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gratitude from tragedy

FINDING GRATITUDE THROUGH TRAGEDY | GRATITUDE SERIES

Published in Willow House Magazine

What is it about fall that brings so many new beginnings to mind?

Fall is the smell of freshly sharpened pencils, mulled cider, and brisk autumn air. It is the season of earthy bark, football season, and the hot touch of toasting pumpkin seeds. It reminds me of childhood, family, holidays and tradition. Most of all, fall reminds me of who I am.

FALL IS THE SEASON OF GRATITUDE AND THANKS

I’ve loved nature since childhood. My nature walks were time to daydream and collect little treasures along the way. I’d often come home with pockets full of acorns, mulch, and flowers I’d picked up.

My fantasies were vivid, and the world felt so alive around me. To me, the trees had faces, the sun had a song and even as a kid, I knew that I was living in a world of miracles.

Nature was how I continually rediscovered myself. Every day, the world felt new. I grew up happy, healthy and confident with who I was.

Happiness

FINDING GRATITUDE THROUGH TRAGEDY

But my life took an unexpected turn. Two weeks after turning 18, I fell into a coma for months, due to a sudden blood clot. When I awoke, I was told I no longer had a stomach and that I couldn’t eat or drink. It was not known when (or if) I would ever again.

Waking up in that unfamiliar world of the ICU was earth-shattering. I discovered medical appliances connected to my immobile and foreign body. I felt as though I had woken up as someone else.

Not knowing when I would leave this alternate universe was frightening and overwhelming. But what I want to share with you are the blessings that came from starting anew.

As I became more and more alert, I slowly rediscovered the world that I had been away from for so long. Every smell, sight, and interaction felt new.

I noticed things about my family’s demeanor and our dynamics that I had never taken the time to see before. I realized that these quiet, intimate moments can speak volumes.

In a way, being snatched from the hustle and bustle of everyday life provided an opportunity to connect more deeply with my loved ones. We had the precious gift of undistracted quiet time. Things I hadn’t noticed before like my mother’s smile, a friend’s laughter, and the love and support around me, evoked feelings of profound gratitude.

The beauty of a near-death experience is that you realize the things that matter in life. Yet, falling into a coma is not necessary to realize this!

Every day is an opportunity to remember the things that make us feel grateful.

Once my hands were able to write again, every day I made a gratitude list from A to Z . Even on the hardest days, I found that by the time I got to Z there were at least a few things to smile about and be thankful for.

Soon, my alphabetical list turned from “Almost walked. Better heart rate. Coughed less.” to “Awesome walk outside. Best afternoon ever. Cheerful spirits today.” It was amazing to see each day slowly improve and to feel myself gradually claiming ownership of my world again.

FINDING GRATITUDE IN THE UNEXPECTED PLACES​

Finding gratitude was a way to make “sense” of my story.  If I were grateful for things happening, it could fit into my life. I could own what happened to me and make something from it.  These gratitude lists were my life story spelled out night after night.

This taught me a valuable lesson:  Stories make us stronger. Stories make us think differently.  And there is strength in thinking, seeing and doing things differently.  By these daily lists, I was able to find 24 powerful reasons why I shouldn’t give up hope.  When all else felt lost, I had those 24 bulleted thoughts to hold me through until tomorrow’s list.

By recognizing what you’re grateful for, you start to understand who you are and what you stand for.  When I started my list, bit by bit I started to feel myself materialize back into the girl I knew before my coma. This time, however, I was equipped with a deeper wisdom and a vivacious new desire to discover the world.

As my spirits lifted, I healed from the inside out, hungrier than ever to re-experience the world. Eventually, I didn’t need to be plugged into as many machines. My family and I explored the nooks and crannies of my new world. We enjoyed high-speed rides through the hallways in my wheelchair.

Finally, one day, we found a beautiful spot outside, where I got to enjoy my first breath of fresh air in months. I remember seeing the sunset for the first time since the coma, and I felt like a child being born all over again.

Even the mundane things in life became glorious. I loved seeing people eating lunch outside, the roaring of traffic, and birds overhead. The more I saw, the more I wanted to be a part of it.

Gratitude

APPRECIATE EVERY LITTLE THING

Now, here I am, a decade later.

I’m healthy, grateful, and a part of the world again. It’s the wonderful world I knew as a nature-loving, happy-go-lucky teen. Life has an extra little spark behind every sunset, friend, and routine experience.

I admit that I still get caught up in the rush of everyday life. I always try to remember what it felt like to breathe in the sunset in that rusty old wheelchair. When I do, the overwhelming sense of gratitude floods my senses again.

When life is difficult, try to find that one “sunset” to breathe in from that rusty wheelchair.  And if you miss it one night, remember the sun will always be up again the next day.  For as long as you are living, there will be sunsets and breaths.  This fall, try to take in as many as you can.

When you breath in the autumn air, feel that cool crisp breeze rush into your body, think about how that vitality connects you to what and who you love.  Think about how many hundreds of alphabets you would need to sum up the glorious  gratitude of life.  Every day you have the chance to start again.

How can you live your days as if each experience was being felt for the first time?

Make fall your new beginning. Start today.

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