Thursday, March 24, 2011

That Other Shoe

Editor's note: See I told you I would pop in now and again! Matt is away for Madeline's third birthday, which precedes by only one day Liz's death. I am filling in for him today with a repost from about a year ago, Matt will be back next week.

Pictures of me in my current state of happiness make me nervous. I look at this photo with a sense of wonder at the fact that my smile looks genuine. The empty look that has shadowed my features for years appears to have faded. I am tempted to compare this photo to one of my "before" photos to see if I can tell the difference between these versions of my happy self. Will the scars of loss be somehow visible? Is the shadow of death really gone, or is it just lying in wait?

See that is what makes me uneasy. I have been this happy before. In my other life I loved and was loved; I looked into my future with optimism; I expected a full and happy life. Deep contentment is no longer something I take for granted, and to be honest, I have a hard time trusting that the future is full of good things. I find it much easier to brace myself for whatever pain lies ahead. Natural disasters will happen. Money will come and go. My children will face pain that I cannot take from them. People I love will die. All of these things I can see clearly in my minds eye, and I can feel my heart gates slamming shut. Batten down the hatches and close up shop. Somehow I see expected pain as more manageable then the unexpected kind, even though I know better. I am constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

When good news lights up my day I am sometimes unsure of how to respond to it. Embrace it? Revel in it? Celebrate it? Count all the chickens before they hatch? But what of the inevitable bad news that is sure to follow? If I don't overindulge in the wonder of life does that mean I can also diminish the intensity of the painful parts? Lately I have become aware of a new coping strategy...limiting my happiness intentionally because I am afraid of what might come next. Essentially I hold all things positive at arms length so that if the situation should suddenly turn ugly I won't be close enough to be wounded.

Yet happiness has a way of sneaking up on you; joy encourages you to let your guard down; and contentment seeps into your bones like a warm bath. Peace comes into your life unannounced and before you know it has managed to set up house. As time passes somewhat uneventfully, contentment has begun to feel a little familiar. Recognizing that this familiarity scares me has opened my eyes to the fact that I will only be as happy as I allow myself to be. I can choose to hold love and joy at arms distance, or I can choose to wrap my arms around them and breathe them in for as long as they are able to stay. Mitigating my happiness allowance won't save me from future pain, but my reticence to allow anyone to get too close will rob me of the moments of joy that make life worth living.

"Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder." ~Thoreau


  1. I do the same thing. I look at pictures of myself and know that my smile is not the same, not real. I often wonder when my old smile will return.

    You look very happy!


  2. Ah, "other shoe" syndrome. I remember that. It just takes time to learn to trust happiness and good fortune although, technically, good and bad fortune is not personal. It happens and it happens to everyone to varying degrees.

    You can't "proof" yourself against disappointment by not allowing yourself to fully enjoy life when things are going well. Bad times will still hurt regardless.

  3. Michele... I was going to start this note off by saying that 'this is your BEST blog EVER' (that I've read anyway... being 11 months into widowhood, I haven't been reading long)... but, then I realized that I recognize sooooo much of myself in each and every one of your blogs/thoughts, that the common denominator must be 'widowhood'... You seem to, so eloquently, and so perfectly, use your "GIFT" of writing to see into all of our souls! Thank you for sharing so much of yourself with me (us)... I am soooo grateful for your wisdom, and to know that you are 'The Guide', just ahead of me, on my journey... You deserve every ounce of your happiness! ~ DeNece

  4. I wanted to call you so bad last nite as I was sitting in the middle of my floor, Corona in hand, packing, and crying at the same time...I too have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. I am so happy and so scared all at the same time. And then...the phone rang. It was Roger at his usual 9:30 (type A) goodnight call. Five minutes later, all was better :) I am ok, I do deserve this happiness - WE deserve this happiness! Love you!!

  5. I often talk with my counselor about thinking this way. She has started using the phrase "there is no other shoe" with me. I told her I'm writing it on a notecard to stick on my mirror or something. Definitley understand your feelings!

  6. I just recently found the website on Saturday as
    I desperately went searching for someone or something
    to take away the horrible pain that I kept inside
    me the previous week. It was the second
    anniversary of my husband's death, and also Easter.
    I too, went through the motions of spending the holiday with my family. I put on a big smile for
    everyone to see that I was tough and I can endure pain. Thanks Michelle for responding so quickly.

  7. All I want to say, is, YOU LOOK PRETTY HAPPY!!!
    and thank you.....

  8. This is a great blog! Thank you for giving me some hope. Lately I've just been thinking that the best years were behind me. You DO look happy.

  9. Wonderful blog. Inspirational and filled with hope for all widows. Thank you for sharing.

    Linda Della Donna
    "...And sometime when I wasn't looking, I got a new life."

  10. I definitley feel this way to a certain extent. Every time the phone rings, everyone someone leaves, but that is the trauma. I am only 11 months out.

    But mostly I fear that I won't be able to enjoy anything in the future, now that I expect the worst and know what the worst feels like. I fear that I will feel like I am tempting fate if I am too happy, asking for something bad to happen.

  11. All relationships that are loving involve risk. Every one is a gamble. Risk of rejection, of showing vulnerability, of loss of loyalty, and of illness and/or death. I've never been divorced, but I'm sure people who have experienced it have insecurites about starting over. I bought a postcard once while I was on vacation, and I framed it. It was written by Kobi Yamada. It says "Sometimes you just have to take the leap, and build your wings on the way down." That simple phrase has given me courage many times. I'm not yet in a place where I can think about a new relationship, but I believe in love.

  12. Beautiful Post. I think that the purpose of life is to share our most authentic self - our grief, our fears, our fleeting joys, our wish, deep wish to be happy despite the great losses.

    Trust that - the ones we lost so loved us that this life we are left with is their gift - our gift.

    Open it - we need to face the world with open hearts, there is someone somewhere who needs our light
    Who needs exactly what we can share - our compassion our capacity to love.

    so - yes dare to embrace happiness, have we not suffered enough?