Gratitude: The bitter little pill

There are times when gratitude is hard to swallow. For me, I usually find those times to be immediately after someone says, “But think of all the good times you had.” This usually comes after a breakup or after a death. After a breakup, my response is, “Well apparently those good times weren’t as great as I thought they were.” After a death, my response is, “My point exactly. I want more of those good times with that person.”

Precisely six years ago, I was curled up in my apartment in Spain, where I was studying for a year. I was feeling a touch of homesickness, so I got on facebook to see what my friends back in Montana were doing. Their status updates became a blur: “…we’ll miss you, buddy…” “…avalanche…” “…thinking of all the good times…” My hands shaking, I grabbed the phone and started dialing. 

It took four tries before anyone picked up. “Whitney?” I said. “Whitney, what happened? Why is everyone posting all this stuff?” My best friend then proceeded to tell me there had been an avalanche and one of our friends had been killed in it. Avalanches had never worried me too much, despite the fact the majority of my friends were serious backcountry skiers. We were 21 years old, and therefore invincible. So one of them dying in an avalanche just didn’t compute. All I knew was that I needed to be home right then.

I called my parents and they helped me book a flight for the next morning. I called my three other friends from home who were also studying abroad, and let them know my plans, in case they could catch a flight with me. Already emotionally exhausted, I managed to pack the necessities and pass out for a couple of hours before catching the earliest bus to Madrid the next morning.

Twenty-four hours later, my parents were picking me up from the Salt Lake City airport. Two of my friends drove to my parents’ house in Idaho the next morning and the three of us made our way back to Montana. During the long drive, they filled me in on the conditions that caused the avalanche, when the memorial service was going to be, and how everyone else was handling it. 

“He asked me to go get a coffee with him right before I left for Spain,” I blurted out. “I said I had to work, which I did, but still. I should have made time.”

“All you can do is make time the next time someone wants to catch up,” my friend responded.

And so I have. Over the past six years, I’ve done my best to stay in touch with friends who are living all over the world and make extra time for those who still live in my town. It’s an important lesson to have learned, but not one I’m grateful for learning in the way that I did. 

So yes, sometimes gratitude is a bitter little pill, full of “It’s better to have love and lost than never to have loved at all” and “Be grateful for all the good times you shared.” So I try, as my friends do, to be grateful for the times we got to share with him, and to be grateful for each other. 

In the end, it’s only our perspective we can control. I’m trying to have one that’s heavy on the gratitude and light on the bitterness.