The Phoenix Zine

The Complexity of Gratitude


As I’ve become more aware of my current medical condition and history, I’ve also become more aware of how much I really owe a lot of people in my life.

One of these people is the doctor who performed my liver transplant. Before, and for a time after the transplant, he was my liver doctor. When he moved to the States, I was sad, and I regret that I have not had a liver doctor as good as he was since.

Another is the mysterious donor of my liver. My transplant happened in 1988, before living donor transplants had started. Thus, I received the liver from a cadaveric donor, a cold way of saying my new liver came from a child who died.

In twenty years, I have come no closer to successfully expressing the immense gratitude I feel to and for these two people. Nothing ever seems like enough. Transplant recipients have the option of writing anonymous letters to the family of the donor, but I have never written one. Every time I start one in my head it sounds like such a feeble attempt to express how I feel that I can’t bear to put it down on paper.

Because of my illness, I’ve always needed help. While my doctor and my donor (as well my doctor’s colleagues and my donor’s family) deserve my gratitude for my life, my family and friends deserve my gratitude for helping me live that life.

It’s amazing how you can have conflicting attitudes about the same issue. Sometimes I feel scared or nervous but also excited. Sometimes I hate the people that I love. Sometimes I cry because I’m happy.

And when it comes to feeling gratitude, a similar conflict appears. Yes, I’m thankful for all the people in my life who have helped me in the past or help me on a daily basis. I thank God for these people, and I try to let them know how grateful I am that they are in my life. I feel guilty when I come up short in my efforts to let them know how much I appreciate them. I know I will always be indebted to them.

But then the conflict starts. At the same time I feel so thankful, I also feel resentful. I know I need help to live my life and I’m thankful to get that help, but also sometimes I wish I didn’t need the help in the first place. Having to rely on others when I want to be independent makes me angry and, at times, bitter.

While it seems as if these emotions are incompatible, what I have trouble accepting but also know to be true is conflicting emotions can co-exist inside me. Also, I have to constantly remind myself that anger itself is not wrong or bad, but how I express my anger can be detrimental. I can be angry about my situation and also grateful to the people who help me without self-destructing.

Thus, my journey of discovering and accepting the complexities of me continues.

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