I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about gratitude. Some of it has been triggered by Mother’s Day, which has just passed, and Father’s Day, still a couple of weeks to go. As someone who lost both parents when I was very young, I am quite certain that I never told my parents how much I appreciated them or even that I recognized how much they did for me. I have no question that they knew that they were loved but I don’t know if they ever truly knew how much they were valued.
At 25, losing my mother was not something I really thought could happen. I’m not sure why I continued to think she was going to recover and get better, long after it was clear that cancer had won not only the battle but the war. Even the last time I saw her I told her that I would see her in two weeks. When I think now about her expression and the way she looked at me, I know that she was well aware that this was not the case.
When my father died a few years later there was no warning, no long drawn out illness. He died the way many would prefer, he went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up in the morning. My dad was not an easy man. The most frequent descriptor I use when I talk about him is that he “raised difficulty to the level of an art form” yet I know how much he cared, how important my brother and I were to him.
Today I wish that I had told them how much I appreciated them. I wish that I could have had the understanding I have now, the understanding that life is fleeting and that our whole world can change in the space between one heartbeat and the next. I wish I could have told my mother how much I valued her support and boundless love. I wish I had told her how much her incredible positive attitude, living by the words “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything” inspires me. She spent 12 years fighting cancer and never complained. I watched her hair fall out in handfuls, something no one told us to expect when she started chemo, while she and I were traveling out of state. She never wavered and never, no matter how ill she was, was less than 100% present for all of us, until the moment that she died.
My dad, I see now, struggled in ways I only now understand. He was a person devastated by loss, personally and professionally, and he needed the kind of help and support I could not understand at that time, much less give. Today I understand that his depression might have been treatable. At that time, I only saw my frustration. I wish that I could have helped him, acknowledged his pain and worked to, together, find a way through it. I wish that I had stopped, at any point, and told him that I appreciated all that he did for us, pushing us to achieve and excel in school, making college not just an expectation but supporting us—in private universities—and never complaining. I wish I had let him know that I knew about the kind of care and love he gave my mother in her last months and how much it meant to her and to all of us.
My commitment going forward is to not just take time but to make time for gratitude. Not just on special days but every day. If we all stopped for one moment in our day and thought about things we are grateful for, if we took another moment and told the people we are grateful to, I believe that we would not only enhance the lives of those we care about but our own as well.