When I went to see her in hospital last week, two nurses were in the middle of trying (unsuccessfully) to get some blood out of her arm. My friend looked so very frail in her bed but was peaceful and sleepy. I held her hand as I watched them work. After a few minutes, as it became apparent that the nurses’ efforts were not producing the desired results, my friend opened her eyes and whispered ‘shall we just say goodbye now?’
A big wave of emotion broke over me at that point and I struggled to contain it. We both knew that this could well be our last goodbye, and I had so wanted to sit with her quietly and take time over the visit. Instead, my friend was being manoeuvred about and it was taking all her remaining energy to cope with it. It was clear I should go, but I knew that I probably wouldn’t be able to visit again for a while and then, well, it may be too late.
I was frustrated and overwhelmingly sad. I kissed my friend and stroked her hair. The nurse glanced up to apologise again, and I noticed her name badge – she was called ‘Gratitude’.
As I walked through the hospital corridors, I thought about gratitude (the concept, this time, not the kindly nurse, though it was her who had made me think about it). Angrily, I thought along the lines of ‘yeah, yeah I SHOULD be grateful that I got to see her at all, but I wanted it to be so different’, but it wasn’t until I was in the car that the real meaning of gratitude in this situation began to sink in.
After the sobbing had subsided, I turned on the radio to try to get myself into a headstate more conducive to safe driving. There was an upbeat, happy tune on, dedicated to a baby who had just been born. The sea sparkled in the autumn sun as the traffic crept along the seafront, and people were out in force, enjoying the late warmth and one last icecream of the season. Here it was. The beauty of the day laid out before me and the miracle of life. It’s funny how it’s often in our saddest that the world can seem at its brightest. I was suddenly aware of what a privilege it was to be alive, well and living by the sea, on my way to pick up my beautiful, healthy children. The sun was shining and my friend was at peace. Although still upset, I was overwhelmed by gratitude to be in this life in this world. This was not some exercise in counting my blessings, but a real, true sense of the glorious technicolour of existence.
My husband had gone to visit my friend separately on a different day. During the visit, she had told him about someone she knew who had had a drawn out and painful illness, but who had told her before she died that she didn’t regret one moment of the suffering as she got to see people as they really are, and hear things that they wouldn’t have said to her had she not been on her death bed. That she understood the very essence of them at last. I know my friend will be thinking along the same lines about herself now. Finding the very essence of life even as it’s ending. Now that, to me, is Gratitude.
Something that I ask many of my clients to do is to keep a gratitude journal. The idea is that each day, before you go to bed, you write down three things that you have been grateful for that day. This might be a big thing, such as a promotion, or it could be something very small such as a beautiful flower you saw as you were out walking. Anything that made you smile, even inwardly. At first, it can seem hard to find things to write but, as it becomes a habit, it’s amazing how the reasons for gratitude come thick and fast. It’s a question of opening our eyes again to that glorious technicolour. Let me know how you get on.