One of my favorite Buddhist writers, Sallie Tisdale, advises that we not label days bad but instead call them challenging or hard days. This philosophy is in keeping with what I’ve practiced since my own stroke in 1997 which I was not expected to survive. While in a medically-induced coma, I had a “going towards the light” experience that forever changed me. When I came out of my coma, I had the unshakable feeling that I had been given a choice: that I could continue on toward the light or I could come back to the life I had been living. Both were presented as neutral, equal options.
At the time I wasn’t thrilled with my life—I had some troubled relationships and felt a lot of angst and ambivalence. I was not someone who loved life and I did not feel deeply connected to anyone beyond my sister and then-husband. But at the moment when I made my choice, I felt *invited* to continue my life. That feeling of being invited has made all the difference in the time that followed. Rather than being sulky and resentful, I have been grateful and connected.
I have recognized each day as an invitation to live. There have been no bad days since I accepted the invitation to live in 1997. Even the day my husband had his stroke, even the day I made the decision to remove him from life support, even the day he died—these were not bad days. These were days that were difficult, sad, heartbreaking, even—but not bad.
I think of those days as ones in which I got to do the most loving things I have ever done. The day my husband had his stroke, I committed to being his caregiver. The day I made the decision to remove him from life support and the day he died, I let him go—absolutely the most painful thing I’ve ever done, but after fighting against it with every ounce of my being for a year, it was what I needed to do.
This attitude has made it possible for me to be present and grounded in even the most difficult of moments. I’ve been able to be fully present with my husband when he needed me most, rather than turning away in fear and denial. I’ve been able to experience the full, beautiful depth of human emotion, even when it physically hurts.
Instead of labeling a day good or bad, I find it more useful to think about how I showed up for the day. If a day was challenging, did I show up with curiosity and patience or anger and irritation? Did I recognize the difference between what I wanted to do and what I needed to do? I find that when I label a day “bad,” I dismiss it in its entirety, but when I identify a day “challenging,” I recognize its complexity and my own role in that complexity.
The day my husband died was the most difficult day of my life, but not a bad day. It was a day of intense love and connection, as well as nearly unfathomable heartbreak. I don’t wish a day like that on anyone, but I know people I love will have days like that. These days are as much a part of life as the ones we readily label as good. I celebrate every day I get to live.