I know there is much to be thankful for. We are constantly urged to focus on giving thanks this month (in spite of the stores filled all too early with Christmas decorations and sparkly trees). But after a few months of mixed blessings, how does a normally negative, depressed person find joy in November?
Autumn was beautiful this year, as always, with some warm temperatures adding to it all. Cloud formations against muted blues, brilliant orange and yellow leaves cascading to the ground, sun glinting off the colors—what’s not to be grateful for?
Well, in spite of it all, negativity can creep its little feet into the joy.
In September we had to put my beloved Aussie to sleep. Autumn walks in the park crunching on leaves, checking out the waterfall and the creek with Murphy by my side ended with unbearable grief. October should be a good month for me, especially this year, my tenth as a breast cancer survivor. At the five year mark, my family bought me a laptop. Five years was a milestone for me, but so elusive for my sister. On October 30 ten years ago, I had my surgery. On October 31, I came home to spend Halloween with both my daughters, a rare event since they are never together anymore for various reasons. This year we had only a few trick-or-treaters, leaving us with bags of our favorite candy. Okay, there is something to be grateful for, to say nothing of a ten-year survival of breast cancer. I didn’t do any charitable walks this year like I usually do. October brought other issues for me. My quiet appreciation for surviving ten years was overshadowed by an attack of shingles, bringing a new meaning to my understanding of pain. I know. There is a preventive shot for that. I planned to get it at my yearly exam. Oops, too late!
There have been times in the past when I was asked to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10. How silly was I not to know what a 10 really is! I do now. Weeks of excruciating pain, rash, itch, blisters on my right arm and total loss of feeling in my right hand made me aware of what real pain is. Unfortunately, four doctors missed the diagnosis, even though I was sure it was shingles. When my doctor finally acknowledged it, it was a little late for the anti-viral to really work. So I may be left with months or more of arm pain and hand numbness.
So now I really do feel a little ungrateful about life. I am hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year. I will have my youngest daughter and her husband and my two granddaughters here from Los Angeles, along with my daughter’s in-laws and possibly my niece and her family. My oldest daughter will be alone in Phoenix, working that day. I will spend part of the day with my mother in the nursing home, a mother coping with increasing problems with dementia and delusions. I am thankful I still have her, but her quality of life is diminishing every week.
So now November is here with its chill and occasional flurries and an early onslaught of holiday stress. I am sometimes annoyed by the chirpiness of happy people. I never know if they are real or not. Are they just pretending to be happy? What is the point of that? Do they make those little trees out of branches for the dining room table on Thanksgiving? Do they cut out little construction paper leaves for everyone to write down what they are thankful for and then do they attach them to the tree so while eating turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes everyone can look up now and then and feel so grateful for it all?
I could be one of those, I guess. I could make that tree and those leaves and revel in gratitude because I do know somewhere deep in my heart I have a lot to be grateful for. But whiner and complainer that I am, I am annoyed by the arm pain and the inability to use a pair of scissors to continue to make my cards for cancer patients. I am left-handed, but wouldn’t you know, when you are little and learning to do things, teachers think you can use scissors like a right-handed person. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I discovered there are actually left-handed scissors! I could have learned to use them when I was a child and I could now be cutting paper and shapes for my cards.
There are some perks to my numb hand. My husband does a little more for me. A little. I worry that I won’t be able to create that mythical Thanksgiving meal where the food tastes good and the gravy isn’t lumpy and the cranberry sauce doesn’t jiggle on the plate and the pumpkin pie isn’t too brown or too runny. In some other world, my Thanksgiving could be great if someone other than a true pessimist and grump wasn’t in charge of it.
As I look out my window this morning, the sun is shining on the golden leaves of the tree across the street, and leaves are gracefully fluttering to the ground. My sister will not be here with me this Thanksgiving, as she has not been for the last eight years. She would be loving the colorful trees, happy to experience another Thanksgiving, able to overlook anything burned or curdled or tasteless, and just love being with family. Okay, I say to myself. Stop the wallowing in pity. Hug your grandchildren. Enjoy the smells filling the house. Embrace the chaos. And even though my ten-year-survival date passed everyone else by, reach into my heart and be grateful for life, even if there is pain, even if there is loneliness, even if there is fatigue and stress and anxiety over the coming holidays, and take a moment to let all the good stuff in because there will always be good stuff and it will always be stronger than anything negative in life.
Image by Philip Martin