Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Small Words ......

...... can add up to one powerful sentence.
Or two.

Monday I went to lunch with several friends.  We decided on Chinese.  The food was good.  The company was better.
At the end of the meal came the traditional passing around of the fortune cookies.  We always open our cookies and then take turns reading the "fortune" out loud to the others.  
This time there was one difference:  I didn't read mine and no one seemed to notice, for which I was glad.

It was a simple strip of paper.  With ten simple words.
Those ten words made two very powerful sentences:

I was stunned when I read those words.
And suddenly felt overwhelmed.
But in a good way.

And that surprised me.

If I had read those words in the first two years of my "after", I most likely would've felt stunned, overwhelmed and very, very grieved.
I could not have dealt with the thought that my happiness was not behind me.
Because behind me is where Jim is.
As is the happiness we had.
And that was all the happiness I would ever have.
Or so I thought.

But I was wrong.
Back then ...... so fresh in my "after".
And, even if it hurts to read this ...... so are you, if you think that all of your happiness is behind you.
I'd like for those words to give you hope, and not hurt.
But in the beginning ..... which lasts as long as it lasts for each person ...... just about everything hurts.

Even ten small words.

But now ...... now at almost 5 years in my "after", those ten words made me smile ..... not cry.
They reinforced the hope that has been planted in my heart.
Yes, they are only words.
No, I don't truly believe that fortune cookies hold the truth to my future ...... or anyone else's.

But I do believe in the power of those words.
And I believe there's a reason that they were in the cookie that I opened ...... and not in the eight others that were opened.

But what's more important, at least to me, is that that little slip of paper was powerful ...... but only partly true.
I do have happiness behind me.
And I treasure it.

But I also believe that I have much happiness before me.  I don't know what that looks like, but I do know that it's my choice.  If I choose to spend all of my time looking behind me, I'll miss out on all that is before me.
That doesn't mean that in order to be happy I have to stop looking behind me completely.  I don't.
I know that I can glance behind me, and yet stretch my hands out in front ..... to catch hold of the happiness that's there.
I can remember what I had, and yet look forward to what is yet to come ...... whatever that is.
I don't have to forget Jim ...... that's just physically impossible.  He's part of me, and will always be.
But I can take him forward with me ....... because he helped make the woman I am today.  And the woman I'll be tomorrow.

I am happy.
Where I am.

And I'll be happy in the future.
Because of the happiness and love I had in the past.
I know what's possible.

And I know that ten little words can pack a lot of power.
If I choose to believe them.

And I do.


  1. I had a similiar experience at 3 years. I read the words " You must let go of the past to grab hold of the future that is in front of you." Like you I have often felt my happiness was behind me,but I must move foward to reach the happiness that is in my future. It will be different and like you my late husband will always come with me in the woman he helped me become. But I must try and believe that happiness is possible, he would want that for me.

    1. Anon,
      Thanks so much for sharing your experience. It helps others to know it's not just one person .... one "Mary Sunshine" saying we can all rejoice in our happiness. It's not that at all. And it's not easy. It's not even mildly difficult. It's hard. And it's painful. And it sucks. More than words can say.
      But it doesn't last forever .... this cold darkness. You've seen happiness come back into your life, I've seen it come back into mine. And hopefully, they can believe in our happiness .... even if they can't believe in theirs. Ours will have to do. And that's OK. It will do.
      Until they don't need it any longer ..... because they'll find their own.

  2. What makes you happy now?
    I am trying to imagine a future that can contain happiness for me, and I'd love to have some idea of what is possible. Right now, to be honest, I cannot imagine what that might be.

    1. Claire,
      My answer is too long to put into one comment. So I'll put half of it here, and the other half below, in my comment to Mjay. Sorry for the editing.

      It's hard to put words to your question, but I'll try. I know full well that all of you who are new to this "club no one wanted to join" cannot even imagine being happy ..... ever again. And that's ok ..... meaning that it's normal. I, too, couldn't fathom EVER wanting to live again, let alone living and being happy. And no one could've convinced me otherwise.
      But here I am, counting down the weeks until I hit the 5 year mark (which seems so impossible to my human brain) ..... and I can honestly say that I am ...... happy.

      My "happy" now is a different "happy" than it was when Jim was alive. It feels deeper, yet also heavier in a way. Not as light and airy as "happy" used to be. But that, too, is ok. I'm starting to get used to the differences that exist in my "after".

      As to what makes me happy ..... all it takes is for me to focus on what I do have, and who I do have, rather than who I do not. I don't have Jim ...... and I still hate that. Very much. But me hating it isn't going to change a thing. So I can't stay back, trying to live in my past, because the reality is that Jim's not there, either.
      And I would hate it so much if he were the one left here, and only remained miserable and unhappy and full of grief for the rest of his days. I wouldn't want that for him .... and I know that he wouldn't want that for me.

