Wednesday, November 14, 2012

It Takes a While ......


...... before happiness can be a choice.

Last week I wrote a post about a powerful fortune that I found in my cookie at a Chinese restaurant.
It was about looking for my happiness in front of me, not in my past.
Those words stunned and overwhelmed me, but not as they would have stunned and overwhelmed me in my first 2-3 years on this "path".

Because now, at almost the 5 year mark, I have the ability to choose to be happy.
Most of the time.
Way more often than I did in those first few years.

I wrote that post as encouragement to those of you who are behind me on this path .... and who have yet to be able to choose happiness.  Or sadness.  Or what's for dinner.  It's difficult to make almost any choice in the beginning.  I get that.
I remember that.

But in writing that post, I think I unknowingly put pressure on some of you who aren't there yet.  Those of you who don't have the ability to choose ...... yet.
And who can't even imagine EVER being happy again .... by choice or otherwise.

And for that, I apologize.
I hope that you now are familiar with me enough that you know I would never intentionally cause any of you pain.  Or sorrow, or grief, or pressure.
My goal is to let you know that you're not crazy, that you're perfectly normal in a perfectly abnormal situation, and that your timing is the perfect timing .... for you.  No matter what your friends or family members might say.
My goal is to let you know that you're not alone and that there is no ONE right way to grieve.
My goal is to give you hope.
Not pain.

So while I wrote about choosing happiness ....... I should have made it more clear that I was writing about me, and only me, being able to choose happiness now.
It's taken almost 5 years, and The Happiness Project, to show me that.

But just because I'm at a point in my life where I can choose to be happy (most of the time) doesn't mean that I don't remember, with every fiber of my being, those first few years when happiness was not a choice I had.
In fact, there were very few choices that I had.

Grief ruled over me with an iron fist.
He was a very cruel and a very stealthy ruler.
I never knew when he was going to show up .... which was often at the most inopportune moments.  He would pour his hot, horrendous pain all over my body, but with particular preciseness .... he'd slice it straight into my heart.
And it didn't matter where I was ..... at home alone, sitting in church, driving down the freeway, or in a business meeting.  He'd show up and leave me in a mess of tears and sorrow and pain.

Sometimes I knew when to expect him.
Interestingly enough, the pain at those times wasn't as bad as I had anticipated.

But there were far more times when he would descend upon me out of nowhere.  I'd never see him coming, never hear a warning bell, never be able to prepare myself for his onslaught.  Those times required a longer recovery period.  They left me emotionally and physically drained.  I often wondered how much more I could take.
And how many tears I could possibly physically make.  I never understood why I wasn't constantly dehydrated from all of the tears I seemed to constantly shed.

Yes, I remember those days.  We all remember those days.  Which makes me all the more passionate about sharing hope with you.
I didn't know many widowed people in my early days out here.
I didn't know of any websites where I could find encouragement and support from people who understood, mostly, what I was going through.
I wish I had.
Maybe my dark, dark days wouldn't have lasted so long.
Maybe my darkness wouldn't have continued to grow so dark that the only escape I thought I had was death.
Maybe not.

The "maybes" don't matter so much to me anymore.
What matters is that I'm still here.
I am a survivor.
I have experienced the worst thing that I can ever face (in my opinion).
And I'm standing.  Tall.
Well, as tall as a person who's 5'3" can stand.
And that's a lot taller than you think so don't even ponder making a short joke!!

I have been through "THE Valley".
It was a very long, very hard, very painful and very exhausting trip.
I thought I'd never get out.
But I did.
One day I looked around and found that I was climbing upward, approaching the lip of THE Valley.  And someone ahead of me was there to reach down, grab my hand and help me climb over the top.

I made it out.
But I still didn't have the ability to choose happiness.
That didn't come until a year or so later.
It just kind of snuck up on me ..... like almost everything else on this path.

So what was the point of this very long, very boring description of my time on this path?
My point, or rather, half of my point, is this:  to tell you that I get it.  I remember.  I will never forget the days, weeks, months, years that all I could see in front of me was cold, dark blackness.  No future.  No joy.  No happiness.
And no choice.

And the other half?
To tell you that you won't always see only cold, dark blackness in front of you.  You won't always despair at having a future.  You won't always believe that you'll never be happy again.
And you will one day be blessed with the ability to make a choice.

I can't tell you when.
I can't give you any short cuts.  Because there aren't any.
I can't walk through this Valley for you, though there are many, many times when I wish I could.

