Living With Grief


Happy (song): Written, produced and performed by American singer Pharrell Williams

🎵 It might seem crazy what I’m ’bout to say 🎵  

I’ve been thinking about the word ‘happy’ and its generic use in greetings: Happy birthday. Happy Christmas and very shortly, Happy New Year.

I don’t take any offence to its use, it just stood out this year. Everyone – like completely normal people should and would do! – wished me a happy birthday this December and every time, I couldn’t help but stare at that word: happy. One friend text “I am sure happy is not the right word” and finally I smiled and thought “this is why we’re friends, she gets it”.

I stopped to think about what I might say going forwards instead, to people who I knew were going through a tough time and I settled on – and have since used – this: “it’s your birthday!” I just didn’t want to use the word happy, putting that pressure or falsehood on the day. I know it’s just a word, but it’s also my subtle way of acknowledging the rough period.

It’s interesting, as nine days later, people were much more mindful and reluctant about wishing me a “Happy Christmas”. Perhaps because I’d recently shared bad medical news, perhaps because I’ve been quite vocal about my Christmas dread, perhaps there’s just more awareness in general that it’s not always the most wonderful time of the year, for everyone.

I did not wish anyone a Happy Christmas this year, I intentionally used other words. I said, “I hope you have a lovely Christmas” or a “special” or “restful” day. I just didn’t want to use the word happy. I didn’t think much about why, but I suppose it’s because happiness isn’t as easily attained as some of the other adjectives, so I was hoping for something (in my experience) more achievable.

🎵 Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof 🎵 

Never mind a room without a roof, we’ve had a kitchen without a sink! A WC without a loo. A dining room without a dining table. A living room (piled floor to ceiling with boxes) with no living space.

It’s made me realise how hard it’s been living in a building site. I can see how it’s added to the difficulty of this year. We have not had a sink or an oven for months. My entire house was packed away, so I hadn’t sat on a sofa or at or dining table for six months.

But we’ve had a really good few days, finally able to unpack and enjoy our home again – just in time for the 25th – which I trust will make things easier going into the new year.

🎵 Huh, because I’m happy 🎵 

Although Christmas Day started out sad, it wasn’t as bad as I’d been expecting, perhaps because we’d put so little pressure on it. “It’s just another day” was my helpful little reminder.

It’s been lovely, the number of people gently checking in and sending warm wishes, aware that it’s potentially a rough one without Summer. It’s been special, spending time at home, just the two of us in our ‘new’ home. And it’s been restful, after a manic few days cleaning and trying to get the house in order, we’ve been super lazy and binged watched episode after episode of How to Get Away With Murder.

🎵 Because I’m happy. Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth 🎵 

This is the longest stint of ‘normal’ or ‘happy’ that I’ve had in a long while. So much so, that I started to feel like I’d turned a corner, wondered if I still needed counselling, felt guilty about all the kind messages and started to feel quite embarrassed about how I’ve dealt with losing Summer this year.

In truth, I’ve been distracted. And it’s been a welcome distraction. Keeping busy has been a good way to park the sadness: it’s what I did with my first two miscarriages, after all.

But then James returned to work today and I stayed in bed reading, then tidied and cleaned the kitchen (a never-ending job!) before sitting down to lunch. It was the first time I’d just stopped to think and I thought “I had a daughter” and burst into tears. And then the thoughts and feelings got all confusing: Frustrated that I can still feel this sad, but proud to still feel so strongly. Worried that it will always feel this way, yet scared that it won’t.

🎵 Clap along if you know what happiness is to you 🎵 

At the moment, I’m still a bit numb. I have this mental barrier, the grey haze has descended again. I often wonder if it’s dehydration, but then I recall all the shocks of the past six weeks, and reason it’s probably the mind’s nifty way of processing it all slowly. It means that I can’t take things in as I used to, I often forget all the detail of what’s just been said. But that’s ok, it’s a small price to pay for the comparative peace in my head.

So what does happiness look like to me at the moment? Taking every day as it comes. No forward planning or expectation (which frequently led to disappointment), just taking it day by day. A novel approach for me and one that’s proving doable, reassuring.

🎵 Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do 🎵 

Confusing as the above all is, I’m still counting it as a good day.

I know that last week I said that 2020 was the worst calendar year of my life, but this year wasn’t all bad. There were so many good things too: like Summer being here. 2020 is the year that Summer was physically here, born. 2021 will be the first year of the rest of our lives, without her. One year further from her, yet one year closer.

So as we all start wishing 2020 away, a year that most will want to see the back of and will remember for all the wrong reasons, I hope we can all still take some time to reflect on all the little things that the year has taught us, the simple things that made us smile as we all figured out –  when all’s stripped away, said and done – what happiness really means to us, as individuals.

“Happy” New Year; whatever that means for you and yours.

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(2) Comments

  1. Stephanie says:

    Reading that you feel more ‘normal’ and ‘happy’ than you have for a while made my heart happy. Try not to let the feelings of guilt and embarrassment take hold. And embrace the sadness and tears when they come. My counsellor taught me how important this is: she even gave me a ‘sadness meditation’ designed to being it to the surface and release it, to use when I can feel it bubbling up too strongly or when I’m already sad and crying and want to get it all out, for now, and move on with the day more peacefully.

  2. Melanie says:

    This post has really made me ponder on what we mean when we wish someone a “happy” occasion. I actually feel it is less of an assumption that the person will have a happy occasion, but rather is a wish for that person on that day. A wish that the occasion be celebrated – in spite of what else might be going on in that person’s life, or in the world. Not necessarily that the person be happy. And a celebration doesn’t require the key person to be happy, just to mark the occasion. It’s totally perspective, though, and I am definitely guilty of not thinking it through carefully. Food for thought as always, Anj xxx

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