Thursday, August 5, 2010

Grieving Our Happiness: Good Golly We're A Confusing Bunch

This is a new concept. It might be confusing, but go with me here.

I think it’s possible to be happy and grieve at the same time.

I don’t mean that we’re happy that we’re grieving. I mean that it’s possible to feel happy with what’s going on around you, but still grieve the fact that the person you most wish could share those moments with you…is gone.

So…I guess what I’m saying is…we’re grieving because we’re happy?

Good Lord. No wonder no one ever wants to talk to us. We’re a bunch of lunatics.

I remember, not long after my husband died…ugh…I hate to admit this…I had a good day. I actually had that feeling of hope that it was possible that I could lead a productive, fulfilling, and…yes…happy life even though he was gone. I had a sudden flash and a vision of the future…a future without him. And as soon as that thought struck me…

…I felt terrible.

How could I? How dare I smile and interact with a stranger or a friend as if nothing had ever happened? How could I make plans to take a trip when he wasn’t here to go with me? How could I plan anything for the future without feeling like I was excluding him in some way?

And the ultimate question: Did that mean I didn’t love my husband enough because I found a way to go on without him?

This is a problem that plagued me for a good long while. I can’t even tell you the feelings of guilt I had. It honestly made me doubt the depths of my love for him and the connection we had shared for 13 years. And no matter how many people told me, “He would want you to be happy. He would want you to go on,” I never felt any better about it.

Because…really…what are they supposed to say? “I knew your husband pretty well and he’d really rather you throw away all of your make-up, invest in a line of muumuus, and never leave your house.”

Yeah. That would be helpful.

Here’s the thing…and it’s really pretty basic. You have one thing you can’t choose and one thing you can:

1. NO CHOICE: You have to go on. At some point you have to even leave your house because that wine and bag of Lays won’t show up at your doorstep, ring your bell, and announce that they’re ready to party.
2. CHOICE: How are you going to do it? When it comes down to it, if you make the choice to give into the grief all day, every day, for the rest of your life, the only person you’re hurting is yourself. If you make the choice to make the most of every day (because, for most us, if our spouses were here that’s what they would be doing) you’re choosing to not only change your life, but I’m guessing you’ll affect more people than you will ever know.

Happiness is not a constant. It’s not a state that we’re always in and we should never expect that. There are times when we have to give into our grief. If we didn't...we would explode in one, big widow mess. I don't even think it could be contained by a fashionable muumuu.

I don’t want for this to sound bad, or like I don’t have a lot of happy memories with my husband, but I remember having several moments when I thought to myself while he was alive, “I am completely happy right now.” My heart felt full, our relationship was in a good place, and the kids weren’t fighting. We may have been at a point when I wasn’t worried about our finances (and that usually lasted about 5 minutes), anyone’s health, and had nothing potentially hazardous on the horizon.

Think about it…those moments of pure happiness…they’re fleeting. They’re rare. They give us an appreciation of what’s possible. And they leave us with the goal of creating them again.

When we lose someone…well…it’s hard to get those happy moments back. Some may say it’s impossible because no matter how happy we are, there will still be a part of us that wishes our spouse was there to share with us.

But I’ve decided to make a choice. Instead of grieving my moments of happiness, I’ve decided to do something radical. I’ve decided that every time I’m happy, I will believe, with all my heart, that my husband is here to share them with me. I’ve decided that if I buy a new home, he’ll be right next to me giving me a pat on the back. I’ve decided that if I meet my girlfriends for Happy Hour, he’ll be right there laughing along with us (and probably listening to things he shouldn’t). I’ve decided that I won’t think of those milestones that my kids have as being missed by him…but rather that he’s there, behind the scenes, probably seeing more of them than I am. I may be there to play the toothfairy, but he was in the room when the tooth was lost.

I’m making a choice to not let my grief take over the moments of happiness I still have in front of me. If I let that happen for the rest of my life…I’m wasting what could be some amazing moments yet to come. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned at this point it’s this….

Grief is not a choice. But happiness can be.

© Catherine Tidd 2010


  1. This whole post resonates with me but why you could say “I am completely happy right now.” that really hits home. Had a version of that going through my head last fall.

    Although my Dear died just this past January, I have recently come to the choice that I do not want to live only in grief. I can't run from it (not that I haven't been trying), I will deal with it but I do not want to be totally encompassed by it. I will grieve for my husband but you said it well I will not grieve for my moments of happiness. It would not honor him or the life we loved together. It won't help me continue and that's hard enough. There may be no choice in our grief but the choice to allow for happiness, you are wise to advise let it.

    Linda Epstein

  2. Thank you so much for your comment. I'm completely with you...grief is something you can't avoid. But there is the hope of every day...every day is different. There are some things we can't choose, but the things we can...let's do what we can to go forward.

    I know you are new to this journey. I just hope that you know that you're not alone.

  3. Since we are all in this not by choice, I choose to remember the beautiful,happy times. I love to laugh and tell stories about my late husband. I love to laugh, our home was filled with laughter...So will his legacy. Anyone that knew us would never doubt our love for eachother. They know that is how he would want me to celebrate his life. Others grief is more troubling to me when they just tell me how sorry they are..Yes it sucks, but share a nice story and time he made you laugh..One day at a time...I try to smile and laugh knowing he is watching over me and my blessed little ones...Thanks for you awesome writing and thoughtful blogs...Susan

  4. Wow. This post is so good. Amazingly good. I feel like I should print it out and keep it by my computer. It's that good.

    Thank you. ((((HUGS)))

  5. I can't tell you how much I needed to read this today. My husband died in March, and I have to admit I have been struggling with my emotions.I feel like I am on a roller coaster, which by the way, makes me motion sick! I am laughing one moment and crying the next. I don't like being sad, but I am trying to allow myself time to grieve and not beat myself up for my sadness. I was feeling guilty for the times I was actually feeling happy..believing I can do this. And I know I can...I just don't like it. I found your blog while searching for sites that would give me comfort and strength. I believe God gives each of us a gift; yours is reaching out to others like me. I thank you from the bottom of my heart!

  6. You took the words right out of my mouth. I say that I make a choice each day to get up and get myself and my girls together and make the most of their childhood. I always say they had a terrible thing happen to them by losing their father, but it would be worse if they also lost me to a deep depression in which I wasn't there for them. I was pregnant when my husband passed and have since had our second baby girl. Every time she smiles at me I feel like that's him telling me it's ok. My older daughter is 6 and we love to remember stories of him that make us laugh. Everything my husband did was funny and he would never want us to be doom and gloom for too long. I'm glad our daughter has his sense of humor because that's what keeps me going. I will even go as far to admit that my 6yr old daughter seems...happy. thank you always you say what i'm feeling perfectly. JoAnna

  7. this post was SO what I needed today, I am a 37 year old widow with 3 young children and lost my husband suddenly 9 months ago and lately I have been feeling hopeful for the future and then I stop and beat myself up over it, how can I feel happy when he's gone? how can I laugh till I cry when he's not here? but you are right, then I stop and think that its BECAUSE of him that I am able to do it, he is right by my side always, he is the reason I am standing tall each day and not hovered in a corner, when he was here all he wanted was for me to be happy, how can I not try to sustain that, thank you for this, I loved it

  8. I never imagined I would laugh so hard the day after I buried my husband. My sister and I were reading the mass cards that people gave us and one was written out to Margaret, Jack, Claire and Ellen. My son's name is Stephen not Jack. I think once I started laughing I couldnt stop, it was such a shock that I could still do that. And my sister said "I told you one day something really funny would make you laugh" we just didnt think it would come in the form of a mass card.