#notgrateful November: a practice in gratitude. Sort of.
Every year, it’s a bit of a forced exercise.
I believe in its value and influence. I do. But truthfully, in November, it’s hard.
The kids hate it. They are not always as participatory as I’d like, and I’m sure my own ambivalence, probably not well disguised, is partially to blame. Some years, we’re all sitting together and it’s a group exercise. Other years, I catch them one on one, and sometimes I get an answer, sometimes I do not.
It’s all over Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, especially just before and during Thanksgiving. Articles abound about how everyday gratitude practice helps you sleep better. Improves overall mood and stress responses. Turns the surly into the serene.
I kind of want to punch it in the face.
Because November is a bitch, and I’d rather write off the entire month. It’s easy to sink into the black, sticky depths of things I am not particularly grateful for. But getting mired in the negative is a negative practice, right?
So, this year, I’m just aiming for balance.
I am not grateful that 18 years ago, in the weeks after Thanksgiving, my grandmother passed away. Thanksgiving was the last time I spoke to her. It was a short four weeks after her death that her youngest great-grandchild was born and I am sad that she never got to meet him.
But I’m seeking balance, so… I am grateful that when she was alive, I felt a closeness to her. Not a cozy, enveloping hug – she wasn’t really a huggy type – but was more of a like-minded-souls closeness. I got her. And I think she got me. When you’re young and you’re not even sure who you are, feeling “got” is a priceless.
I am not grateful that 13 years ago in mid-November, my devoted red chow-chow, Ivan, was hit by a car. He was my guardian, especially during long stretches of living alone and single-parenting. I am wholly grateful that he was 14 years old at the time and had already lived two years longer than the vet had predicted.
I am not even a tiny bit grateful that seven years ago, days before Thanksgiving, my brother died from colon cancer. (This was the year I started asking the gratitude question at Thanksgiving). But I am grateful I had an older brother at all, one who teased me, punched me and yet protected me, no matter where in the world we were living at the time. I will never be grateful that he got sick and left us so young.
I am not grateful, nay… I am still resentful… that one year ago, I lost my Dirty Girls partner. She died the same day my brother did, only six years later. Also from cancer. I always thought that as old ladies, we’d have two tiny lakeside cottages right next to each other, and would meet every morning in the garden with our big goofy dogs, drink coffee and continue the conversation we always seemed to be having. I still dream about that cottage, but now I don’t know who’s living next door. I am eternally grateful for her friendship, sisterhood, partnership, guidance and love. I learned so many things, I grew up so much, because of her. And I will always resent that she is not part of the rest of my life.
I am not grateful that this year, in early November, a recent scare shifted me into a mode of living in fear. As someone who coaches others around fear, I recognize the signs. I suppose I can be grateful for that. But I am more grateful that this Thanksgiving, I had both my boys home with me (my daughter was off globetrotting, lucky girl) and I know that I will deal with the fear. I don’t know that it will ever go away, but it will be managed. It will not own me.
This is my list. It’s not for sympathy. It just is. For you, it may be a different list and a different month. The losses and hurts I am holding on to are merely part of life. I recognize that. My story isn’t any more or less dramatic than anyone else’s.
There are many other things I am grateful for, and I am neither ignorant nor unappreciative of them. I have amazing, supportive parents who are also healthy. I have a friend network around me that buoys my spirits with a simple text or cup of coffee. I have my Akita pup, the love of my life, who has been my constant companion for these past two, difficult years. I have a boyfriend who makes me laugh and makes me think. I have a job that challenges me and gives me room to grow. I have three adult(ish) children who provide continuous entertainment, love and adventure.
And that’s the short list.
I am aware of the good fortune I enjoy. I do not lack gratitude for any of it.
But it doesn’t make November any less of a bitch.
So, as I scan all the Facebook and Instagram memes about gratitude, as I read the Thanksgiving posts about how blessed everyone feels, and as I encourage my coaching clients to use gratitude practice as a tool themselves, the truth is, this month is hard. Every year. My reserves are a bit worn down. My resilience isn’t quite so bouncy. My joy is a bit more muted.
And that’s ok. Because fate, the universe, or coincidence – you pick, it doesn’t really matter – has decided that November just really isn’t my month. Fine. I will use this time to feel the sadness, the anger, and the sharp, tiny slivers of bitterness.
In my search for balance, I learned that gratitude practice isn’t about being happy and feeling warm and thinking Pollyanna thoughts. It doesn’t mean we fake it, or that we can’t be real. Those feelings of resentment and sadness are real, and they deserve to be felt.
Perhaps I can be most grateful this month for understanding. I understand that I will get through November. I always do. I understand that the sadness, anger and bitterness are the counter-balance of the love, belonging and security I felt before each one of those losses.
November may never get easier. Gratitude practice may never get easier. But it doesn’t make it any less important or powerful a practice. If you struggle with it like I do, know that it’s ok. At any time of year. Gratitude practice reminds of us what we value, even if some of those memories are bittersweet.
This article was first published on Elephant Journal, November 29, 2019.