Q: I’m in my late 40s and newly married, having found relatively late in life a wonderful partner and friend. I want to be purely grateful for them — and of course, I am — but my gratitude is tainted with a fear of losing them. Is that normal? What can i do about it? — Casey, Milwaukee, WI
A: Dear Casey,
We’re all unique, so it’s hard to define “normal”. But the feelings you describe are perfectly natural and human. Maybe you have had other losses in your life that add to your sense of foreboding, or maybe you simply have a strong imagination. Either way, you wisely know that nothing is permanent.
That observation can easily lead to fear of loss. But to live in fear, as you’ve noticed, depletes your energy and keeps you from enjoying what you’ve got while you’ve got it. So being fearful is an understandable strategy, but it is also a hard task-master who doesn’t serve your own best interests or anyone else’s.
There’s a two-fold way in which gratefulness can be of help to you here. One is obvious: It calls you to enjoy the gifts of this present moment, in a trusting spirit that recognizes the ways you’ve been provided for throughout your life. You may not feel that you’ve been provided for consistently. It takes some careful observation “in the rear-view mirror,” as Joseph Campbell and others have put it, to see that even past traumas can be gifts, in the sense that they provide opportunities to learn and to move beyond unhealthy patterns.
The second way that gratefulness helps is by pointing us to the great fullness of life that goes beyond the ephemerality of things. When we see that no thing lasts, we start looking deeply into what gives things their meaning, beauty, and — in the case of people and animal companions — loving-kindness. No matter what philosophy or religion you use to explore this difference between what perishes and what endures, you can see that the surface processes of birth and death do not alter the very essence of life itself, which goes beyond both.
There’s also a place for sensible precautions. If you feel that your partner isn’t taking care of his or her health, for instance, you two could sit down for a talk about how to shift that pattern. If you find it hard to know what’s sensible and what’s not, that’s where the advice of a trusted mentor or counselor can be valuable.
There’s one additional way that gratefulness can help. That is, you can be grateful for the person you are becoming whether or not your partner is around. What you see in him or her that lights you up is also present in you. It’s fine to see those beloved qualities outside, so long as you realize there’s no lack in you.
All best wishes,
Patricia Campbell Carlson