New Year’s Eve five years ago, Neil proposed to me. He popped the question, I said yes, and three hours later he was flying in the air back to England where he worked at the time.
For the four years of our marriage that followed we spent each New Year’s Eve reminiscing about the year gone by. Although we endured many struggles in our brief time together, our recollections always seemed to fall on the side of gratitude as we looked back over the year as a whole.
My husband and I would sit quietly on the couch, candles lit, and talk. In the stillness of the late hours we would recall the lessons we learned, the new roads traveled, the friends and family we were thankful to have shared life with. 2009 was especially unique as we added with fond joy the recount of the birth of our daughter.
Taking stock of the previous year had been our married tradition. I saw no reason why this New Year’s Eve should be any different. I have much to think back on, and much to be thankful for.
As had been the case throughout our marriage, this year had been met with great adversity and hardship. Despite the loss I still saw gains. I can’t deny the valuable lessons our marriage taught me. One such lesson was to recognize my limitations.
In the face of the greatest trial my life has seen so far, the letting go of my husband, I have been the bearer of the grace and kindness of strangers, neighbours, family, and friends. An entire network of individuals have surrounded my daughter and I in creative and practical ways, as well as intangible ones.
This time last year my husband and I enjoyed days of peace and companionship. I will always be grateful to know that that kind of marriage was possible for us, even if only for a brief moment in time.
I am grateful to have known Neil. To have known intimately the good that was in him. To still hear stories from people of how he would talk humbly about our marriage, saying that he was amazed that someone like me would love someone like him. He truly stood in awe of that. But that kind of talk I knew was not as much a reflection on me as it was of the strength of character that he had. He knew gratitude and he aimed it at me even when I didn’t deserve it. I am grateful that he loved me.
I am aware that I am not the only person in the world who has lost a significant other, or become a single parent through the death of a spouse. I am also aware that I have a support system that has helped me more than words could ever express. The kind of support I enjoy is the kind of compassion and love I wish was known the world over. Sadly I know it is not the reality for others. I do not take this support for granted, and each helper of mine has become another teacher. I try to take good notes so when others are in need I can pay forward the incredible support that has been shown to me, extending it in meaningful ways to others.
For the two weeks following the death of my husband my mother did not leave our side. Since then she has taken my daughter on many sleepovers. Given me time to re-charge. I am thankful that my daughter and I are both well loved. That people, like my mother, her child care providers, and men who have stood in the gap of her father, have taken such an interest in her that they are pouring goodness into her life, building her up, and fostering her development with love and intentional actions.
For all the people who brought us meals when Neil died, who have watched over my daughter so I could have sanity breaks, for those that watched a movie with me, had coffee with me, and encouraged me to take care of myself and attend to my grief, I am grateful.
I am thankful for friends and outlets where I can just be me. Where I, and all my thoughts are welcomed to the table. Where I am greeted with individuals who seem more interested in building bridges of understanding, then shutting doors through judgement. I am grateful for each of you.
When I spoke at Church one Sunday and got to see how my two deepest passions, writing, and public speaking, came together in this situation, I am grateful for opportunities that have appeared in the most surprising places.
My sister encouraged me to start this writing. Once that begun another friend told me I should record audio. Next I was encouraged to do video, then podcasts. It’s has been through the encouragement of these partners that the reach of this site has grown. It’s been one month and on average two hundred people a day are reading these thoughts. The channels of communication are expanding, and that gives me hope.
My list of gratitude swells. Really, it is hard to miss. I think of these things often and the countless others that have added to it I have not even begun to name. How did I become so privileged that this love and abundance should fall down on me? That I get to watch my daughter grow? That I have lived to see another day? I don’t know. But in the spirit of what my late-husband taught me, I will be grateful for it, even when no one is looking.
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