You will get to the other side when you get there.
Don't measure your progress against anyone else's.
No two journeys are the same.
You will walk through the whole Valley.  One step at a time.
Some days you'll just sit, too exhausted to take a step.  And that's ok.
But you will get through it.
You have to.
Because that's what you'd want for your loved one ..... if he/she had been the one left behind.
And it's what we do ...... fight to survive.
And it's a fight, believe me.

So many of you, right now, can't imagine happiness.  You can't imagine a future any longer, because the future you looked to so very often, will never exist.
And again, that's ok.
You don't have to imagine it.
I will imagine it for you.
Others who are further along than you are will join me in imagining it for you.
We will keep hope alive for you.
Because we can.

Just as you, too, one day will do for the person behind you.

So for today ...... for right now ....... if you can't believe that you have happiness in front of you, let go of that.
And just believe that I do.
I have a lot of happiness before me.
I believe it so much that I know it's certain.
Believe me.
Because, though you aren't aware of it, though you can't feel it, as you believe me ...... belief in yourself will be planted within you.  It grows slowly, so you won't notice it for a while.  But it will grow.
It will grow into Hope.
And once Hope arrives, fully formed ..... Happiness comes soon after.

Believe me.
And just breathe.
One breath at a time.
I'll do the believing for you.
For now.


  1. Thank you Janine!


  2. I'm not far enough along to choose happiness yet. But, I try as often as I can to choose to be among those who live (and by that I mean actively live and embrace life) as I think that's the best path toward happiness. I've more and more often chosen joy and joyful things in recent months which I hope too will lead to happiness. What I am trying very hard to do is to chose to not think so much about the unanswerable questions and instead to remind myself of the things I know for sure. I loved him with all my heart and he, as he always said, loved me more.

    Your post didn't add pressure, it added confidence that it is possible to keep climbing bit by bit out of the dark valley we find ourselves in so unexpectedly, even when grief keeps trying send us to another, even darker place.

  3. Janine, you never cease to amaze me by always hitting home with me. I read your post last week and was encouraged. However, I was also honest with myself knowing that right now I can absolutely experience windows of happiness but the windows shut often and the cold empty void returns. Unfortunately, sometimes it is hard not to get caught up in this measurement exercise tracking my progress against a fellow widow/widower. So thank you for the reminder to stop that practice.

    I was feeling very disappointed in my inability to feel anything but dread for my upcoming third holiday season without my husband. Part of the disappointment is driven by family members who are intolerant of my lack of enthusiasm. They just don't get it.

    So, again, my thanks and I do BELIEVE!

  4. I am in tears at my desk at work. "It takes a while for happiness to be a choice"--THANK you for saying that!!! I love this post SO much. I don't even have the right words to describe how it is affecting me. I think a post on my own blog is in the process of being inspired.

    Thank you, Janine!!!

  5. I just passed the 6 year mark. I can honestly say that I have started feeling happy again only in the last 6-12 months. Not only that, but I can remember my husband with a smile and not totally coming unglued. Life is good again most of the time. there still are those moments where I get blindsided but they are few. Janine said it the best. Just hang in there. We are in this together.

  6. I just posted in my office, for me to see everyday,

    " We must be willing to let go of the life we had planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us" (Joseph Campbell).

    Easily said, tougher to do. I can't imagine yet the life waiting for me, how do you not keep focusing on what was supposed to be? I know nothing is a given, but I look around me and it seems that everyone elses' life is going as planned (even tho I know they struggle too), everyone else is looking forward to holidays and gatherings and weddings with anticipation of joyful times...I know you and others have said to hang in there, over and over, but I'm not sure how long I can do this. He died shortly after the holidays, so those memories of our last holidays together suck even more. Yes, I am grateful for the time I had with him, and try to focus on that, but it just seems that it is a never ending road of grief and tears. I will try to keep breathing and have hope.

  7. Janine - this post moved me to major tears. I know I probably shouldn't be reading this blog - since I am not a widow. But I do anyway - it just draws me in. I have lost something just as precious to me: my only child, the son I waited so long for, the one I watched grow and mature and be on his own - the one who was ripped away from me in a matter of seconds. I understand it is a different feeling than losing a husband/wife - but the pain is the same jarring, life changing, I-want-to-die kind of pain. 8 months into my journey and all I still see in front of me is....blackness. I am already panicked about the upcoming holidays.