      Now, please know that I know, with 100% certainty, that choosing to be happy is not a choice for those of you who are so early in your "after". It's just not possible fo you to choose that. Grief is much stronger than that, and you can't just shake it off and choose happiness. You have to walk through this valley, and experience all you will experience, until one day, whenever that day comes, you find yourself on the other side. And when you do, you will be able to look behind you and extend a hand to the person behind you in that valley, just as we try to extend our hands to you. Hands of hope and encouragement.
      It's not easy. It sucks. In my opinion, it's the worst thing that could ever happen to you. And because of that, it takes away your fear. Or at least it takes away many peoples' fear.

  3. I struggle because I really don't know that there will be happiness in the future and what that would look like; as I have learned these past months, most people don't have a relationship like I had that brought me so much joy; I understand that happiness is found in many places and can be defined differently; but to really believe that there is happiness waiting for me just seems an impossible blessing. I do have hope that it is there, but I also see so many others in pain - and not just widows, but friends suffering for many years through very difficult circumstances - and their pain does not get better. Why would I believe that happiness awaits me? I can't believe I'm living this tragedy. The future is a blank slate and continues to be that way, though it gets filled with stuff - many tasks that need to be done, but can't say that I've known happiness of joy, though I've had brief moments of pleasure, nothing is lasting. I've shrugged it off to the grieving process. I do hope happiness is there for me. My Marty would want that, but that isn't enough to "cause" seems that most all of life is overshadowed with his absence, even when I try to really be present in any of the good things that come my way in the here and now.

    1. Mjay,
      Hopefully you saw what I wrote above to Claire. My answer is for both of you. But I couldn't write the entire answer in one comment, so the first half is in her comment and the second half is here, in yours. So read my comment to her first, and then know that I pick up with the rest of my answer ..... right here:

      Having my children healthy and relatively happy, makes me happy. Knowing how very much I was loved by Jim .... and that he knew how very much he was loved by me ..... makes me happy.
      Being able to give other widowed people hope ...... makes me happy. Being alive on a beautiful day ..... makes me happy. Three years ago it did not. I did not want to be alive. I couldn't see a future, and didn't want one without Jim. I went through some very dark, and very, very scary (for the people how love me) times. So I understand that you cannot imagine it.
      But you don't need to imagine it. I will imagine it for you, as will the rest of us who are able. And we'll encourage you along the way as best we can.
      One day ..... one day, you'll be able to look out towards your future ...... and instead of seeing nothing but inky blackness ...... you'll see a lighter shade of grey. Then the grey will slowly dissolve into a brown color, which will transform into a kind of tan. As you move forward, the light ahead of you will lighten your darkness. Not quickly, for there's nothing on this path that's quick .... other than finding yourself on it.
      But it will get lighter.
      Until you can imagine that .... or believe it, just believe that it's lighter for me. If you can hang onto that ...... knowing that someone ahead of you is doing ok, better than ok, then that will give you enough strength to place one foot in front of the other. One step at a time. Sometimes 5 steps back (or a hundred), but it won't be long before the steps forward will outnumber the steps backward.
      Just try to trust me ..... and the others here who can testify that you will get stronger, your load will feel lighter, and you'll be able to give hope to the person behind you.
      One day.
      Whenever that one day comes.

  4. Forgive me for putting in my 2 cents, but you are right those are 10 very powerful words. I too have gone thruogh this strugle. I currently am engeaged and very happy with my my current life. I cannot for get my past for it is what made me the person I am today, but I also relized that I have so much LOVE to share with someone special. on a side note, the other day we were eating chinese food, and of course the fortune cookie afterwards. Was it coincidence or fate? we both received the same fortune and it read "STOP SEARCHING FOREVER. HAPPINESS IS NEXT TO YOU." I now carry this fortune in my wallet.
    thank you for letting me share

    1. Thank YOU for taking the time to share, Anon. And for letting them know that other people out there have hope, too. And happiness.
      It can happen.
      It will happen.
      We'll believe it for the rest of you.

  5. Janine, you have done such a great job of trying to instill hope of future happiness, but I find myself in the same shoes as MJay and Claire. At 2.5 years, I accept responsibility for "controlling my own destiny", but I also have come to realize that while I can be happy, it never lasts. For pockets of time, I can laugh and enjoy the company of others, but then that jolt of reality wipes the smiles and giggles away and leaves me empty once again.

    I will continue to "believe" but its just not easy!

