in ways no one else has. I am so glad for this group of men and women.
24. I’m thankful I will always be the last woman Drew ever loved. That he really, truly, gave me his all, and that I did the same. That there was always – above all – kindness, trust, and respect. And that there are no regrets about our time together. We both lived fully and with integrity for ourselves and with each other. He made me proud in a way no man in my life ever has… he showed me what a good man is, and he changed me entire world forever with his love.
25. I’m grateful that I know what real love is, and that I know love is the only thing that matters. Not just romantic love, but all love. Loving each other always with kindness and respect. I’m grateful I can see so much clearer now that such love – even from one stranger to another – can change people’s lives in really big ways.
26. I’m glad for the ways Drew shows me he is still around and for the ways he changed me for the better and still is even in his passing. That he guides me, and that on every twist and turn of this winding path since he died I have felt his hand in it. I trust him more than anyone I have ever known, and so I still trust him to lead the way.
27. I’m grateful that the cemetery where he is buried is out in the country, and that I can go sit in the grass beside him without another soul around for hours at a time. That I can play music, sing songs, cry my eyes out if I need to and take naps there entirely unbothered by the rest of the world. Out there, nothing else matters but us.
28. I’m grateful beyond words that his family is my family, and mine his… and that our families together have rallied around me with support in a way that has totally and completely changed my life and made an enormous impact on my healing and my ability to move forward. My life has been made so beautiful by their presence.
29. I’m glad I can help people who are grieving or in pain, that sometimes I am able to give them hope, or simply to help them feel like someone has their back. I’m glad that they trust me enough to allow me to sit with them in those most intimate and vulnerable corners of themselves.
30. I’m glad, once again, that I am alive today.