Last week I talked about Gratitude being easy (Gratitude: It’s Not About Being Happy, It’s What Makes Us Happy) – especially when life is good. I see it over and over on Facebook, people thankful for their family, their friends, or their house. You take turns at the Thanksgiving dinner table saying what we’re thankful for. And you will hear Food, Family, Finances…those are the usual top 3 on the grateful list. Here we are on Day 12 and my Facebook Feed is full of “Days of Thanks”. Everything I read is all pretty much the same. Thankfulness for what the person currently has.
When was the last time you heard anybody say, “I’m grateful my mother was a joyless, narcissist, train wreck”, I turned out better because of it! This might be harder than I thought.
So my challenge this month is going to be in finding gratitude. Finding Gratitude where I’m not accustomed to looking for it. Finding gratitude for the intangible. Finding gratitude in an emotional bag I packed years ago. Finding gratitude in something you previously thought of as a challenging time. This could be one of my tougher challenges!
My computer is set to scroll all of my photos when it goes into screen saver mode. I’ll be involved in something else and look up to see an old family photograph up on my big 27″ computer screen. My husband will ask me about the old photo and the story attached to it. I challenged myself to look at these photos differently…through a new set of eyes that can see something different in those pictures….find gratitude in those pictures.
I grew up in a dysfunctional world.
I know…dysfunctional families are a dime a dozen, but I knew we weren’t like most families from the very beginning. I could see the difference between my family and other families on our block or at Church. The way my parents talked to us (or didn’t talk to us at all) was different from everybody else. I was the baby, and I was told often I was a mistake. I knew from a very early age, I was going to have to learn to self soothe, because I wasn’t going to get any comfort from either one of my parents.
My mother was high on the Narcissistic Personality Disorder Scale and my childhood wasn’t really about me, it was about learning what I had to do to please her. The whole family revolved around her wants and needs, and since I was the outlier in her eyes, in order for the family to work I had to be the outlier in everybody’s eyes.
The Michigan Sand Dunes.
This is one of my earliest memories. Climbing to the top of the Sand Dunes was something everybody did if you lived in Michigan. My memory is not of climbing the Dunes, but rather how my 3 year old body wouldn’t support my will to get to the top. The top where my family was. The Sun was hot on my head and the sand was even hotter under my feet. Every step I took, resulted in sand shifting and setting me back one step farther away from the top. I gave up, surrendered to the hot sand and sun. Curling up in the hot sand and waiting to die. Very melodramatic don’t you think? It’s a weird memory for a 3 year old. But I knew even at that age I couldn’t expect anyone of my family members to come back and rescue me. I made peace with that notion and laid there wondering what it would be like to die there in the sand. There was no crying, no panic and no calling out to family members, just surrender.
I found this picture after my mother died and once I saw it on the big screen, I could see my little head on the other side of the dune. I could also see this memory from another side.
Finding The Gratitude…
I always say sometimes you have a few jobs you don’t like before you know what job you really want. I think of my family just like that. I have a much different relationship with my kids than my mother had with her kids. I also have friends that have taken the place of family. Without that dysfunctional environment, I wouldn’t have been so adamant about breaking the cycle. I wouldn’t have found my sense of humor to get me through. Also, I know now not to stop. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and what you’re looking for just might be right over the next hill.
My Christmas Distaste
I don’t have any memories of Christmas as a child. None. What I have, is an overwhelming feeling of discomfort and certainly no joy. Whenever I am confronted by the season, I mainly want to run as far from it as I can. I can see from the look on my face, I wasn’t a fan of Christmas and whatever stressful situation was going on here. Sometimes having no memories is like the universe protecting you from details you don’t really want to know.
Being an empty nester, I no longer have the responsibility of creating magic. My husband and I celebrate Christmas Day in our own way. Free of stress, lots of great food and a couple of classic movies. There is no Christmas Tree, no stockings hung by the fire with care and no mistletoe. We take the dog for a walk and enjoy the peacefulness around the neighborhood. We actually look forward to our day of Comfort Food and Joy now. I am so thankful the universe has spared me from the details.
My Friend Nelda and The Duck
Nelda was my mothers friend. One of the neighborhood ladies that came to her weekly Coffee Clatch. She was ever present in our lives and I have really fond memories of her, for god’s sake she brought me a duck! As I grew up she took me to experience my first ice cream soda. We’d sit at Sweetlands in Grand Rapids, MI and make up stories about the strangers we saw there. They’d be enjoying their ice cream and we’d decide they were spys or a shady salesman. When I got into my pre teens she took me up to her cabin on a great big Christmas Tree Farm. We’d talk for hours, make fires in the fire pit and collect weeds that snapped crackled and popped when we threw them in the fire. She taught me how to make hobo coffee and we’d sun bathe on the roof of her house. She was a Vegetarian! That seemed so foreign to me at the time. She was SO SO different from my family.
When my mother was ready to go into an assisted living facility, I looked Nelda up and found out she was also in an assisted living facility. My mother had lived in Florida for years and she and Nelda hadn’t seen each other in a very long time! I thought it would be fun to take my mother to see her. Ok…I was the one that wanted to see her.
When we first arrived, Nelda didn’t remember my mother. She remembered me. She talked about all the things we used to do together. Sun bathe on the roof of her house, making hobo coffee and getting those ice cream sodas. I reminded her of the cabin and she said “Oh yes, we used to take all the underprivileged kids up to that cabin”. Nelda, I wasn’t underprivileged! This time she looked at my mother and said, “Being underprivileged isn’t always about money”.
She was confirming and validating what I saw in my family. All that time we spent together was to provide me with something my family couldn’t. This realization came to me shortly after my mother died and I was hashing through all these old photos. I called the home she was in and found out she had died just a week ago. I wanted to thank her….and it was too late.
Finding Gratitude sometimes requires a change of perspective. Tell us about an experience you had to look at through a different set of eyes to find your gratitude.