“Our job, as mature adults, is to hold our grief in one hand and our gratitude in the other, and to allow ourselves to be stretched large.”
It was Labor Day when I got my first Monday-morning “Wake Up” email from my friend and fellow-author Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo. She sends out her email “poke” every Monday, and each one features a beautiful detail of a “thangka” (a type of Buddhist quilt) and an inspirational quote.
And inspired I was, indeed, by the Francis Weller quote above.
While I had read parts of Weller’s stunning book, “The Wild Edge of Sorrow,” I had never run across this particular passage before. When I read it, it hit me between the eyes, or perhaps between the chambers of my heart.
For the first time in my just-barely-more-than-seventy years, I considered getting tattoos. “Grief” on one wrist, “gratitude” on the other. Because these two words represented my two main states of being.
Sometimes, I feel like the posterchild for a grief-a-thon. I have been soaked in grief since my string of losses began. First, my good friend Barbara, who used medical aid in dying to end her unbearable suffering as her various organs shut down as a result of her cancer. That was in December 2018. A year later, in January 2020, I said goodbye to my beloved husband, Alan, who also used the provisions of Colorado’s End-of-Life Options Act to die peacefully. And six months later, my sister, Carol, was the next one to go. She was thirteen months older than me, and a massive stroke had left her in a state that she tried hard to avoid: unable to speak or walk, unable to take care of her own body, unable to enjoy the gorgeous Colorado outdoors by herself, to hike, to feel the wind on her face. That’s what she lived for. Carol had written explicit instructions about what she wanted if she had a debilitating stroke (she had a condition that made her prone to blood clots), but her instructions didn’t cover the very specific situation she was in, so Susan, who was her medical power of attorney, and I, as her next of kin, were stuck watching her live a life she hated. For five years. It was a blessing when Covid finally ended her days.
And then there was my son. In February of this year (2022) he died unexpectedly and suddenly of pneumonia. My firstborn, the fruit of my womb. He was 48 years old.
And yet, I am frequently overwhelmed with gratitude. Gratitude that I was blessed with a kind and funny husband who finally helped me understand that I am lovable, even though I wasn’t sure it was a possibility. Gratitude that my life is filled with kind friends who have supported me in countless ways. Gratitude that I have a roof over my head, healthy food to eat, and a garden that provides me with endless opportunities to putter, to heal, to commune with Mother nature, to feel the warm sun on my back. Gratitude that we live in a democracy and still have a free press. Gratitude for life itself.
Gratitude that I live in a state where medical aid in dying is legal.
Some days the grief prevails, and some days the gratitude takes my breath away. But every day, I allow my self to be stretched large.
With love and gratitude,