Strange Gratitudes

Strange Gratitudes

This Gratitude Weekend I am grateful for things I normally wouldn’t have thought to feel thankful for. Of course it is easy to be appreciative for the well built home my partner left to me surrounded by natural beauty, a healthy body, the availability of wholesome food, the health of my family, good friends etc. But I am also grateful (filled with greatness) for painful experiences this year that were profoundly challenging. This holiday weekend, a year after my partner’s first hospital stay, I am grateful for his unusual illness and death because it humbled and crushed me in a way not many experiences could have.

I met with Francis Rico, my spiritual mentor, four months after my sweetheart had transitioned. We sat in the backyard of a nurse friend’s in Santa Rosa. It fittingly happened to be Memorial Day. “I have no idea what this is all about”, I exclaimed to him with dismay. I was feeling victimized and still in shock from Jeff’s passing which had been an ordeal. He replied quickly and a bit casually, “I know what this is about, it has brought you down to your foundation”. I heard myself utter, “Huh?” as my head cocked as a trying to understand dog would. “Grief is the foundation of this world” the most fulfilled being I may have ever interacted with declared. “Foundation of the world?”

I expected an accomplished spiritual guide to say, “Peace is the foundation of this world” or love or happiness but not the dark, moist heavy cloud of lament which most modern humans seem intent on trying to avoid. “We live in an impermanent reality. Here people, places, things, conditions and circumstances are forever changing so we are constantly grieving. We are continually losing things we love and cherish. Grief is the basis of this world”. I sat there on the lawn chair stunned.   “But you are the most joyful person I have ever met!”. I knew his beloved cat Angel had died around the same time as my sweetheart had. When I reached out to Francis with my pain he would share his. Francis was deeply affected by Angel’s passing and had even sent me a photo of the gray creature. “I know you were heartbroken when Angel died but when we were in Mexico in March your energy wasn’t heavy like mine”. He never mentioned his “pet’s” death to the group while on our spiritual exploration at the pyramid complex of Teotihuacan. I did notice he frequently used cat analogies in his lectures which I had never heard him use before. He was obviously still processing the beloved feline’s passing from this realm. “That is because I completely accept my grief”, the talented shaman shared which pointed to the resistance of mine.

Early one forlorn morning after this heartwarming session with my mentor, I sat back at my empty home with my notebook and pen. I quietly asked Spirit, “What is this intense time about for me?“ A very long list flowed through the pen: His death had began my publishing debut of my writings and poetry; a friend had set up my first blog for me a month after his death. I accepted deep in my gut that physical life is temporary. I had realized fairly early that trying to spiritually bypass my pain wasn’t going to work no matter how hard I tried to be feel better. I learned I could prolong my anguish with common thoughts such as “This shouldn’t have happened, or he was too young to die, or he should be here now or what did I do wrong to deserve this?”.

Another gift was learning to love more with fewer conditions. I had strove to be a supportive partner and meet Jeff’s many needs as best I could but I also had ample opportunities to accept and be with my own fears, fatigue, overwhelm and despair. I realized how dependent I am on others since I wouldn’t have even survived without the loving support of innumerable others that I reached out to several times every day during this grueling process.

How can I convey the anguish of living with an emaciated man who could not eat for the last two months of his life, who was barely surviving on the liquid food being pumped into his veins and whose neck was a horrifying chartreuse? A previously very athletic and active man now sat day after day staring at “Diners, Drive-in’s and Dives” and other curious food shows all day long pre-occupied with when he would be able to eat again.

I had a myriad of reactions to the bizarre situation we were in and how drastically our life had suddenly shifted. I had never realized how difficult it is to be living with someone who is severely ill; I often required reminding that the physically distraught can be dismissive, demanding, irrational and not uncommonly do criticize their intimate caregiver’s best efforts. I also had to learn to silence the internal voice that would harshly comment that I wasn’t meeting the voice’s idea of what an ideal selfless saint should be like.

But on this Thanksgiving I will be grateful to have loved and shared a life with someone who became gravely ill six months after I had moved in. I am grateful that I learned that there are many physicians who are uncomfortable with death and see their role as a “death-fighters” even when that perspective causes more distress for the patient and their family and wastes billions of health care dollars. I am grateful that wiser and more loving physicians are to be cherished and supported. I am grateful for us having been surrounded by nurses that were accepting of dying and death as a natural process and were technically skilled and emotionally helpful. I will be grateful for this peaceful and beautiful home and the other ways he made sure I was taken care of. I will be grateful that probate will be coming to an end soon and that I am motivated to teach people how to avoid the expensive legal process of mind-numbing paperwork; the last thing grieving families need is coping with boringly complex paperwork that can be avoided. I will be grateful to have more experience in communicating with spirits and accepting their ongoing love and support of their earth bound cohorts. I will be grateful for all the meals, housing, errands, caring conversations that were bestowed upon us. I will be grateful for his lovely memorial on Valentine’s Day this year and all who shared their shock, grief and love with us. I will be grateful to have been thrown into this “aloneness vision quest” that has brought me deeper into myself and taught me how to better support people in the throes of loss.

I learned I cannot connect with everyone through happiness but grief is a universally shared experience that all relate to. I am grateful to have accepted that some people couldn’t be there for us because they were unable to deal with the intensity of our pain and that I worked to not take it personally. I am grateful to know that anciently based cultures are wiser with helping their members move through the process of dying and mourning. Some of these cultures relieve these distressed people of any responsibilities for one year as they keep an eye on them and care for their needs. I am grateful that I have come to realize that life is not the opposite of death. Birth is the opposite of death. Life is greater than both of these. And my list could go on.

The Course in Miracles states, “All things work for the good except in the ego’s judgment”. I am glad I kept this beneficent thought in mind even when it was almost impossible to believe.

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