Dear Gratitude

Gratitude is forced upon me by the outside world

By people who want to tell me what my life is and isn’t

By people making assumptions about the way I live

About what I have and what I am lacking

When in reality

Nobody knows anything about others

Nobody knows what happened to you except you

Your gratitude comes from within not from a holiday or a relative

You do not need to be thanking the universe all the time

Simply for being alive

Because that life might be full of despair and anguish

And that’s okay

There will be periods of immense thankfulness

And periods of deep anger at the world

They come and go

They are not controlled by a schedule on a calendar

We cannot control the events or the feelings

We can simply live them all.

Dear Good Day,

I am so grateful to have you. You have been so kind to me today. After so many years with so many bad days, the good days shine so brightly. These are the days I never want to end when it gets dark because I don’t want to face the possibilities of all the things that could go wrong the next day or the next day after that. These days that are filled with laughter and sunshine and peaceful thoughts and love are so few and far between and so valuable. They change the way I see the world. They change the way I see my life and suddenly I want to be here to experience all this beauty over and over again. They show me that joy still exists even after grief and trauma. It is still out there and some days it finds you.

The good days also give me my deepest fears. They make my anxieties come to the surface. I am not comfortable with good days because I am so unused to the feeling of my body letting go. I am so unused to the feeling of something going right, of a stranger smiling at me or of winning a prize. I am used to the fight or flight mode, the disasters, the fighting off each other as it speeds towards me. When the day is good I know it will end eventually. I know something will happen to end the good streak and that something will hurt like hell. It will hurt so much more because of the good day before it. The contrast so sharp that it stabs you. The good days make me think back on the bad days and make me wish for no more days because the thought of the bad days to come in the midst of a beautiful one is so overwhelming. Sometimes on good days I want to quit while I’m ahead. I don’t feel like waiting around for the next tragedy or the next cancelled train or the next illness or the next downpour. I just want to rest in the peacefulness of this good day.

There are always going to be good days and bad days. Good moments and bad moments. Forever. For everyone. I have yet to accept this. In the dark moments I still believe that all my moments will be dark. On the good days I still feel a fleeting euphoria that cannot last. Temporality is part of life. Good and bad will both end and both will come again. No matter what I do or what I think or what I pray. I try to remind myself to hold onto the feelings that the good days bring. They are so much stronger now than before I experienced pain. Therefore, the pain was part of giving me the good. Without it, I would have seen this day as just average, not an amazing gift. As I write this late in the evening I am having a hard time giving this good day away to the night. Knowing that an unpredictable day is coming where anything could happen. It could also be good, I don’t know. I have to let go and just see. Meanwhile, I think it’s pretty clear I don’t take good days for granted anymore. I savor them and sit with them for as long as I can and then I wait for the next one to come around.

Dear Royal Family,

I am sorry for your loss.

The death of Queen Elizabeth II fascinated the whole world. As expected. What fascinated me was thinking of all the other people who died that day. That week. Today.

Both my grandmothers died tragic and traumatic deaths. They were both incredible women. They deserved so much more than they got at the end. They died too young and too painfully. They didn’t get to 96. Barely anyone really does. In their short lives they suffered more than I have the capability to comprehend. They didn’t get to lie in a castle peaceful and comfortable or surrounded by family.

It is only “natural” in the way our society works that this is what the Queen’s death would look like. Of course it gets the attention, the crowds, the days long mourning, the weeping people on the street etc. And yet, even though it is expected it is a little bit wrong. So many people pass away every day. To their families and friends they are the most important thing, they are so valuable and worthy. When I watch the carrying on after the Queen’s passing, I think of the people who died that evening who had no family around them. Those who will not even have a stone to mark their grave because they cannot afford it. How can it be that these things exist in such proximity?

When I watch the news with the non-stop coverage of her procession I think about all the “ordinary” people. Those who died during the pandemic, isolated and with no human touch at the end. Those who died bravely fighting disease with everything they had, desperate to stay with their families. Those who died too young and their families grieving while the world grieves. All the people dying in mass disasters in countries that neither the royal family nor anyone else ever even grants a thought to. I also think about my grandmothers.

Society is unequal. In Britain and everywhere around the world. The Queen’s death illustrated that to me in a way I wasn’t expecting. It is unequal in life and most certainly also in death. As if her life was worth more than anyone else’s. We should mourn her because death is sad and a family has lost a loved one. But she should not be mourned more than the others and their families. The fact that she is, is sad in its own way.

Dear Spring,

Spring is coming back. It used to be a time to be hopeful, a time where light returns and we get to breathe in fresh air and take in the sunshine. Two years ago this vision was spring was interrupted and replaced by a time that was characterized by fear and uncertainty.

This year it’s hard to know what to feel. The sun is out more and the sky is more blue. There are small flowers blooming and lots of birdsong. But if it wasn’t for those little glimpses of the season’s normality, it’s hard to tell that we’re going into a brighter and lighter season. The darkness of the past few years looms over us even when the sky is bright blue above us. The grief and memories haunt us and we are walking on eggshells even if those eggshells are dispersed among the blooming daffodils. While we look at those very flowers we think of the places in the world where these have no chance to grow or they will be quickly and violently trampled.

For me, this will be my first Easter without two important family members. Easter was a big holiday in my family. We all enjoyed it. Coloring eggs, eating lots, getting and giving chocolate eggs and little toy rabbits. I dread it now because I don’t want it to come without those people who I loved and who loved the holiday more than most.

Will we be able to embrace the warmth and hopefulness of spring despite our worries, fears and grief? We will have to wait and see. Enjoy the flowers in the meantime and be grateful for every time you get to look up at the open blue sky.

Dear December,

Christmas is almost here. But this year it’s impossible not to be touched by the suffering the world has gone through and our own individual pain. I think it’s fair to say every human being is struggling with something this year. Accumulated grief from (more than) 12 months of unfortunate events seems to want to spill out all over the pretty decorations and fairy lights. Yet, for the most part we keep it in. We don’t want to ruin all those sparkly decorations or admit that we don’t actually have the appetite for a traditional Christmas dinner. It’s in a strange way both sickening and comforting to watch the Christmas advertisements playing as they always have, and shops still reminding us to buy gifts and indulgent foods, when these are the last things on our mind. These holiday traditions act as a kind of barrier for a couple of weeks as we use them to shield ourselves from all the hurt.

It’s not really the best way to end the year. Instead of letting all our pain out, we are forced to keep it in, even more so than during the rest of the year. What I want to do is sob loudly and bang my fists on the floor like a toddler, but instead I sit quietly and smile and bake cookies and listen to Christmas songs. As if everything is as it should be. Sometimes I’m grateful for the distraction of the busyness of the season, where some days those tasks take up so much time that the sadness recedes a little. But most of the time I find it tedious. I want to acknowledge all we have been through this year, instead of burying it all under a pile of tinsel. If we’re ever going to get the Christmas spirit out from under the grief, that grief has to be exposed and picked through in order to move it and make room for all that the season demands.