We all know the feeling of being grateful when we get what we want. Our dream job, house, falling in love and so on. This is how we know gratitude, right? We were told from a young age, “When someone gives you something or helps you, say Thank you!” But, what if you lose your job or a loved one, does gratitude still have a place?
Two weeks ago, I went to a wake for my friend’s grandmother. I was introduced to Carmella, a widow who discovered the healing power of gratitude five years after the loss of her husband.
Of course, I asked Carmella to share it with all of us here.
I remember it like it was yesterday. The living room had turned into a hospital emergency room as the paramedics tried and tried and tried to resuscitate my husband after he suffered a major heart attack. I watched desperately, I wept uncontrollably; I prayed and prayed that he would come back.
Then, he began turning blue very quickly. I suddenly felt like I was in a dream, but knew I would never wake up. I was faced with taking the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to take in my life. I walked up to one of the paramedics; he looked at me and said, “We can try a little longer, but…” I interrupted him and said, “Let him go.”
Every morning, for next five years of my life, I woke up to the sound of my own voice replaying those words, “Let him go.” There was so much I never got to tell him and wanted him to know. Those words would haunt me throughout the day and I refused to accept he was gone. I could feel his presence around me. I could hear his footsteps in the house. I could smell his aftershave in the air.
Every weekend, I’d be in the kitchen preparing lunch waiting for him to come through the door, as he always did. At noon, I’d hear the sound of keys jingling at the front door and I would yell out as if speaking to him, “It’s almost ready.”
I hated getting together with family and friends. They would always ask, “How are you doing, Carmella? If you need anything, let me know.” I know they meant well but, it just reminded that I never needed anyone when I had my husband.
I arrived in Canada at 27 years old, shortly after we got married. There were times where I felt completely overwhelmed and incapable of starting over in a new country. He showed me all that I was capable of doing and achieving. He would smile and say, “It’s ok! You can do it, just be patient with yourself. I’ll help you, don’t give up.” Everyday was filled with his love and we raised our children surrounded with this love, encouragement and to have a sense of passion and purpose.
I just couldn’t let go of the 25 years we spend together and accept he was gone. I didn’t want to be reminded of it by anyone.
Then, one summer, about five years after he was gone, my daughters, who moved to Europe, came to visit me. On one beautiful sunny Saturday morning, they went out running and said they would be back for lunch. I was washing dishes when I heard the front door open. I began talking out loud to my husband and didn’t notice them standing behind me. As I finished rinsing the last glass, I grabbed the dish cloth, turned around and came face to face with them.
In that moment, one of them just walked over to me and said, “It smells so good, mom, I’m starving.” They began to set the table and told me about their morning. They acted out some funny things they saw people do on their run.
They had me laughing so much, that I asked if I could go with them the next day.
They never brought up having heard me talking to their dad. It’s exactly the same way my husband would have, let’s say, handled a similar situation. This was their way of telling me, “It’s ok.” That summer, the more time I spent with my daughters, I noticed how they never let go of all the love they received from their dad and were able to give it back effortlessly through their actions. He was still very much alive in them with the same love he showed them, not by hanging on to his memory and grieving over his loss.
I suddenly was overcome with an immense sense of gratitude and found myself in a place of total peace in knowing how truly blessed I was to have had him in my life for 25 years. How truly blessed I was for my two wonderful daughters. How truly blessed I was to be surrounded by family and friends.
The day when I told the paramedics to “let him go,” I let go of all the goodness he brought in my life and I died along with him. I buried the person I had become when I was with him. By hanging on to his memory and my grief, I let go of his love and compassion because I was not able to keep it alive in me. The loss of my husband has been the worst pain I have ever known. But, this is not how I wanted to remember him. This is not the love he placed in my heart. My daughters taught me this through their loving actions. For the first time in five years, I was filled with so much gratitude and happiness for my life and everything I have been blessed with. I finally accepted my brand new life, even if it’s not the one I had planned for. And, most importantly I refused to let the time we were together have no meaning. In being grateful for it, I brought it back to life by giving that love to others, especially my daughters. He made me know that love and I could keep alive in me and spread it to others.
There have still been moments, especially when I’m faced with struggles that I desperately want him to be with me and feel his comfort. But, I don’t pretend he’s there anymore and I allow myself to cry. Then, I remember his words whenever I felt stuck, “You can do it, Carmie. Just take a deep breath and clear your mind.”
I can’t believe it still works!
I take a deep breath, exhale and clear my mind. I look up and say, “Thank you God for all the goodness in my life.” I’ve accepted people’s help and it has brought more love in my life. Gratitude has been my healing and strength to awaken the love and compassion inside me and feel more alive than ever.