This November, I hoped to focus on gratitude. I’ve done it before. Gratitude is good.
In recent years I’ve kept a journal in celebration of Thanksgiving, listing three reasons to be grateful a day, large or small. But this year—though good things happen every day, though I still admire beauty in this world, though I love so much about this life—I’m on an emotional roller coaster, riding the highs straight into my lows, unable to maintain my attitude of gratitude or my focus on this ride. Of course, I could make myself journal. Sometimes I think I might try. Honestly, that seems painful. And a little fake. So why?
Last year on November 19, COVID-19 found its way to my mother. She suffered alone in her nursing home, closed to visitors due to the pandemic. Ten days later, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, she went to the hospital. Eight days after that she was released to come home, not to the nursing home but to her home since 1976. For hospice. I was there with my sister and brother and dad to welcome her. Mom’s smile lit up the entire room. Her decline was swift. On Christmas Eve, she breathed her last breath. Of course, I’m thankful to have spent those final days with my mother.
I’m not one to let the little things get me down. But losing my mother wasn’t a little thing.
I’m typing these words in solidarity with those (who for whatever reason may be) in a similar frame of mind—an acknowledgement of holiday heartbreak. If you happen to relate, I see you.
Word of 2018. HOPE. When I began this self-imposed writing gig while living in a La Quinta and rebuilding our house that had been flooded by a hurricane named Harvey, I named my blog Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope. My dad gave me a silver bracelet engraved with HOPE for my December 30th 2017 birthday, and I wore it almost every day for the following year as a reminder that HOPE, in all caps, is a choice. Dad taught me years ago that I could choose my attitude. Even amid crisis, I have a choice. HOPE or DESPAIR? I choose HOPE. Even though I’ve retired the word as my focus, I want to say I’m eternally hopeful. I credit Mama, too, for the faith she passed along.
Word of 2019. BELIEVE. Yes, I realize HOPE and BELIEVE are practically synonyms. In my mind Belief removes all doubt and fuels the Hope. Belief reminds me to trust God in the process. In 2019, I was back home and typing my posts on the comfort of my new couch. Then and now, I BELIEVE in a better, healthier future for everyone in my family. I BELIEVE in the progress of medicine and stem cells and cures for paranoid schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s and addiction. I BELIEVE that together we are stronger, and our relationships are important. I BELIEVE my writing is evolving and helping others evolve. I BELIEVE one day I will publish my first book, the first of many more. All through the grace of God. In 2019, my best friend Denise sent me a new bracelet. This one said BELIEVE.
Word of 2020. I broke the rules to the whole one-word idea. I picked two: HONESTY and COURAGE. In 2020 I returned to school to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. Through this program, I’m finishing my memoir that focuses on my son Drew, the effects of his paranoid schizophrenia on our family, and our search for help. This story cannot be told without HONESTY and COURAGE. It begins in 2010 and spans the course of six years. Our journey begins with the realization that something is wrong. Post-diagnosis, we come to terms with needing help and learn that help is a perfect formula of medicine and counseling, family and community support. I understand now that help is not possible without Drew’s full investment, and the story I’m writing is about me. My reality and my hope. It’s about sharing to help others know they are not alone. At the end of 2020, I felt like I fell short of complete HONESTY and true COURAGE. I considered a 2021 repeat. A second chance.
Word of 2021. PROGRESS. Truth be told, I’m lacking inspiration at the moment. I might even be feeling sorry for myself. I suppose pulling myself out of my slump will be PROGRESS. I suppose giving myself some extra compassion when I struggle with feelings of inadequacy, grief, and anger will be PROGRESS. I will graduate with my MFA in May, and I’ve learned so much in a year. We don’t know what we don’t know, and I know I have more to learn. That’s PROGRESS. I can say I have written a book. More PROGRESS. Now to PROGRESS with revisions—word choice and phrasing, metaphor and humor, insight and transitions. To PROGRESS with courage and honesty. To PROGRESS with living my best life despite circumstances. I wish you PROGRESS, too.
For anyone struggling with “Meh” at the moment, I recently stumbled across Ashley Peterson’s “Action for Happiness” post, a compilation of information from actionforhappiness.org and the eight pillars of joy from The Book of Joy by the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Ashley includes visuals that I continue to contemplate in this year’s PROGRESS. I learned something new and wanted to share.