Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Of Grief and Gratitude

A friend posted five things she was grateful for every day for a while on Facebook and challenged others to do the same. The things ranged from the mundane to the profound. A regular gratitude practice—even noticing the little things--is supposed to make you feel better. It’s part of the restorative benefits of meditation, yoga, and other spiritual pursuits.

For many of the past 20 months since Noah’s suicide, I couldn’t face thinking about the tiniest form of gratitude; it seemed absurd, almost offensive, in light of the tragedy I was inhabiting. Grief and gratitude spring from such different ground—the endless, arid desert plain of loss; the lush, verdant meadow of blessings. I felt banished from the promised land. Gradually, gratitude crept back in, first through noticing natural beauty, next through recognizing the outpouring of love and support around me. But I saw these things from a distance; I knew they were there, I knew they were good and were helping me, but I couldn’t fully take in their presence.

The pressure to declare one’s gratitude can be oppressive this time of year. Rabbi Yael Levy teaches that when we feel out of touch with gratitude, it’s OK to acknowledge our grief and sadness in that moment. Maybe this is what Noah was doing at his last Thanksgiving when, as our family and guests went around the table saying something we were grateful for, he shook his head and said “pass.” At the time, I was irritated with his disdainful refusal to participate. I couldn’t help comparing him with our older son, who gave us thanks that year for supporting his college education. Now that I know more about Noah’s situation—now that I’ve been wrenched away from gratitude myself--I wonder if his mind was already too agitated and despairing to feel anything else. For that, now, I can forgive him.

I’m still not ready to feel gratitude for Noah’s life and the years we had together. Yet I know that’s where I need to go as part of acceptance and forgiveness of his suicide. Finding a way back to gratitude is our task as survivors if we are to integrate this loss and restore our lives.

What am I truly grateful for in this moment? I am grateful to a young cousin who recently texted me a memory of Noah putting on a fake Yiddish accent, pinching her cheeks, and pretending to be a Jewish grandmother exclaiming over how much she had grown! I am grateful for the people in my life who listen, care, and understand—including you who read this blog. I pour out my heart; you take it to heart, and sometimes even tell me about it. Thank you so much. May each of you find your way to some glimpse of gratitude this holiday season.

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