Five years ago on this day, November 11, I started to learn the real power and presence of gratitude. It began when I found myself in a storm of personal drama, all of which I wanted no part of and was definitely NOT grateful for. My husband was several states away dealing with his ailing parents. My 15-year-old son was recovering from a painful procedure that involved reshaping (or breaking) his ribcage. When he asked me what normal ribs were supposed to feel like, I discovered a large mass at the top of my left breast. Cancer was confirmed the next day. My father in law died 4 days later. My mother in law was diagnosed with advanced dementia, requiring my husband’s care and attention as he dealt with his grief and relocated her to assisted living, managed his father’s funeral, and took over managing their estate. He was not there for me. How could he be? My widowed mother was one state away and barely able to manage her own health and affairs. I turned to a few close friends for support and to my new doctors and nurses for advice. I did what they said, stepping onto what felt like a treadmill for the treatment of breast cancer. Scared. Overwhelmed. Alone. I scheduled a radical double mastectomy and reconstruction with the first plastic surgeon I consulted for the Monday after Thanksgiving. On Black Friday, I received a call that my mother had broken her hip and would probably lose her other leg to a circulatory disease. She would no longer be able to walk and live on her own. She needed my help. Numb and feeling completely out of control, I could not take anymore. I so desperately wanted someone to rescue me. Someone who had my and my family's best interest in mind, who could see the whole picture and just tell me what to do. I did not want to delay my treatment another day but realized that I had to. I had to be that person I was looking for, not only for me but for the rest of my family, especially my 3 children. I asked myself “What is the worst that could happen?” I could die. No doubt. Was I ready to die? What would that mean?
I realized that if my time was really up, I wanted no or few regrets. The only way that seemed possible was to live from my heart, with grace, acceptance, and gratitude for Everything because everything was significant. Everything had something to teach us, even or especially the unwanted. I shifted and saw Life unveiled. Beautiful and precious. Richly textured and delicately interconnected. The moments I had left in the experience of my life were finite and mattered so I chose to take each moment as it came, with appreciation and confidence to make the best choices I could in that moment, one moment, one breath, one conscious step at a time.
Like many people, I did not fully appreciate all that was right with my life until I was forced to face the real and inevitable truth of losing it and the ones I love. Funny how the threat of losing something that is by definition transient was what it took for me to see all that is really right and wonderful and precious. I am so grateful to have learned this while there is still time to live it. My prayer is that we all come to know the power and presence of gratitude in a personal way so that we can all live it while we still have time.