Moving from Grief to Gratitude

The first two years of our marriage have been trials in grief and upheaval, not exactly the frolicking honeymoon either of us had envisioned. Still, these (almost) first two years have shown me how giving, compassionate, and dedicated my own husband is. When he married me, he meant it that my journey would be his, in sickness and in health. Alas, sickness has won out, and I have grieved that victory and my new limitations. My husband has supported me all the way.

Now, I need to support him. I’ve learned to better manage my symptoms, reduced work hours, sought accommodations to work from home, and increased my average daily energy. I’m not entirely stable, but I’m certainly standing on stronger sea legs than I was at the beginning of the year. I’m no longer wallowing in my loss, though I still feel it acutely. I am a much changed person because pain is transformative, but I still want to be the woman he married, a goofy, quirky woman who has more in common with an animated cartoon character than a bitter isolated one who counts nothing but her losses in her long life. I need to reclaim more of that vivacious self, a touch more exuberance for life and the possibilities in it. I need to be happier and more grateful; I need to do this for myself, but I definitely need this mood shift for my husband.

Emotions, especially between spouses, are catching, much like colds. If I’ve been wallowing to varying degrees deep within a pit of grief and loss, my husband feels that too. I love this man, wholeheartedly and forever. Sometimes when I gaze at him, my heart aches a little from this love. He is a good, wonderful man who deserves immense happiness in life. By focusing on improving my own happiness and being more grateful for the gifts that I do have, I will make him happier in turn. Game on. Nothing is more motivating to me than ensuring the health of my marriage and the happiness of my husband. My pain and loss has affected him, and it’s time to regroup and sally forth back into our present and future lives.

I’ve been thinking about happiness, marriage, and family quite a bit this last month with the departure of our foster kiddo. I’ve been reading books on those relationships and thinking about the kind of life I want to have. When a colleague started a gratitude/exercise group, the timing seemed fortuitous. I joined, and I have been exclusively reading books on happiness and gratitude so far this month. I have found many of the tips I’ve read instructive (and a few a little underwhelming, hokey, or inapplicable).

So far this month, I’ve focused on doing what I can do with as much positivity as I can muster, even on low-energy days. I can’t drive and give my husband a break from a task he loathes, but I can offer to iron his shirts or cook dinner for him when he’s exhausted from a long day of teaching. When I’m getting a drink in the kitchen, I can ask if he would like one. I can offer to make a quick run to the grocery store alone; my health has improved enough that I can usually push a cart of groceries and drive the eight minutes to the store without assistance. When I know that we’re switching turns on the spinning wheel, I can set up his bobbin so he’s ready to spin when he sits down. These are all minor tasks that are easy ways to show how much I appreciate him. I am volunteering for him and being more vocal and physically affectionate than I’ve been in the past; usually we are encouraging and thankful in our interactions, but I’ve upped the ante this month. I’ve packed his lunches some days and tucked away love notes inside them. I’ve tried to be playful and make more jokes than I have in this last year, and I have laughed so hard as we banter with each other. My husband is hilarious, and when I banter with him, he becomes even funnier. He needs little encouragement to move from silly to ridiculous, but he does need a little.

Since my health took a turn for the worse, I haven’t been as playful as I used to be. Making jokes and being silly is significantly harder after a long day of chronic pain and discomfort after a night of poor sleep. I’ve fallen into the habit of being taciturn and solemn more than spontaneously goofy. I’m trying to resurrect more of that goofy self for my husband and recognize those moments where he’s bidding for banter. A bid is a request for attention, and my husband’s bids usually look much as they did last night. We were cozied up watching an episode of Netflix’s The Crown when Princess Margaret reproached Queen Elizabeth for the banishment of the princess’s fiancée as she declared icily that the Queen could not endure someone eclipsing her own limelight.

My husband declared in mock anguish, “Why did you banish Crabby?”

Crabby, dear readers, is a chew toy that my dog loves to carry around the house with its little crab legs hanging from his mouth. Whenever my dog shakes it, its crab legs swing wildly. It’s hilarious and my husband’s favorite dog toy. We once tied Crabby to his bicycle and took it on an 18-mile ride around the city.

After a second, my brain to tingle in recognition that this was a moment in which we could banter as we had used to do all the time before the pain had silenced my lightheartedness. I retorted, “Because Crabby had eclipsed my own importance.”

We both laughed heartily together, and my husband announced, “well played.”

In that moment and in the bantering that continued on through the night and even this morning, I felt myself making the decision to banter and be lighthearted. The action wasn’t as natural as it used to be, and I had to fight the desire to disengage because I had a headache and didn’t feel chipper. Still, it happened, and we laughed together.

I am choosing to be happy despite the pain. I will need to make that choice again and again and again. But no one’s happiness is more important to me than my husband’s. I want happiness for us both, and I’m grateful that I am in the place emotionally where I can make that choice.

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4 thoughts on “Moving from Grief to Gratitude

  1. So important to live in the present! And so hard sometimes. When I get stuck in a spin cycle of making meaning of the past and flipping my shit about the future, I relisten to Brooke Castillo’s podcast-Episode #9, It Doesn’t Get Better Than This.

    Physical pain is exhausting, that is certain (I dealt with stage 4 endometriosis for a long time) but your thoughts create your feelings. You are taking great strides to monitor those thoughts. That is awesome!

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    1. Thanks for the suggestion and encouragement! I’ll check out that podcast episode. Pain is absolutely exhausting, but this is my life. I intend to love as much of it as I can. 🙂 That doesn’t mean loving the pain, but it does mean not letting the pain stop me from making the best life I can.

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