I will never forget the moment my dad broke the news.
‘Y’all, Mom passed away today….a little after noon…..’
The rest of his words blurred into the deepest caverns of my mind. I don’t remember crying, nor even getting emotional. I think more than anything, a voice inside of me was screaming, ‘Holy shit — it actually happened. She actually died.’
We all knew it was coming. It had been five years in the works. There was nothing else the doctors could do. Dozens of surgeries, radiation, and years of chemotherapy induced baldness had come to an end. She fought like hell, but it was over. All I could think about were moments robbed over the last five years, and more importantly, a future I would never get to spend with her, my mom.
I’ll never forget the ugly green paint lining the walls of the den where Dad broke the news that day. That room and that house witnessed my transformation into a man, something my mother never got the chance to see. After about thirty minutes of asking questions and attempting to process what we’d just heard, my older brother Porter asked, ‘Dad, can we go play video games?’
‘Absolutely,’ he said.So that’s what we did. I guess it was our attempt at avoiding the pain of trying to figure out how to live in a motherless world for the first time.
Time made coping easier, though for years I’d awaken from a beautifully narrated dream where my mom was there and alive, watching me take the pitching mound, or score the game winning shot on the basketball court. These dreams I soon realized were nightmares, and they were the most haunting of sorts. They took a toll on me. It all took a toll on me. I locked myself out. I became terrified in investing emotionally by loving somebody knowing they could be taken from me any moment. So, I built a wall around my heart and I prayed like hell that it would stay protected.
You see, life changes when you lose someone you love. Suddenly you start to see the world a bit differently. I don’t know exactly how I saw it before, or immediately after, but I played the part, acted like everything was okay — that’s what Dad taught us, and he was pretty damn good at it himself.
Holidays were tough, and experiencing each for the first time after her passing was equally gut-wrenching and awkward, as we tried moving forward with our lives, a necessary evil that almost seemed like betrayal, and the turning of a page in a book that nobody wanted to read anymore. Some of my fondest memories of her are of Thanksgiving, when we’d gather around the overcrowded dining room before gorging ourselves, and we would share with the rest of our family what we were most thankful for. I always remember mom going last, and it was always beautiful. She had a way with words.
As I look back at those memories, and what Thanksgiving means today, I can’t help but think that Americans have it all wrong.
Thankful; acknowledging a desired outcome. Or In other words, praising something positive that could have been much worse.
I’m all for being thankful, but the act of being thankful alone is inadequate, and in a way cheap. Giving thanks brings to mind what we have, but it doesn’t address how to feel when the world doesn’t give us what we want, when we feel abandoned, or hurt. Our world is ever-changing, cruel and for many unbearable. So the challenge becomes staying positive and optimistic when life gives you less than your fair share.
I’ve learned that there is another way, a way that digs deeper. It has saved my life, and reshaped the way I look at myself and my connection to the world.
The Practice of Gratitude
When I finally dealt and came to grips with the passing of my mom, it had been an internal fight that I shunned addressing for years. I’ll never be thankful for the five years of hell my family went through, but I will be grateful for what I learned in having gone through it. I learned how strong people are, and how full of love we can be. I learned to be grateful for the people in my life and how they make it meaningful.
Gratitude is rooted in appreciating and recognizing the inherent value in something — whether welcomed or not. It requires an opening of the heart to potential, and an awakening of the soul to realize there is indeed beauty in every moment, if we allow it. That beauty isn’t always easily discovered or radiating, in fact it’s often quite the opposite; dormant, waiting to be discovered in places that scare and frighten us. That same scary story, if we are open to it, shifts from something personal to something that is part of the way the world works.
In looking back on that torturous chapter of my life, I learned that gratitude prevails every time. It calibrates our vision in order to see the world outside of ourselves. The more we look for good in the people and world around us, the more it will present itself, even in hard lessons learned — i’m living proof of that.
To see the face of death is certainly an eye opening experience. It forces us to see how finite we are and that this gift of life can be taken at any moment. The greatest lesson I’ve learned in life was something my mom taught me, as she stared death into the face — to live every day like it matters, to go all in, and to give life everything you’ve got, because one day there won’t be any days left, and we never know when that day will come. Through her death, I, ironically learned how to live, and for that I am grateful. So, my hope is that you might find gratitude without having to learn the hard way like me.
Being thankful is great. Becoming grateful changes the way you see the world, and how you fit into it.
If you can’t be thankful — be grateful.