The Final Stage

Having both written about and haphazardly swum through my own variety of the five, six, or however many stages of grief there end up being by the time you make your way to acceptance, I have discovered that there is–or at least there can be–a final stage to the grieving process.

Gratitude.

It seems appropriate that I would reach this stage in this season of the year, a season of thankfulness. It is perhaps the only time that the seasons have seemed to align with a heart that was broken on New Year’s Day and wounded and bleeding again by Easter. A heart that has spent all spring and summer repeatedly blooming with hope and withering in despair at unprecedented rates. A heart that ached and pined and grasped and tried, before allowing the death that would silence its longing.

It is a sobering decision to choose to grieve, to know that in addition to losing the relationship that was taken from you, you are also about to lose part of your heart, often of your very self. Perhaps that is why the process is so fraught with pain and emotion and fear. Because often the only promise you are given is that on the other end you will accept what has happened to you. You will “move on,” as they say. But I think there is more than that. Past despair, past denial and anger and bargaining and depression, past even the acceptance that seems so hard to reach, there is gratitude–the healing balm that soothes the soft pink scar tissue of loss. Gratitude that realizes that this thing, this person, this relationship you have lost was an undeserved blessing in the first place.

Someday I hope I will realize and be grateful for what I have before it is taken away from me. Being grateful, as I have so often been reminded, is not the experience of being given all that you want, but of wanting all that you have.

In this situation, though, it must be enough that I am grateful for what has been lost, grateful even for the fact that I lost it. Because that loss has changed me. That loss has broken and strengthened and humbled and incapacitated me. And when I consider the sheer number of hours that I have spent crying, apologizing, regretting and pleading, it is a miracle to me that there is any life–any creation or blessing or gift or gratitude–growing out of the dirt and the death in my heart. But there is.

And it is not feigned, for how can one pretend to appreciate such pain? Only in recognizing that what was lost was never mine to begin with. It was not something that I earned or worked for. In fact, it was not even something that I wanted a good deal of the time (which I must confess I greatly regret). But three years ago, when I was rigid and bitter and cynical and high-minded, God gave me someone who was adaptable and hopeful and open and kind. And I did not know what to do with his kindness or generosity or hope. I did not know how to handle someone who both accepted me unconditionally and challenged me on every front. And in the end I think I did a fair amount of damage, but I also think had a fair amount of influence. And I think he would say the same.

When I think of the memories and experiences–so brightly colored and wonderfully delicious and beautifully tender and even painfully real–how can I be anything but grateful? They are the fodder of my writing life and the substance of my best and worst dreams, the experiences that have molded my heart and changed my sense of self. For who of us deserves to be loved that way? Even for two years? And which of us earns such a life-changing relationship?

This past Saturday I was walking through San Francisco (a city I would never be living near had I not met this man) and I stopped outside a restaurant along the Embarcadero (something I would not have done had I not met this man) and I took a picture on the iPhone that this man helped me purchase of the appetizers that reminded me of the culinary creations this man taught me about, and I wondered if I would write about them in the courses that I’m now taking because this man made a spreadsheet of all of the graduate schools in the Bay Area and he drove me to an interview when I was visiting him last summer, and had a conversation with me from 5000 miles away when I was deciding where to go to school. As I stood in front of that restaurant I noticed a scarf, discarded on a cement bench in front of the pier. It was white with a leopard print and shiny silver tassels and I thought for a moment that maybe I would keep it. But then I pushed open the large wooden doors and addressed the black-suited host, explaining that this scarf had been lost outside the restaurant and if someone came back for it maybe they would check with him. He seemed shocked that I would turn it in, and as I headed toward the door I heard him say after me, “You’re very kind,” and I paused. Because before I met that man who loved me and challenged me and confounded me and changed me, I was not very kind, not very kind at all. And I realized that I could be. That I could be all of the things I hadn’t been before I met him.

These are the flowers that bloom from the dust. The pieces of thanks that I carry as I learn to keep walking.

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