It’s amazing what you can be grateful for. Sure, we’re grateful for food on the table, a roof over our heads, robust health (if we’re lucky enough to have it), the usual stuff everyone talks about on Thanksgiving Day. Gratitude is simply recognizing the value of something. Sometimes it’s something we’ve come to take for granted, like turning on a tap and getting hot water. Sometimes it’s something horrific that doesn’t sound like any good could possibly come from it all. And yet, we can still be grateful for the terrible as well as the good in our lives.
I got a phone call one evening from someone I hadn’t known for long. Sherry* was a member of a club I belonged to. I didn’t know much about her, and wasn’t sure why she was calling me. I had talked to her about mental illness in the past, just a little, because it runs in my family and hers. Otherwise our interactions had been minimal. I couldn’t imagine what she was calling me about.
After a polite greeting, Sherry told me that she had been admitted to psychiatric hospital because she had attempted suicide. She was calling from a locked ward. I was startled, then sympathetic. I was able to listen to her and hear her story with compassion and understanding. She was afraid to call her family and closer friends, because she didn’t know how they would take the news. I reassured her the best I could.
When that phone call was over, I thought the strangest thing I may have ever thought in my life — how grateful I was that a suicide attempt by one of my relatives had prepared me for this moment.
I am still floored when I think that I could be grateful for something so horrible, but I am. When I first heard that a close relative had been put in the hospital for a suicide attempt, I was grateful she was still alive, but otherwise, I was a mess — frightened, angry, unsure, confused. I never thought I would be grateful for my part of the experience: hearing her story, visiting her in the locked ward, watching her go through therapy and recover. How could I be grateful for something so harrowing and painful?
And yet, only a year later, there I was on the phone, talking calmly to a woman I barely knew, and being of comfort to her. I was able to talk to Sherry about her situation because it wasn’t exotic or bizarre to me. It was something I’d dealt with before.
If Sherry had called me the year before my family went through our suicide crisis, I don’t know what I would have said or done. I would have been completely flummoxed, probably said all the wrong things, or worse yet, hung up and left her to deal with her problems alone.
Knowing how badly I might have responded makes me even more grateful that I was prepared for that moment and able to hold Sherry’s hand as she went through her ordeal. Thanks to that phone call, I am grateful for one of the worst times in my own life. I try to remember now that even the darkest moments can have an unexpected silver lining.
Is there anything awful in your life that you are grateful for today?
*Not her real name