7 Jan

Gratitude is a distraction

The last month has been incredibly difficult.

Over the summer Hilary and I decided we wanted to have another baby. We’d talked about it for years, going back and forth on whether to stay with two kids or grow our family.

At the first appointment the baby was slightly smaller than expected, but everything else was good.

At the next appointment there was no longer a heartbeat. At nearly 12 weeks we had lost our baby.

The month since then has been a series of complications—ending in last Friday spent in the hospital (Hilary is doing well now).

 

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In difficult times I take one of two paths:

In most cases I push through the pain, stress, or grief and focus on the positives in life. I have so much to be grateful for that is easily overlooked in hard times. By writing a daily gratitude list my mood changes and I stay strong.

My other pattern is the opposite: in trying times I lose hope and slip into depression.

This time gratitude worked for the first week, then it wasn’t enough. I felt angry, sad, depressed and alone. Hilary and I fought over things that didn’t even matter.

 

***

 

In his book, The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday makes the case that you shouldn’t try to go around the obstacle, but instead that many times the best course is to confront it head on.

That reminded me of time I spent last spring at a leadership training event hosted by Reboot. They emphasized taking the time to feel each emotion. To feel the pain that it brought on and to sit with it. To observe it. Even noticing if it manifests in a certain part of your body.

What is it that you feel?

Where do you feel it?

When I took the time to sit with my emotions I started to strip them back. I felt each one individually. I quickly realized most of them were surface level and not the core issue.

I kept digging.

And then I found grief.

With everything going on that was the one emotion I had pushed past and distracted myself from. Grief was at the root of everything.

I had thought I shouldn’t be this upset. People had said, “you can have another” or “usually a miscarriage means there was something wrong with the pregnancy.” Throw in statistics for how common miscarriages are and I felt like it should hurt less to lose a child I hadn’t met.

But the truth is I lost a child and I hadn’t taken the time to truly grieve. Instead I tried to distract myself with gratitude.

 

***

 

Now rather than reaching for distraction—even with something positive like gratitude—I choose to sit and feel. Working to fully experience and seek to understand my emotions.

Gratitude is a core part of my life, but I won’t let it become a distraction.

 

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16 Responses to “Gratitude is a distraction”

  1. May you find strength and peace, Nathan.


  2. David Larsen says:

    Nathan, I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. Having lost more than one child to miscarriage and one recently stillborn, I can appreciate the deep grief and loss you’re experiencing. You’re right that all of the little “comforts” that people offer (with kind intentions) are ultimately hollow.

    If you have the guts to read a really raw and honest account of a man losing a child, I *highly* recommend this book:
    https://www.amazon.com/Make-Life-Daniel-J-Walser/dp/0985903708/ I met this guy and really appreciated how he didn’t downplay the severity of the tragedy. He doesn’t try to heal his heart with half-truths. He confronts reality and finds real peace in the end.

    My own experience is that the pain of a lost child never disappears, you just acclimate to its presence and influence in your life. When we lost our daughter last January, one of our most precious moments was when some of our older (60’s) friends visited us in the hospital. The woman didn’t say much, except that she had lost a child 40 years ago. The tears in her eyes said everything. She didn’t encourage us to somehow look on the bright side; instead she just told us that she too was really, really sad that our girl had died.


  3. Bruno Felicio says:

    I’m really sorry to hear this. I can’t imagine what it may feels like. I hope you find the strength needed to overcome this in your family.


  4. I’m going through some similar experiences in life right now and I appreciate you sharing this more than you know!


  5. James Nutter says:

    My thought and prayers are with you and your family.


  6. Very sorry for your loss Nathan. Thank you so much for sharing some of your process here. You and your family will be in my thoughts.


  7. Fabrice says:

    I am deeply sorry for your loss.


  8. Itu says:

    I have never been in this situation but I put myself in your shoes for a moment. But even with that its still far from the reality in which your dealing with.

    I empathize. No wound heals in a day. I wish you peace in due time.


  9. thank you for sharing like that Nathan. I wish you and your family all the best, and I hope this makes you stronger.


  10. So very sorry for your loss Nathan. It is such a sad time for you and your wife. Your strength is already showing through and yes it is ok to feel grief it is necessary to help you all on the road to healing. Your baby will always live in your heart. Sending healing to you.


  11. Thanks for sharing your story. It’ll help others. It also reminded me of The TED Interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, where there’s a discussion on grief after she lost her partner. Take your time to heal – don’t skip the struggle.


  12. I’m sorry for your loss, Nathan. Thank you for sharing this with us.


  13. Julie McLaughlin says:

    My condolences on your loss. It is always sad to lose a child when their life is full of such promise. I very much appreciate you sharing the insights gathered from the experience and expression of m your grief. I hope that you and your wife can get through this with your relationship intact and perhaps strengthen by shared hardship. I usually read you writings by email but this subject touch me so deeply I felt a need to comment here on your blog.
    A couple of years ago I loss my Mother and was very much surprise by my reaction – a mixture of instant anger at eternity, profound relief and guilt for the lack of sorrow I left should have at the loss of someone I did truly loved. It still confounds me.


  14. I am sorry to hear that Nathan, I went in something similar few years ago, it really sucked, I know it is hard to take, I will be praying for you


  15. About a year and a half ago our daughter-in-law had an early miscarriage, and I was struck by how strongly it affected me. When the baby was supposed to have been born, I kept thinking how we would have been welcoming a new little person into this family if not for…

    But soon afterward our daughter-in-law got pregnant again, and we now have another beautiful and fat granddaughter to add to our growing clan.

    All the best, Nathan. Hope to hear good news from you soon.

    Deena


  16. Frank Denbow says:

    Thank you for sharing Nathan. I agree with you and have sometimes sit deep into these emotions and stare the truth right in the eyes.

    My condolences on your loss, and all the best to you and your family.


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