I believe that being happy is not so far-fetched.My husband Chuck was a contented, balanced human being, however, I would never characterize him as happy. He had moments where he was happy but they were few and far between.He gained great satisfaction from positive events in his life, but I rarely, if ever, saw him giddy or ecstatic with joy. He did, however, possess a good temperament and a sweet nature, although his gallows humor could be a little tough to get used to.But that was my Chuck,not perfect,but then neither was I (although I told him I was and he believed me).
Chuck was a man’s man, tough but also kindhearted. For example, there was the time he came home and announced that a neighbor of ours, who I knew only in passing,would be joining us for Thanksgiving dinner.I was surprised that he had invited a stranger (Chuck was not a fan of strangers) into our home for dinner. He went on to explain that the man had told him that he would be spending Thanksgiving alone, and Chuck was not hearing it. It was fine with me, my motto being the more the merrier. When Thanksgiving arrived Frank did not show up. A few months into the next year, Frank passed away from cancer.I did see him before this happened and told him we had missed him that day, it was then that he revealed details of his illness. He said he really appreciated the invitation and had every intention of coming but had been blindsided by his illness.
My husband Chuck loved to teach and advise anyone who sought his counsel, and many, many did. He would impart pearls of wisdom, with the hope that all those he taught would go forth and live successful and fruitful lives. Financial security and independence were very important to him and he felt that this was one of the keys to building a solid foundation for living a successful and productive life. Chuck would love it when those who had been the recipients of his advice would come back to him and share outcomes that were positive and successful. He felt pride in the fact that he was able to teach others the building blocks for laying the groundwork for creating a fruitful life, from his perspective. He did not necessarily feel happiness, but more a sense of gratification and satisfaction.Chuck was practical,a realist and very pragmatic….black and white no gray.
I, on the other hand, have always been an optimist, even under the most dire of circumstances. I rarely lose hope and always try to connect to my joy. I was and still am, a Pollyanna of sorts. It’s how I’m wired…who I am. Chuck and I were complete opposites in that way.
Although I’m not happy all the time, the happy experiences that I have had have always left me with a feeling of overwhelming joy and and at times exhilaration. I grew up in a family that expressed,unabashedly,feelings of happiness when the situation called for it. We all became giddy with excitement and I just thought that was the norm for everybody when they experienced great pleasure or good news. But I would soon learn that not all people are comfortable with expressing emotions, particularly feelings of joy or sorrow.
After Chuck passed away my soul became dead, numb. Happiness became a foreign emotion I could no longer access. Even as I began to slowly recover, I found I had lost the ability to “feel” joy. I would soon become satisfied with just being able to put one foot in front of the other and make it through each new day. I felt as though I would never feel happiness again. In those early days of my mourning, I recalled a line from one of Langston Hughes’ poems, ‘life ain’t been no crystal stair’,which reminded me that life is not always going to be filled with good news. Many experiences that people have are full of pain, sorrow and suffering. For some,the pain of whatever is daily, relentless. I would soon sink into the depths of depression, which is very different from just feeling sad. I felt as if I was sinking into an abyss of hopelessness and despair and thought that this was going to be my “new normal”….that this new state of my being would have to be okay. So, I settled in for the day-to-day grief, with expectations of no end to the pain in sight.
Many,many months later, years really, I would slowly begin to long to feel joy in my life again. As time wore on and I became more engaged in life again, I began to notice that I had entered a new stage in my grief recovery and that being able to feel joy again might actually be a possibility.
I do believe that being able to feel joy has to do with how we were raised, our life experiences and how we internalize and eventually manifest our emotions. In life, we can’t prevent those random interruptions that can cause trauma and turmoil and change the course of our lives, but we can intentionally dwell on good ideas and thoughts and strive to live our lives in accordance with those thoughts. One’s emotional state of well being and positive responses can rub off on others, and inspire those around us to also begin to believe that happy is not so far-fetched. Sometimes that doesn’t always work and others may remain remote, morose, and stoic, but we, who are the optimists, must continue to stay true to who we are and try to avoid being dragged down into another person’s emotional response to situations that are good and positive…like quicksand. Some folks are simply joy killers and although we may not be able to change who they are we do not want them to change who we are either.
Of course we may not be happy everyday, but we will experience periodic satisfaction and contentment and that is more than we could ever hope for as we live and face life’s challenges. In life there are highs and lows, and as we get older we will find that having a great thing happen one week and a sad thing happen the next increases in frequency.
When we grieve, we will eventually one day feel a little change take place. Something will make us laugh again and eventually we will experience a shift until we are feeling like our “new self”, unlike our old self. Along with this new self-awareness will also be the acknowledgment that we’re beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel of grief.The goal is to one day become immersed in that metaphorical light. Soon we will also realize that we’re feeling less grim and more optimistic about where we are in our lives. We will begin to appreciate the path we’ve been on and how far we’ve come.
Remember, as written by William Ernst Henley in Invictus, and one of my husband’s most favorite quotes,we are “the captains of our own ship, the masters of our own fates and our thoughts and feelings are our destiny”. After loss, do not be afraid to feel better again. You will not be betraying your lost loved one and you will actually be being true to who you are: a human being who is still here. Don’t give up on life as it will never give up on you.
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To read more about my grief journey and how you can navigate yours read Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse, available on Amazon.com http://tinyurl.com/jnjs5fu
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