It’s overwhelming some days.
Some days I have this indescribable guilt for being happy.
When a loved one dies, they don’t hand you a “Grieving for Dummies” book and wish you luck. There are no set rules or even guidelines on how to grieve, how long you should grieve, or what grieving looks like. You always hear that everyone grieves differently, in their own ways and for their own amount of time.
I’ve caught myself numerous times comparing my grieving journey to others’ grieving journeys. I mean, I’m the widow, I was his wife, his best friend, shouldn’t I be the one grieving the most and the longest?
If so, then why am I so happy?
Truth is, I started my grieving journey months before May 30, 2015.
What is grieving? Grieving is the response to a loss. Any loss, not just death.
Over the last several years of Kenny’s fight, he (we) lost a lot in exchange for more years of his life. Some tangible, and some not. He lost hair, he lost a leg, and he lost half a lung. Consequently, I was slowly losing bits and pieces of my husband – one surgery at a time, one round of chemotherapy at a time, one clinical trial at a time. With each loss, we grieved. I grieved.
The one thing he didn’t lose was his love for me.
We learned very early on in our relationship the principle “in sickness and in health.” We went into our marriage knowing this was a given. There was no “what if you get sick” or “when you get old and sick” – the “sick” was already there, and it wasn’t going away any time in the near future. But we accepted it and moved on. In fact, if anything, the “sickness” part is what made our love stronger and more resilient than ever.
This is not to say we didn’t have our struggles with the acceptance and learning how to live with a terminal illness. Because we definitely did. We were newlyweds, still in school, juggling schedules with chemo, his daughter, and what social life we tried to enjoy when we could. Along with the “normal” newlywed adjustments, we had our fair share of other obstacles added to the mix. As I mentioned before, not only did Kenny lose tangible things, but also many intangible things. When he lost his leg, he also lost the ability to continue working in a field that required manual labor. Being a man, this was very difficult for him to cope with and accept. Not only did the loss hinder him at work, but it also affected the chores and tasks he did around the house – taking out the trash, mowing the lawn, doing laundry, carrying his daughter, sweeping, mopping, carrying in the groceries… many things a lot of us, including myself, take for granted. Daily chores that we dread doing he was wishing he could do. Now, for anyone who knew Kenny, he found ways to do many of these. He would still take out the trash, but it just took him a little longer. He learned how to mow the lawn with his prosthetic leg. We found a laundry bag that he could carry on his back. He found ways to do many of these things – it was just different than the way he used to do them.
Even though Kenny was the one having to cope with the physicality of his new way of living, I seemed to struggle just as much with it. In the beginning, I had a hard time accepting the fact that my big, manly husband was not going to be able to do the same things other husbands would be doing for the wives. There was no carrying me across the threshold, no holding hands while walking down the street, no going for a run together, no placing my hand on his leg at dinner, no more wrapping his legs around me. Again, things you don’t think about and usually take for granted until they are no longer.
For a long time, too long honestly, I held a lot of resentment in my heart, and it came out in the ugliest forms. Although I had externally accepted this new life change for us, I struggled internally. I hated that I would never have these things again, and I envied anyone who still did. It would actually make me very angry when I saw or heard of anyone complaining or not enjoying these small, everyday treasures with their loved one.
I let this anger and resentment consume me at times, and it affected our relationship in ways I’m not proud of. In fact, it’s difficult to finally say it (or write it). Thankfully, I eventually learned that I needed to get over myself and practice what I was preaching – enjoy the small, everyday treasures with your loved one.
Once I started doing this, life magically became much sweeter. All the struggles, worries, concerns minimized, and the blessings surfaced.
This is not to say we never worried or struggled again. It felt like we were always faced with a life-altering decision, and there was always something for us to worry about or struggle with, but we always tried to focus and channel what little energy we did have on the little things.
If you focus on the negatives in life, that’s all you’re going to see, and ultimately get. When you turn that focus back on the positives and channel your energy in the things you can control and the things that bring you joy, then you will create the tiniest shift in your life, but it will bring about the greatest rewards.
I believe this is why my grieving journey has been one filled with more happiness than sadness – focusing more on celebrating the small joys and positive things in my life, rather than focusing on the sadness of the loss, something I have no control over and will not change no matter what I do.
You have a choice. Every day.
You can choose to be sad and dwell on things that cannot and will not change.
Or you can choose to be happy and create good things.
Go and create good bonus days.