Gratitude and Grief

Mary E. Schulz is a Social Worker and writer who loves dogs, opera and stories that take her
breath away.

I call them “ambushes”. I am going about my day – tidying up the living room, doing some cooking or driving the car, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I am brought to my knees by grief. It can be quite cruel, especially when I think I am doing ok. That today is not too bad. Then, boom! Something happens and I feel like my heart is going to stop beating from grief.

I used to feel angry and resentful when these ambushes happened. How unfair! Just when I am feeling a little bit proud of myself for getting through today in one piece and maybe even accomplishing something, I am side-swiped by grief.

What brings these ambushes on? It can be anything and is usually something so small that I don’t even realize it is there until it hits me. For me, it is something that reminds me of my husband, who died. It happens when I am rummaging through the junk drawer in the kitchen and I come across a scrap of paper with his handwriting on it. Or when I am cooking and a piece of music comes on the radio that we used to dance to in our kitchen. I now understand what the term “a broken heart” really means because it feels like my heart breaks into a million pieces all over again when these ambushes happen.

I have learned not to fight back when grief jumps out at me like this. I try to stop what I am doing for a minute, pull over if I have to when I am driving, and let my grief wash over me. Cry if I feel like it. I try not to talk myself out of my sadness but just let it come and be. Gentle and quiet. I let images come and go in my mind – what it felt like to be with my husband when we heard that music or how much I miss finding a note from him when he went out unexpectedly.

I have always been very grateful for all the many blessings I have had in my life, so I used to think it was ungrateful of me to feel grief. After all, I consider myself a very lucky woman to have shared such a wonderful life with my husband. So many people don’t have half of what I had, no matter how long they live. How can I allow myself to feel sad when I have had so much? I tell myself to pull up my socks and be grateful for what we had.

I am learning that grief and gratitude can go hand-in-hand and co-exist. I will never stop missing my husband. How could I? But at the same time, I am so grateful for every minute we shared together. After all, isn’t that what love is all about?

With time, these ambushes are less frequent. And when they do happen now, I find myself smiling at the memories almost as often as I cry.

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