special needs parenting

Dusting Off My Gratitude Perspective

Sunday night it started with a fever, vomiting, runny nose and cough. We thought Ben had influenza, so right away on Monday we took him to the doctor for the flu test and to get Tamiflu, which is the recommendation from his Infectious Disease Doctor and Immunologist. The test was negative, leaving us to wait it out instead of getting a plan of action.

I prefer action.

His symptoms have ebbed, flowed, and yesterday triggered a Cyclical Vomiting episode, which we caught early and aborted. It’s Thursday and there’s no end to this mysterious sickness in sight.

Do you happen to have a thesaurus in front of you? Because I am every single synonym available in the English language for frustrated and worried. If you take the normal angst that sets in as a child’s illness lingers past four days and add to it the zebra qualities that Ben has and his uncanny ability to develop bizarre illnesses, then add a few drops of the stress of the potential for leukemia recurrence that always occupies a small piece of my brain. I’m sure you can imagine the scenarios playing out in my mind. And hey, guess what?! I have a hysterectomy scheduled for next week.

I’ve found myself sinking into a mire of what ifs.

This morning I recalled an old trick. It’s been awhile since life has been this chaotic, so my trick was stuffed away in a corner and pretty dusty, but I pulled it out and shook it off to find it in excellent working condition.

My trick is something I call gratitude perspective, and it goes like this:

  • Ben is like a wounded T Rex when he’s sick. He stomps through his day making the whole family as miserable as he is. But gratitude perspective says thank goodness for Tylenol to take the edge off.
  • I’m panicking about my surgery next week. It’s a huge adjustment for the whole family to have me needing care instead of giving it, and if Ben doesn’t get better before then…But gratitude perspective says thank goodness this isn’t happening next week.
  • I’m tired; mentally, physically and emotionally. But gratitude perspective reminds me that Ben is sleeping through the night, so that at least I don’t have sleep deprivation on top of the fatigue that accompanies caring for a sick child.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. It’s a trick I learned when Ben was sick all the time (Gratitude perspective says thank goodness it has been a good long while since his sickness was a daily fact of life, and now it is an exception instead of the rule.) This trick literally kept my head on straight through many of the months and years of Hirschsprung’s, leukemia and dozens of hospitalizations. (Gratitude perspective; he isn’t in the hospital!)

I’m not sure I would have developed and refined this trick had it not been for the many times that Ben’s situation was dire enough to sap me of my joy and peace and forced me to cling to the tiny victories to survive.

Since those years I have stumbled into reading about resilience psychology, and gratitude is a major factor in resilience. Finding small slivers of goodness in rotten situations snatches back a sense of control in an otherwise uncontrollable circumstance. It may sound insignificant, but it’s a life ring in a rip tide.

I wish I hadn’t packed it up for so long, this gratitude perspective. It’s just as effective as tool in daily life as it is in the disruptions. Rather than grasping for a life ring after getting caught in the rip tide, wouldn’t it be better to just zip on a life preserver as a preventative measure?

Uncategorized

Living Gratitude

Bear with me, this is something I’m hashing out in real time, so I don’t have it all polished and pretty. In fact, this writing is primarily intended for myself in order to work through my thoughts.

At Thanksgiving we pause to profess gratitude, often for things we take for granted on an ordinary basis. It’s a beautiful practice, especially before a giving (and receiving) season, to appreciate what we have. But…

Is there more?

Should there be more?

What if we take this day of thankfulness and soup it up, put wheels on it, and take it out for a drive?

For example: “I’m thankful for my healthy body.” What is the logical way to enact that thankfulness? A conscientious diet? Giving up a vice? Committing to exercise?

Or “I am thankful for my spouse.” But are you acting like it? Would your spouse say they feel appreciated? Do you thank them for their contribution to your home and family? Do you show them how much you value them?

What about your house? Your children?

Looking at myself, I suspect that my gratitude can often be superficial, just lip service, something to check off my list of things to do before digging into a glorious feast and then turning around and griping about the dishes.

I know that mindfulness and intentionality are buzz words that we hear too often, we slap the word authentic on something to make it look like we mean it, but do we? Are we fleshing out our gratitude and walking a thankful life every day? Are we even pausing to do that with sincerity for this one day a year?

It seems that I have more questions than answers, I’m afraid. But I can’t help but notice that even though I have more than I could ever need, I still crave more and more. And I’m not alone. I want to at least slow down this runaway train instead of just shrugging my shoulders because I’m not the engineer.

I guess what I’m saying is that I want to live out my blessings. I want my spouse to know what he means to me, and my kids to feel valued. I want to recognize the great fortune of having a home that stays warm in the winter and cool in the summer and a luxurious bed to sleep in. I want to live and breathe and eat and sleep gratefulness for each advantage I enjoy each day.

And then, (and I think this is the real key to happiness) I want to share it.

grief · parenting

Grubby Gratitude

With Thanksgiving Day situated toward the end of the year it’s natural to reflect back and take stock on the cumulative blessings of the year.

I believe in gratitude, I believe that focusing on all that we have to appreciate is a worthy practice no matter what, and especially valuable in times of heartache. So, this November I’ve been on a quest to find my gratitude and to meditate on the good in the world and my life.

What I have found is much like what I imagine finding gold to be like. I’m busy looking for something sparkly and clean, clearly beautiful and valuable. What I find is specks in an ordinary rock, stuck in the mud. It’s valuable, but so much more complicated than I expected.

I don’t remember the last time our family had a “normal” year. A year in which we didn’t go to bed on New Year’s Eve ready to bid good riddance to the heartaches of previous twelve months. And I don’t remember a Thanksgiving on which we didn’t have a lengthy list of things that make our hearts swell with gratitude. The problem is that too often the hardships cover the blessings, disguising them and making them look less valuable.

Looks are deceiving.

Nothing nothing will undo the pain of living through tragedy. This year our blessings, which are many, are shrouded in heartache. But they are there. They’re beautiful and worthy and wonderful. It takes work to reach into the mess and pluck them out of the yuck and clean them up. I find myself reluctant to start because the dirt looks like how I feel.

This year my gratitude is grubby, but it is there. It’s going to be a work in progress, but I don’t want to be so overwhelmed by the mess that I don’t even try.

My giving of thanks will be subdued, I might not be able to muster effusive delight over the many things in life that I have to be grateful for. Rather, I will be intentionally noting the beauty around me, seeking it out and tucking it away in the depths of my heart, where it will fortify and warm me in the days to come.