As I was waiting for my son, I stood next to another mum with a young boy. She laughed and smiled as she tickled her toddler’s tummy and said cheerfully to me, ‘Doesn’t this good weather make you feel so much better!?’ I gave one of my template smiles in response. She was a lovely woman, clearly enjoying life at the moment.
That was me, once.
I can’t smile blissfully and appreciate a sunny day as a reason to be happy. I won’t ever again think the weather makes me ‘feel better’ – sunny days are shrouded in a dull gloom.
As it happens, the sun does make the days easier to bear than the dull days, but they only mask what is always inside, briefly turning the darkness to light. Other people’s sudden joy has me running for cover.
Grief is like staying indoors on the sunniest day. Some days, you don’t care that it’s sunny outside, you keep your pyjamas on and bolt the door. Other days, you are desperate to get out and feel the warm sun on your face, but the door is stuck fast and no matter how hard you try you can’t get out, you’re trapped.
At this point in my grief journey I have discovered how my anger and emotion has retreated inward. My mind and body feel at war, resulting in paranoia, fear, frustration and pain. Yet I’m trying to smile through it all, to experience happiness again. I want to be ‘healed’ of my sorrow more than anything, believe me, but grief is an incurable illness. I just have to learn somehow to live with it.
Happiness is something my family wish for me, too. My daughter made this badge for me a few months after Abi died, a simple gesture which expressed so much. I carry it in my purse as a reminder to see life through her childlike eyes rather than my weary, sorrowful ones.
My children want a happy mum, and my hubby certainly wants his happy wife back. But ‘happy’ feels like a swear word to me. I wince at the very mention of it. I shy away from admitting a happy moment, wracked with guilt and feeling confused. But, in order to survive, I must find a kind of happiness or this grief will eat me away like a disease.
I do feel happy feelings. I smile when my baby laughs or does something clever. I can laugh and even crack jokes. I’m still the same me, only shattered into pieces that don’t quite fit like they used to. Love is my only glue.
But grief is a heartbreaker and a homewreaker.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my hubby more than ever but, boy, it’s hard to live on different levels of grief all the time, to see each other every day and be reminded of the pain, to be reminded of our first child’s life and sudden death, to have to parent our other children ‘normally’ through our deep sadness and anxieties.
I can understand why marriages fall apart with the strain, it seems almost inevitable. It’s so much harder to ‘move on’ while staying together, than to split up and start afresh. But we are, so far. We’ve been married 16 years next month, but it’s almost as though we started again the day Abi died. Things changed, our relationships changed. Family became fractured. It’s ‘us’ but not as we’ve always known it.
I conserve whatever happiness I can muster for my hubby and children, and them alone. I have nothing left for anyone else. There’s no one I need to please or give myself to but them, and God. That’s hard to live with though. I don’t care much now for surprising, gift buying, and putting others first. At the moment, grief wants me all to itself.
Just like the recent solar eclipse, grief came like a shadow and covered my happiness, blocking it from those I love most. The difference is that my eclipse shadow isn’t moving across like it should. It moves a fraction to allow a glimmer of light through but won’t budge any further.
That sounds like depression… you know, the dark clouds and all that, but it’s not depression, it’s grief – the death of my eldest child that cast a permanent shadow over my life. While the clouds of depression pass over, grief itself is not a gloomy cloud that will simply blow away.
As unbelievable as it sounds, I’m not feeling self-pity, strangely. I’m ever considering that I’m not the only one in this world who is unhappy, who has lost somebody. I am actually very thankful for all that I have had and have today. I know too well I’m not alone. I don’t feel sorry for myself, despite my experiences. I cling to hope and to the promise of God’s unconditional love.
So, I will look for reasons to smile and be thankful no matter how heavy my heart is. With every smile or every laugh I know I am trying: trying to live, trying to make sense of the pain, trying to adjust, trying to somehow find happiness again.