Hierarchy of Emotions

Thank god no one asked me to be thankful this past weekend.

If someone had actually asked me to express thanks, something like this might have come spewing out: I don’t care if it’s f*ing thanksgiving. My husband died this past year, so did my dad, and I don’t feel “thankful”.

That is really how I felt; the overriding sentiment was not one of gratitude, despite the many good things I do have. Overall, am I a thankful person? Yes. Aren’t we all? Everybody claims to be – on Facebook, in particular. Thankful for family, friends, jobs, a home, a pet, a pair of boots, a turkey on the table, blah blah blah. It’s easy to throw the thanks around when you haven’t just lost something precious. Why do people feel the need to trumpet how thankful they are? Why not just be thankful and shut up about it? Facebook. Sometimes I think it’s just a place for people to brag.

What does it mean to be truly thankful? And why do people act like thankfulness should override sorrow or anger? Sure…it’s the voice of the optimist, being appreciative, pushing the positive spin. Making lemonade out of life’s sour lemons. Well, excuse me, but some lemons are ROTTEN…and if you put those in with the rest, they taint the whole bunch. Ah…there it is. If we let people – sad people – take the stage, they will ruin the fun for the whole bunch. Therefore, try to diffuse their sadness, divert their attention, toward something like thankfulness.

But after you experience a loss, your thankfulness also becomes tainted. Mixed with other stuff. The good with the bad. A coin with two sides. It’s no longer 14-karat gold, baby.

When we were hit with the news that my young, beautiful husband had terminal cancer, it also came to light that he hadn’t been to a doctor in 10 years. I was furious to find this out. If he had gone to a doctor, we might have caught the cancer sooner. But the more I thought about what this really might have meant, the more my feelings changed…his cancer was incurable, had we found out sooner, we might have spent years battling it. Instead, we were only in “cancer hell” for 4 months.

For this, I was thankful. But it didn’t come with ease, and I wasn’t about to throw a Facebook party for it.

I have a lot of emotions, and I am going to be feeling them for quite a while. These emotions don’t fit into the holiday calendar. Just because someone says that today is the day to give thanks….well. Fuck off. Today is not *my* day to feel thankful. Death, it overrides. Anger, sorrow – sometimes “rotten” is just plain rotten and there’s no sweetening it up. On a day where I am “supposed” to feel thankful, other emotions are winning the race, and they deserve it too, these ugly underdogs. Or is there some unspoken hierarchy of emotions, stating that thankfulness should always rise to the top, like oil on water? Buoyantly cheerful and annoying. We’re not talking about laws of physics here, or chemistry, or alchemy…

Or are we?

One of my favorite books is the Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo. The book’s dominant metaphor is about transmuting one element into another, more valuable, element. Or as defined, “alchemy is a process by which paradoxical results are achieved or incompatible elements combined”. Lead to gold. Transformation. Which is how I view grief, and processing loss. Heavy duty transformation. The process of incorporating the rotten lemons in with the rest, churning and turning the bitter leaden lump of sadness and anger into a more complex thankfulness.

(Whew. What a tirade. Tomorrow will be better. Today’s post was brought to you by deep sadness, cloaked in anger and cynicism, probably even some jealousy. Thankfulness? Conspicuously absent.)

4 thoughts on “Hierarchy of Emotions

  1. Right on. “And why do people act like thankfulness should override sorrow or anger?” It would be so socially inappropriate to share what we’re really feeling on Facebook. People don’t want to hear it. I’m glad you’re saying this here and sharing it. Your description of a more complex thankfulness is touching and gives me a lot to think about.

    As for the bragging, I had to hide nearly everyone on Facebook. I felt so overwhelmed on there. I couldn’t bear to see people brag about their kids winning a track meet (or whatever). I couldn’t bear to hear them complain about petty domestic chores. It made me feel like I live in some other plane of the universe. Now that so many “friends” are hidden, I have a nice stream of news and local events. It’s so much more relaxing over there now.

  2. Nicely put! I feel about Thanksgiving the same as many other holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc. It’s contrived ritual, not altogether unpleasant, but contrived nonetheless and when you’re grieving can be excruciating. The first Valentine’s Day after my husband died made me want to stab my eyes out. But it’s good to keep writing. Writing soothes the soul and I find, makes me feel naturally thankful when I’m done. :)

  3. i’ve been thinking about this post so much since i read it yesterday. you are so right on, there is no hierarchy. people in general are not comfortable being in the presence of others in their “undesirable” feelings. but you have to be true to what you feel, no apologies. and no rank. and all mixed together. thanks for this.

  4. The only reason I go on FB now is to post on my husband’s wall (which probably freaks some people out but whatever) and to read posts on different grief groups. Every single day I post something I miss about my husband on his wall. And a song, because he loved music. Other than that, I have no use for FB anymore.

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