Unexpected, tragic loss changes a person forever. I believe that we get to choose how it changes us. We can let it destroy us, turning us bitter and angry and cold. Or we can let it soften us, making us kinder and gentler and more grateful. It isn’t an easy choice, either way. Those of us who have lost our loved ones know this to be true. We know the struggle to choose life again after we have lost the people we love the most.
I lost my husband, my soldier, to suicide a year ago, 2 weeks before Thanksgiving in 2018. I never expected that I would find anything to be grateful for again. I couldn’t imagine even surviving the loss, let alone being thankful for the fact that I did. I never thought I would be able to appreciate life again when he didn’t get to have one, too. He was my person, my love, my best friend…my favorite everything. It just wasn’t fair that he was gone so suddenly, without a goodbye.
If you have lost your service member, Im sure you know all too well the things I am talking about. I didn’t write this to talk about the hard times, though. I am writing this to talk about the gratitude I feel for so many things as I look back on the first year of being a widow. I am not the same person I used to be. The world is not the same without him in it. Through it all I have learned that, even in the darkest of times, there is alway something to be grateful for.
I am grateful for the love we shared. We had the kind of love people search for their whole lives. It wasn’t perfect but it was ours and it was beautiful. I am a better person because I knew him. His love has saved my life, both before he died and since. He taught me how to love myself by his example. He showed me what it was liked to be loved for who I am. He taught me to laugh more and worry less. He taught me that love doesn’t always look the way we expect. We taught each other that love is a choice we make every day. He never let a day pass where I didn’t know how much he loved me. I am grateful to know what love like that felt like. If I had the chance to do it over again, even knowing how it would end, I would do it in a moment.
I am grateful for the love I have been shown since Bob has been gone. I am grateful for the soldiers that have been by my side, helping me to survive, since the beginning. I am grateful for the love and compassion of strangers. I have been shown that there are still a lot of wonderful people in the world. I am grateful for my home and the security I have. I am grateful for the other widows I have met that have become my closest friends. I am thankful for the opportunities to speak and do outreach and work to change policies to try to save more lives. I am thankful that I found a way to survive this when I was sure I wouldn’t.
Early on in my grief I had someone tell me to spend as much time as possible paying attention to the small things that I can be grateful for. A cup of hot coffee. A warm fire. A hug from a friend. The laughter of a child. A kind word. A beautiful sunrise. A soft blanket. A hot shower. We don’t need huge, life changing things to be grateful for. Sometimes, the best things in life are the small ones, the ones we often take for granted. I believe this one piece of advice may have changed the entire course of my life. There is absolutely magic in gratitude.
Life can be hard. Terrible, unspeakable things happen sometimes. It can feel like there is nothing left worth caring about in the world. Luckily, there are things to be grateful for every day and everywhere. We need to be willing to look for and acknowledge them. This is the time of year where we are encouraged to “give thanks”. I know that finding things to be grateful for in the face of the worst tragedy of my life has pulled me from the darkest days. I hope, this holiday season, that you can find a million things to be grateful for. I hope you find joy in the little things and surround yourself with people who make you believe in magic. I hope you can slow down and take a moment to acknowledge what you are grateful for. I hope it feels like magic.