I talk and write often about gratitude. My daily gratitude practice. The gratitude I have for my community. The gratitude I have for every cookie I eat and every moment my children have preschool. I’m grateful for sunshine, I’m grateful for Amazon prime, I’m grateful for my parents. I’m grateful for standing upright, I’m grateful for noise-cancelling headphones, I’m grateful for the Starbucks App that allows me to order without having to talk to anyone. But what about being grateful for the hardships? Grateful for the crappy days? Grateful for the problems? That’s the struggle.
Just as I was wondering how I could possibly be grateful for the lousy stuff, I received the most unexpected letter.
The letter was from my cousin, whom I adore, but who is also not a person I ever expected to send me correspondence. Plus, this wasn’t any ordinary “hey, how’s it going” letter. This was a heartfelt, well-composed, meaningful manifesto from someone who has endured much hardship and as such is wise beyond his years. It was a letter of support and love, but also a letter encouraging me to see how the struggles can help me emerge as a stronger person. He told me I could “share it with anyone I thought would find it helpful.” I think a heck of a lot of people can find it helpful.
My cousin lost his mother rather suddenly when he was a teenager. He’s an only child, and his father has also struggled with health issues over the years. To say that he has seen lousy times is obvious. So what literally brought me to tears was his declaration that after more than a decade he can be grateful for his mother’s passing. I didn’t get it. I know how hard this was, how hard it has been-how could he be grateful? Then I landed on it. At least I think I did.
The lousy stuff show us how strong we are. The struggles bring us closer to our God (higher power/universe/Allah/whatever your brand of this is) and closer to our community. Crappy times make us think about what actually matters. The lousy stuff can encourage (or even force) us to change.
This is not easy. As my cousin noted, it took him over a decade to come to this conclusion.
When I was in the hospital getting chemo, I was constantly nauseated. It was so terrible I was in tears thinking about the cancer patients I know (and those I don’t) who have endured this pain. I tried so hard to be grateful for the pain because it was supposed to keep me mindful, but I just couldn’t. Frankly, I was having a hard time focusing on gratitude at all.
Three weeks and one eye-opening letter later I realize that was a turning point for me on the hospital transplant journey. I was waist deep in the lousy stuff and three things happened as a result. 1) I reconnected to my “believe, believe, believe” prayer mantra, which sometimes faded into the background during easier moments. 2) I reached out to my community and asked for extra laugher, prayers, and love. 3) I found my voice and made a change. I had felt for a few days that the anti-nausea meds were doing me more harm than good, but I was afraid to speak up. Then, I made the decision to stop taking them. I was scared, but I stood up for myself, spoke what I knew deep down had to change, and I believed it would help. And it did.
I think what my cousin was trying to tell me is that we can be grateful for our problems. We can be grateful for our sorrows. The lousy stuff can bring us closer to whatever higher power we identify with, invite us to lean on those around is, and can be the litmus test to indicate that change is necessary. It’s not as easy as appreciating good weather or good desserts and it most certainly takes time. The lousy stuff isn’t going anywhere, but maybe we can be grateful for that, too.