Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The gift of everyday gratitude: On counting your blessings, even as your heart is breaking

Sunday afternoon, the kids were on my last nerve. We'd taken a little road trip and en route home, the two of them fought mightily. Sabrina kept putting her bare feet in Max's face and saying "Smell my stinky feet!" Max would screech and grab Sabrina's hair, and then she'd wail. At one point, Sabrina announced she was doing yoga to tune Max out except her meditative chant consisted of "Max isn't going to have a Cars 2 birthday party!" which only made Max rage more.

I asked/begged them to stop. Finally, I turned around in my car seat and hissed, "I can't wait to get home and be away from you!"

I instantly felt awful. How could I say such a thing? Kate had just lost her little boy. I still had my kids. I needed to appreciate them more, even if they were acting out. I needed to thank God for their very existence. And then, another wave of guilt hit me: How could I selfishly be thinking about how lucky I was to have my children when Kate was going through hell and Gavin was gone?

As I've tried to process Gavin's passing, a thought keeps occurring to me, as I know it has for other parents: We do not sufficiently appreciate this life that we have. When I lay in bed Friday night next to the kids and I kissed them as they slept and breathed them in and dripped tears onto them, I wondered why it often takes tragedy to make us reflect on our blessings.

It's human nature, I tell myself. Today, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, surely many people are holding their loved ones more closely.

It's crappy, I myself. It isn't right to feel a big rush of love for your kids because a child has died.

It's human nature, I remind myself. And so it goes.

I know what Kate would say: Of course you should go love on Max and Sabrina. Don't feel badly about that.

The truth I've had to face is this: I do not feel enough gratitude for my family. Most days, I am not marveling over their existence. No, more likely I'm wondering how I'll get through everything I have to do for them, be a good-enough mom and hold it all together. I get sucked into daily drudgery, appreciative only when I cross off another task on the to-do list.

Yes, of course, I think my kids are super-cute, delicious and all sorts of fascinating. I'm in awe of their smarts and achievements. I get a happiness high when Max makes progress of any kind. I have been known to lean over registers at the supermarket and Target and show the cashier photos of the kids I carry in my wallet.

But ordinarily, I take the kids for granted. I dash out the door in the morning to make the train to work after giving them quick pecks on their cheeks, unconsciously assuming that they will be waiting there for me when I arrive home. The weekdays and weekends pass quickly, a blur of activities, schoolwork, bath time, bedtime.

And when the emotional wear and tear of raising a kid with special needs gets to me, well, let's just say I'm not giving God a big high-five. There have been times when I am decidedly ungrateful for the hardships I've encountered along this journey, ones that now seem so relatively small.

Gavin's passing has made me grapple with another hard truth, and that is the medical fragility of our kids. Max had a stroke at birth due, in part, to two blood-clotting mutations. I don't think about it that much anymore, except in recent days: What if Max suddenly had another stroke? I've wondered. What if he were suddenly gone? Which has only made me feel nauseous and kiss him more. And think about Kate having to say goodbye to Gavin forever and heave sobs and get angry about the unfairness of it all.

As I grieve for Gavin, this gratefulness I've felt for my children has weighed heavily on me. My gut is saying I need to accept and embrace it as yet another gift from Gavin, this reminder to flex my gratitude muscle more regularly. Take a few moments from life's hustle and bustle to ponder the miracle of my kids, appreciate them, savor them. Maybe even when they fight, a whole new perspective on sibling drama. Thank God to have them every day. And thank Superhero Gavin for showing me the way.


  1. YES! YES! YES!

    A good reminder for all of us to focus on what we have. xo

  2. Thank you for putting into words what so many of us are feeling at this very moment!

  3. I love this post from Momastery. It talks about enjoying the moments because it's simply not possible to appreciate our kiddos every minute of every brutiful day, no matter how much we wish we could!


  4. Even Kate has expressed that she's more enthralled with her younger son's talking at the beginning of the day than the end... it IS human nature. But that doesn't mean, like you've expressed, that we can't fight harder for the greater virtues!

  5. Exactly how I've been feeling lately...thanks for putting it into words for us all!

  6. "Let's just say I am not giving God a high-five". Perfect! I too struggle with being overwhelmingly grateful for Boo being able to be home with us and sometimes ungrateful for the road she has to walk.

  7. I'm glad I'm not the only one feeling this! Thanks for this post, Ellen!

  8. It is human nature to only feel grateful when tragedy strikes but I found a way to combat that I keep a gratitude journal in which I write one thing I'm grateful for every day, even on the days when I'm not feeling all that grateful, it really helps especially on the bad days.

  9. Beautiful words Ellen and so true. I'm sorry I've been away from the blogosphere for so long. I'd forgotten what a great source of inspiration and connection the blogging community is. Love your work x Dianne


Thanks for sharing!