Unfortunately/Fortunately: A Perpetual Gratitude Practice

Next Sunday will mark the 3rd anniversary of the death of a man I always called Daddy Harold. I was in my 20s when I realized not everyone called him that. In fact, the only people who called him that other than me were my mom and his wife, and only when they were referring to him in conversation with me. Turned out, that was my special name for him. Only mine. Our families have a connection like that.

As I think sometimes happens with our older loved ones, I grieved Daddy Harold’s passing and still miss him when I visit his family. And yet, an octogenarian who lived a lovely, meaningful life, and died just as his rich mind was giving out on him is bittersweet. It’s always hard to lose a loved one and yet it’s a relief to see them go without too much pain or turmoil.

I was thinking about the coming anniversary after last week’s Chomp & Chat. Since it was the day before Thanksgiving, I asked about gratitude practices and a new regular, Susan Borke, shared an approach she said she picked up somewhere along the way: Unfortunately/Fortunately.

Her example of this practice went something like this:

Unfortunately, the dog vomited on the floor.

Fortunately, it was on the hardwood instead of the carpet and so was much easier to clean up.

Pretty great, right? That switch from frustration to the silver lining?

With Daddy Harold, “unfortunately” is too weak a sentiment to describe how it felt at his death but the premise still works:

My heart hurt when Daddy Harold died.

I was filled with gratitude that he died without having to experience extreme pain or cognitive hardship, and that it was after such a long and full lifetime. I’m grateful that I got to be a part of his family even though the natural parallel to loving someone is hurting when they’re gone.

Unfortunately/Fortunately. Sadly/Happily. Tragically/Promisingly.

While our sweet human selves want life to be simpler and more straightforward than it is – we want experiences to be either fortunate or unfortunate, to be either sad or happy, tragic or promising – most include elements of both. Part of being in the thickest thick of life, in the wholeness of our experiences, is to notice and even embrace both.

p.s. It goes the other way, too. For example, the wonder and joy that is sharing our lives with a partner or kid also bring a loss of independence and other things that we might not necessarily sort into the category of “good.” Sharing our lives with partners and kids is still pretty doggone shiny, though…

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