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Gratitude: An Antidote to Scary Thoughts

August 31, 2010

Yesterday, I told you about my giddy humming game with Devan, a 4-year-old boy who has a rare and particularly risky form of leukemia.

By the end of that 99-verse song, my own 4-year-old was laughing so hard at Devan’s silliness that he could barely catch his breath. And as I write at this moment, the dual images of adorable Devan and my equally adorable Diamond seem to be leading me straight to the kind of thoughts that make it hard for me to catch my breath.

To scary parental thoughts. To my own 4-year-old. To my sweet, wildly smart boy with the crazy hair on his crown, the thousand-watt smile and the eyelashes that won’t quit.

With the computer keyboard below my fingers right now, I hesitate. I’m quite surprised, quite nervous about where my thoughts are taking me right now. I don’t even know if I want to type what’s going through my head.

OK, Michelle, b-r-e-a-t-h-e.

My readers know well by now that my oldest is a 7-year-old with special needs. Having a child with a syndrome so rare that it has no name — no way to identify it even — means a life of waiting, wondering, if another shoe is going to drop. I don’t mean ALL the time. It’s usually just there. A backdrop in the form of a question: What part of his overtaxed body or brain will be affected next?

Once I became pregnant with my second son, I wondered: Will the other shoe drop on HIM? I mean, for all anyone knew, The Buddha was at the “mild” end of whatever syndrome he had. We could have had second child more significantly affected than the first. We were, thankfully, allowed to let that worry go as soon as he was born.

Fears have a funny way about them, though. They can manifest in all kinds of insidious ways.

The darkest fear of parents? I think it’s pretty obvious how that one shows up. Sure, it can take a hundred thousand different forms, but it pretty much ends up in the same place.

In my darker moments, I still worry about the other shoe dropping on my second son. “Sure, he escaped the mystery syndrome,” I think, “but ANYTHING could still happen. Will he be the one to get cancer?” I wish I could type that in a whisper, the way people used to say the C-word only in hushed tones.

Let me emphasize here that I don’t dwell on this. I think I experience these thoughts in a relatively normal way. I also believe that these thoughts increase my gratitude for who The Diamond is and for each day he is in my life.

I suspect most of us have dark thoughts now and then. They are hard to admit to, for fear that simply giving voice to them will make them so. Like grief, the topic of this blog, I wish our society made it easier to discuss our dark thoughts more freely. By bringing them out in the open, we could normalize a lot of them. Take away the stigma. Relieve the pressure of thinking, “I’m having this awful thought. Am I crazy? What’s wrong with me?”

When we acknowledge these dark thoughts, we can more easily let them go. It’s when we hold on to such thoughts that we get stuck. It’s when we suppress them that they loom larger. It’s when we let them fester that they gain power.

When we give these thoughts space and release them into the air — by talking about them or writing about them — we give them a chance to dissipate and lose potency.

I’m saying “out loud” today that, sure, occasionally I’m on the lookout for that other shoe falling from the sky. Am I inviting something bad to happen? I don’t think so. But I also know that it’s important to simply notice this thought as it floats by and not get attached to it. For me, after all, my question about cancer is still just that … merely a question. (And I’m sadly aware that for Devan’s parents, cancer is all too acutely real.)

So as this thought fades into the atmosphere, I’ll take a deep breath of fresh air and grab on to something far more present and meaningful: Gratitude for all that I already have. It’s a bright antidote to dark thoughts.


Coach’s Query

How tightly are you holding on to a scary thought? How can you begin to release it?

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