    Anyway - my point is ---- thank you for reminding me (again) that I have a long way to go to get thru "the valley". That noone can do this for me - I have to do it. No shortcuts. No excuses. No turning back. And that once I truly make it to the edge, there will be a helping hand guiding me out of there and into a place where I can be happy again.


    1. Diane,

      I think I can speak for everyone here when I say our hearts go out to you. I think you're OK to read this blog. You know how it's different (of course!) but also how so much is the same.

      If you haven't already sought out support specific to child loss and wish to do so, may I recommend The Compassionate Friends, who support parents who've lost a child and people who've lost a sibling: My 35-year-old cousin passed very suddenly 12 years ago, and TCF has helped my aunt a great deal.

      *Hugs* to you.

  8. I love this post. thank you, Janine. it means so much to hear from someone at the top of the wall that someday I will get there. it means so much to catch a glimpse of hope. xo Carolynne

  9. Sitting by my desk, feeling such pain, and tears running down my will be two years in April and I still am blindsided at most inopportune times by the pain...I suppose that at some point I will be truly happy, but at this point in life, I can't see it yet. I too dread the Holidays, they only reinforce to me that I am missing my other "half", and that I can't touch what really would make me truly happy..It truly is a valley, and I will be glad to be outof it, the only thing I know is, it will make me a better person, and perhaps I too can help someone in this miserable valley someday with their journey...

  10. Thank you so much for this post! I am coming up on year one anniversary and I can't imagine any future, let alone any joy in a future without my husband. Your post has given me hope that maybe one day I'll find my way out of this tunnel of despair.

  11. Janine. Thank you for the post.
    For me - I needed that one. I need to know that there is hope and joy.
    I am at two years.
    I too had moments of not wanting to live. A very, very bad night the first year.
    It was here that I came in the middle of the night and poured out my grief.
    This blog was the life line of hope.
    To say - it won't always be this way.
    Now two years out - even though grief still stalks me and sometimes ambushes me when least expected. for the most part _ I still have a few tears each day, sometime happy remembrances, sometimes sorry for my situation, mostly just "miss him so much" but I am climbing out of the valley to the mountain top.
    The first Christmas a grief counselor said to remind yourself that you can hold both grief and joy in the same heart. You don't have to choose. You can have both. Christmas will always be an emotional time for me and my family as I guess it is for everyone. My husband dressed as Santa every year! I can't listen to the tapes of his Ho Ho Ho without wanting to sob. But I try to remember the joy he had in creating such lasting memories for our children and grandchildren.
    No one gets to the mountain top alone, we can help each other climb the tough spots.
    Thanks Janine you are the best!

  12. Janine, thank you. I'm at 4 months so you know how deep I am in my grief. The valley you write about is so real for me, I don't see a way out but read your words and pray that I too will be where you are, someday. Thank you for the encouragement I need all the support you and this blog can give.

  13. Thank you for writing this. I needed it today. I always compare myself to others who are doing so well much less time than me into their loss. I am 3.5 years into it....and until I read your post and one of the other anonymous posters at 6 years I felt like I would never get better. I guess I don't have a lot in my life, living in the country, no job (thankfully his pension) no way to really meet people. I go to a couple grief groups....which is where I see the ones doing so much better than me. I am the only one so far out who still cries. I know I feel better than I did the first couple years, but I still have a long way to go to feel good again. Family and some friends don't get it...I know all our marriages were different but I never expected on the day he died that I would be filled with such utter despair. I wonder also how I can make so many tears!!! I am crying as I read the posts and when is it ever going to stop? I find comfort in the fact that at least a couple of you longer out than me have found it...thank you again.

    1. Anon,
      It will soon be 5 years for me, and yet here I am in Kenya, on the continent of Africa, crying myself to sleep because I miss him so damn much.
      Happiness does exist in my life, and in me, but it's had to learn to co-exist with the sadness that's sometimes here, too. They've learned to be quiet companions. And I like that.
      I'm glad you feel more "normal" now, and hopeful.

  14. I just joined this site today. I am at seven months and all I am capable of right now is a heartfelt thank you !

  15. Thank you so much. I enjoyed your post last week and felt encouragement but you really spoke to me with this post. I find myself, a week and a half from the first year, crying every day at some point thru the day. Not being able to say 'this time last year, Bob and I...'. I do realize that I am climbing out of that fog of a year ago but happiness? So far away, I think. Thank you for both acknowledging and accepting. And for hope.