Thursday, December 29, 2016

Journeys With Seth: Can Widows Be Happy?

Journeys With Seth: Can Widows Be Happy?: I started reading a book recently, it is called The Happiness Project. The book, written by Gretchen Rubin, "chronicles her adventures ...

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Can Widows Be Happy?

I started reading a book recently, it is called The Happiness Project. The book, written by Gretchen Rubin, "chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier." I was at a friends house when I saw the book on her desk and it intrigued me. Only days prior I was in a work meeting and it was asked of me what my personal resolutions were for the upcoming year. The answer that I gave was that I wanted to be content with the unknown, content with the here and now, and to stop looking for who I am but to trust that with time I would figure it out. Or to put it more simply, I just want to be happy. Can a widow be happy? It seems like an oxymoron to use the words happy and widow in the same sentence. 

I have read a lot of self-help and grief books recently. I regularly attend therapy and I just completed a 13 week grief support group series (www.griefshare.org). My personal endeavors have taught me that everyone can be happy, even a widow. The question is how to find happiness. For me that is the most challenging part. I want all of the answers now. I want to know what my happiness looks like. I want to know what my happiness will bring me in the future. And, as silly as this sounds, I want to know that my husband will be happy for me. My entire life I have always looked ten steps ahead. My husband would plead with me to slow down and to just enjoy the moment. I would argue that it was impossible. I was wrong.

In the new year my goal is to calm down, relax, de-clutter, and to enjoy the moment(s) that each day has to offer. In the new year I want to embrace the life I have been given, whatever that may be for me. I want to stop looking ten steps ahead. I want to stop identifying myself as a widow so that I can start to explore my new identity and to be content with not knowing what that may be. But most importantly, in the new year I just want to be happy. 

It is a huge step for me to suggest that I want to be happy. For a long while I experienced a lot of guilt for wanting to move forward with my life when Seth was denied his own. I have spent countless hours speaking with my therapist about the need to find happiness, the need to give love and to be loved again, and to find meaning out my circumstances so that I could use it to push me forward and to shape who I will become. We have also spent countless hours questioning why I judge myself so harshly for wanting these things for myself. She commends me for having the courage to want to find a new meaning for myself. She reminds me that the life I chose to accept moving forward is because of the life I shared with my husband. She encourages me to believe that a bright future can be possible without forgetting my husband. These concepts are very difficult for me. For me it is very black and white. If I move forward, my husband will be forgotten. If I find happiness my husband will assume, as he looks down on me, that I don't love him anymore. 

I realize those thoughts are irrational, but C.S. Lewis wrote it best when he said, "Sorrow...turns out to be not a state but a process...There is something new to be chronicled every day. Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. As I've already noted, not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley isn't a circular trench. But it isn't. There are partial recurrences, but the sequence doesn't repeat. Here, for instance, is a new phase, a new loss. I do all the walking I can, for I'd be a fool to go to bed no tired. Today I have been revisiting old haunts, taking one of the long rambles that made me so happy in my bachelor days. And this time the face of nature was not emptied of its beauty and the world didn't look like a mean street. On the contrary, every horizon, every stile or clump of trees, summoned me into a past kind of happiness, my pre-widower happiness. But the invitation seemed to me horrible. The happiness into which it invited me was insipid. I find that I don't want to go back again and be happy in that way. It frightens me to think that a mere going back should even be possible. For this fate would seem to me the worst of all, to reach a state in which my years of love and marriage should appear in retrospect a charming episode - like a holiday - that had briefly interrupted my interminable life and returned me to normal, unchanged...Thus my wife would die to me a second time; a worse bereavement than the first. Anything but that."

When I read this passage I felt relieved. That being happy would mean my husband is forgotten or has "died a second time," is incredibly wrong. But to be validated that I was not alone in thinking this gives me comfort. However, in the new year I do not want to think that anymore. In the new year I want to embrace happiness as something positive. I truly believe, despite the circumstances, that everyone deserves happiness. I deserve to be happy even if this means I have to do so without my husband by my side. I should find happiness because of my past husband. And above all, in order to find happiness, I need to rid myself of irrational thoughts. When my time comes I don't want to look back on my life and have regrets. In her book Gretchen Rubin quoted the writer Colette who said, "What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I realized it sooner." My husband fought too hard to live through his struggle for me not to embrace such a sentiment. 

So how do you find happiness? That I am not quite yet sure. However, for me it is a step in the right direction just to know that I deserve to be happy. This year, I will spend time on me. Some may call it selfish, but I disagree. In order for me to offer the best version of myself to the world I need to allow myself to find the best version of me. I will probably make mistakes along the way, but I cannot grow without failures. And in 2017 I aspire to grow. I will learn to be happy because of my past. I read a quote recently that I really liked. It said, "The happiest people don't necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything they have." This year I chose to make the best of everything that I have. Happy new year.

Love,
Meredith

"Don't give up. Don't ever give up."


Seth Jacob Budai Caring Bridge Page



Dear Seth,

I love you and miss you dearly. This morning I woke up crying and really missing you. I could have used a hug and one more "I love you Mere." Only you were not here to give this to me. When I finished crying I thought about what you would tell me to do and I realized I just needed to calm down. I got up, went for coffee and brought a book, and then decided to come home and write. Right now I am relaxed. And even if I am not always okay, I know that I will be. That is the first lesson of my happiness project. It is okay to not be okay, because one day soon I will be. Thank you for teaching me that. Thank you for being there for me this morning, even if only in my mind. I love you.

Love,
Meredith


#SethStrong in California
(Photo courtesy of Shannon Corbey)

#SethStrong in California
(Photo courtesy of Shannon Corbey)

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(Photo courtesy of Shannon Corbey)