    1. Anon,
      Please forgive me if I ever gave you the belief that it's easy. Nothing on this path is easy. It's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. And I would have liked to gone along with my life, never having to experienced the horridness of it. But here I am.
      I could not have written that post at 2.5 years out. No way, no how. So please know that I understand the depth of pain and the small pockets of smiles that don't last. I get it. I lived it. And sometimes, once in a great while, I live it again. But it does NOT last forever. Yes, indeed it sure feels like it will .... just as it sometimes feels that you've been experiencing grief forever. And I know that it's hard to believe that this will not always be your life .... this darkness and the cold waves that creep in on you and threaten to pull you under and out to sea forever.
      I also know that you can't believe that .... not for a while. A very long while. But one day you will have a glimpse of hope when you hear about the hope that a person in front of you has. And you will think, "If she/he can feel hope, then maybe I can, too ..... when I get to that point." And that thought will give you the energy you need to take the next couple of steps. Don't think that you should be able to walk a mile ..... it's only baby steps at first. One step forward, 3 steps back. Two forward, one back. And then one day, 10 steps forward and only one back. It's a slow road. You don't have to hope right now. Just concentrate on the one step. And if that's too much, just concentrate on the next breath. We're here, hoping for you. And we'll be here, helping you climb out of this damn valley. When the time is right for you.

  6. I am one week away from the three year anniversary of my husband's sudden death from a heart attack. Yes, things are better than at the two year mark. But I am still so unhappy, so lonely, and missing him so much. I have no family nearby. All of "our" friends have disappeared. I have one widow friend and without her, I would be really desperate. I really want to move away from this area where we have lived for 28 years, but there are so many things wrong with the house and the market is so depressed. I feel utterly trapped! If I have to fix all the things that are wrong, I will not have much savings left at all.(life insurance) I am unemployed and have some health issues. I am 59 years old and I hate my life. Relatives think I should have been over this a long time ago. What do you do when you have no friends, no support, fear your house is going to fall apart,and just don't feel any joy any more? Without online support, I think I would have thrown in the towel long ago. Everywhere I go, I reach out and try to start up conversations with strangers. Everyone is in their own world, buried in their cell phones. No one will talk to you anymore. It took much courage to join a meetup group a few months ago. Went and interacted with about 20 people, then was hit by a deer on the way home and totaled my car. Tried another one and after one dinner, the group dissolved.This is so hard for me because I am quiet and not the outgoing bubbly person that my husband was. People say...oh, take a class, travel here, do can you if you are in financial straits? To sum this all up, as I hit this 3 year mark, I have less and less feeling that I can keep going on. I am just so tired of being alone, but feel powerless to see my way out. I was with my husband for 37 years, married for 32. He would have handled this all better than I have!

  7. Anon,
    I'm sorry that things are hard for you right now. I wasn't all that happy at that same point on my path. In fact, there were many periods of just feeling miserable. The only thing that I can suggest is that you see a counselor or therapist that works in grief therapy. I know that's another cost for you, but many counselors work on a sliding scale, charging only the bare minimum so that you can afford their care. You really need someone to talk to. You could also use a few more widows to hang with. Maybe the two of you can find other women who also need you. My group was formed, and continues to grow, by word of mouth only. Your widowed friend could ask her friends if they know of any widows in your area. You'd be surprised how many of us there are.
    You could also go to Widowed Village and write a post asking if anyone there lives in your area.
    I hope that you're able to find someone to talk to and share your pain. It will help you so much just to have someone listen and validate everything you're feeling.
    I'm sorry that I can't do more. But I am glad that you come here. At least we all get it and can empathize with you. And we can tell you that what you're feeling is normal.

  8. Thanks Janine! For an inspiring post and for your compassion in all your comments. Keep on keeping on here!

  9. Thanks Janine. At almost a year and a half I can believe in the hope and sometimes briefly feel a glimmer of hope. I can feel that because you and others here share your hearts with us. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  10. Happiness, almost like the waves of grief, came in doses. But unlike grief they were very small doses; especially in the first 2 years. I am nearly 5 years out (which for some reason terrifies me) and I can honestly say, I am only now seeing more "happy". The turning point for me was Camp Widow 2011. I met people at my level and those moving forward. I cried all the way home thinking how elusive this thing called HOPE was. But I also knew I wanted that. I identified with those that talked about seeing a grief counselor and could see the benefits and realize I couldn't do this alone. I chose HOPE and I came home and started seeing a grief counselor and maintained the connections started at Camp. It has taken me 14 months from the first session but in the past two months I see sunshine. I laugh with my whole being now. I miss my husband still but I have HOPE that I am going to make it. Don't walk this journey alone. I had to get my hands out of my pockets and reach out. I had to define and adjust my path. But it's worth it. Our everyday connections expect Humpty Dumpty to be back together by now because they love us and want to fix us. But the scar is tender and those that walk before you know that time means nothing, it is different for each of us. Again, it has taken me almost 5 years to catch a glimpse of the other side. But now I can believe it is there. Go to camp if you can; it's like support group on steroids! Connect talk and reach out. Believe happy is out there. Others will show you the way.