A simple gratitude practice for the hard days... and the beauty of being without
It’s all Shadyn could talk about. He and his dad - and grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles - were going to Lake Powell. For “7 nights and 8 mornings!” To my cute 6-year-old’s mind, the trip was going to be wonderfully long, and he felt like the luckiest boy on the planet. Most of his excited anticipation revolved around Lizard Island, named by Shadyn of course. Only a canoe ride away from the houseboat and home to countless lizards, it was any boy’s dream (apparently) and had been the highlight of the vacation last year.
The buzz of excitement around Lake Powell started weeks before they ever left for their “7 nights and 8 mornings” of boat rides, smores, and swimming. And then it went with them into the truck, down the driveway, and along on their adventure, leaving our home as quickly as it had come. Without that adrenaline of excitement in the air and half of my family gone, I felt emptier than I expected I would.
Holding onto positive vibes
Like many times before, I was glad they were able to go and, at the same time, sad I couldn’t go with them. But the heat, my crutches and/or wheelchair, and my unpredictable and usually fragile body wouldn’t have left much room for fun, even if it was supposed to be a vacation.
So I’d sent the boys off with a smile, brought out the building blocks for my little sidekick daughter who was staying behind with me, and tried to be cheerful. Our girls-only staycation was going to be quiet and restful… and free of dinner-making. :) Ready and waiting on a page in my planner was a list of projects I could fill my days with. The fridge and pantry were stocked with leftovers, freezer meals, and Top Ramen. The big pile of oranges on the shelf were ripe and ready... for my little fruit-loving toddler, of course.
The week turned out to be quiet alright. But it was anything but restful. And certainly not easy. Without my warrior and angel husband to piggyback me up the stairs at the end of the day, Naomi and I headed upstairs each night right after dinner and before I was too tired to get the two of us up to our beds on my own.
Going to bed with no one laying next to me made for sleepless nights that left my body exhausted and uncooperative. And each time I showered, alone and without the help I was used to, the suds washed down the drain along with any bit of energy I had left. Even caring for Naomi became a challenge without her big brother to help at snack time, talk her into getting a diaper change, and bring out the smiles and giggles like only he can do.
Gratitude is a good companion to have, through anytime in life, but especially hard times. And I often remind myself: when you can’t be grateful for everything, be grateful for something. But even more apparent during the week without my boys was how easy it is to be grateful for something when that something (or someone) is gone.
A new (& simple) gratitude practice
When my boys finally walked through the door with tanned skin and duffel bags dusted with red sand, I’m certain that at that moment I was the happiest (and most grateful) person on the planet. Which made me wonder if this fresh approach to gratitude was a happiness booster that could be harnessed.
So I've been spending the past few weeks imagining things out of my life, experimenting with this new gratitude practice and couldn’t be happier with the result. Actually I feel happier all around!
Making dinner at the end of the day isn’t quite such a chore when I imagine the experience without good quality, fresh food, a stove, a microwave, or access to clean water with just the twist of a tap.
Maneuvering through the minefield of Legos, play food, and stuffed animals isn’t quite so frustrating when I imagine my days without the cheerful chattering, readathons, and games of hide-and-seek that come along with them.
Being stuck in bed after yet another relapse isn’t quite so devastating when I imagine laying here without cozy blankets, a comfy bed, a loving and supportive family, and the hope that I’ll eventually be able to get back on my feet… because somehow I always am.
An open invitation
So if just trying to “be grateful” doesn’t lift your spirits as much as you’d hoped… If life feels a little too hard or a little too sad... If the happiness boost you desperately need feels entirely out of reach… Instead of figuratively adding an item or person to your “grateful for” list, picture instead what your life would be like without it.
Because while you're missing it, even for just a moment, everything changes. Gratitude isn't just something you will yourself to have, it becomes something you honest-to-goodness feel. It’s hard for things to look hard or sad when you can see how much harder or sadder they could be. And with this simple shift in perspective, your happiness level goes up a notch or two all on its own.
It’s now been weeks since my boys came home from their adventure, and I don’t think I’ll need to be imagining them away anytime soon. But when I do, I plan on it only being for a split second. (Or maybe two.) Because 7 nights and 8 mornings is far too long.