Life is often times a beautiful, uncertain mess.
But we do what we can to untangle it, to create meaning in the spaces that remain otherwise unknown. We secure our lives with jobs and our relationships, and the small choices we can make such as where we might go on vacation or if we like cream in our coffee. Small, insignificant decisions in the face of what matters.
And what matters, you might ask?
When my mother died, fourteen years ago, I decided I could not flourish without her.
I remember the moment I came to this decision as clear as yesterday.
I was standing in a gift shop with an old boyfriend a few days after her funeral. I don't know why we were there but suppose it had something to do with the lost and unmoored feeling that happens when someone close to us dies. You just don't know what else to do.
We were standing in front of a display case filled with tiny glass figurines, and I remember thinking how ridiculous they all seemed. Who on earth needed a glass cat with wire whiskers or a little angel holding a heart? My mother was gone, and life as I’d known it was gone too.
I set rules for myself. For instance, I decided that I could not marry or have children without her witness. Also, I felt incredible guilt each time I started to move forward in other areas of my life quite simply because she no longer could. In this way, I kept myself just below the surface of my potential. All while thinking that I was handling my grief, and my fear, and my inability to admit that I had no control over the fact that she died.
By not facing my pain, my body, my psyche, my heart was washed in it. I entered into a long term relationship with grief.
As I tried to assert control over my life, I found myself sinking further into shame and pervasive self-mistrust. Given a chance, I would sabotage relationships, work opportunities, and places to live. What seemed like a good idea to survive psychologically at one time has informed a lifetime of heartbreak.
I have taken a lot of steps forward since then, but not without crippling side-steps in the process. On any given day, I can’t be too sure if I’m making even more a mess of my life or if things are getting better while holding space for the possibility that both might be true, and that is just a part of living.
For me, developing a language of gratitude has helped me see the world as a more forgiving, and nurturing place. It's impossible not fall love each day when seeing the world through this beautiful, mysterious, wildly unknown process. I mean, it literally changes our relationship to life itself!
Gratitude has helped me process and then turn emotions such as anger, bitterness, and sadness, into something more positive and nurturing, and at heart-level, creative. I may not have become a mother or married or built a career, but I am creating a life-experience that reflects my values daily. The more gratitude I express, the more compassion, the more love I feel for myself, not in isolation but as part of a whole.
Every day I do my best to live with heart.
In the little things, I find peace. I start each morning with a smile and a silent “thank you” to the sky. I take long walks daily and engage with my surroundings, like, the other day, a single leaf was falling from the air, and it was so beautiful to me, watching it float. I reached a single hand out to catch it, and when it was in my hand, wet from earlier rainfall, I couldn’t help but feel touched by grace. It was a single moment that amplified into the next. All this emotion from a single leaf falling, pointing me to the present moment. Not before, and who knows what comes next.
Would it have mattered if I hadn't caught that leaf? No. Of course not. It’s not about the leaf. It’s about being playful and engaging with life while we are here to live it.
The choices I made as a young girl were out of fear. And they were choices that colored over a decade of my life. So now, I’m using gratitude to lean into the uncertainty a little more because there’s still a whole lot I’d like to do while I have time.
And why not enjoy untangling this gorgeous, confusing mess?
Jocelyn M. Ulevicus is a writer, educator, and seeker of truth and beauty. Her work aims to assign a meaningful, accessible, and loving language to themes of loss, trauma, and heartache. You can follow her on Instagram or contact her via her website.
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