My life has taken a major turn over the past few weeks, to say the least. I have found myself in many different situations I didn’t see coming and they have all been very positive and have made me…. well, happy. This has caused some conflict in my heart because these experiences have revived some feelings I was certain had died with my husband. Over the last few weeks I have realized that I’m still allowed to be happy.
Many of us have experienced how others put the timeline on our grief for us. Our friends, family, and those we may not even know very well all have opinions on what the proper “grief” timeframe looks like.
“She shouldn’t be smiling yet. She does realize her husband died, right? Did she forget or something?”
“Why is she doing that? He would be so disappointed.”
“Wow, I had no idea a person could move on so quickly!”
Let me stop those thoughts for a moment. Do people really think these things of us… or do we just think they do? It is certainly very true that some of us have experienced others making comments on our lives that they have no right to make. However, I believe that in our minds we can convince ourselves of things that aren’t there. I am what my therapist calls a “catastrophizer”, and I will spiral situations and thoughts to the absolute bottom of an abyss. Everything is always “the worst thing ever!” Yet it’s truly not – I just think it is. In doing this, I end up putting limitations on my own happiness that others never placed on me.
It’s like I was I was holding myself in the prison cell and had they key to free myself in my hands the entire time.
For me personally, it has been five and a half years since my husband died. In the early days of loss and grief, I was not personally ready to accept happiness in any capacity. Part of me did not want to make decisions without my husband’s stamp of approval, but I soon realized that my happiness matters, too. It always did matter; it’s just that I let grief and others’ opinions of my grief dictate how I lived. I let my fear of other peoples’ opinions rule over me.
Over the last two weeks, my life took a huge turn that I wasn’t expecting. As widows, that is not a feeling that comes new to us; we know how unexpected events can rapidly change our lives. But to have that unexpected turn be something positive that causes happiness? Well, that’s a different and new feeling. It’s almost like my mind blocked the fact that the unexpected can also be thrilling and exciting! Maybe it is true that things find us when we aren’t looking for them. I allowed myself to connect with a sweet, caring man who put a smile on my face. That was certainly a new feeling for me but once I decided I was allowed to experience that happiness again, I embraced it and I’ve given myself a chance to feel something I had once banned myself from.
In the earlier years of my widowhood, I remember all too well the guilt that came with the first time I laughed after my husband’s death or the first memory made without him inside the pictures. I remember scolding myself. “How dare you laugh! He lost his life and you are still here, just smiling away like it’s nothing!” “Why are you taking that picture? He’s not in it; why would you remind yourself he’s dead like that?”
After that, I tried not to have “public displays of happiness”. I felt like I would be judged if I laughed, smiled, or had fun, especially in those earlier days. Eventually, I allowed myself to be more of who I was and more and more, I realized people would not judge me and they would even be happy for me! What a concept! People weren’t out to judge my life at all – in the end, I was the one judging how they would perceive me. If only I hadn’t cared so much what others thought of my decisions!
We’re allowed to be happy. All of us. Happiness is for everyone, even those who have experienced a loss. The loss of our spouses has not doomed us to a life of misery and pain, never to smile again.
Grief is on your time; you’re not on its time. I can almost guarantee myself that Grief will find me again at some point and I will find myself a crying mess and missing my husband because he was an amazing person with whom I share two children. Missing him, however, does not mean that I can’t move forward just like moving forward doesn’t mean I don’t miss him.
Happiness is there waiting when you’re ready for it. You can laugh, smile, and make new memories in your own time and when you’re ready. Chances are, others will be there to laugh and smile with you and aren’t judging you nearly as harshly as you think.
You’re allowed to be happy. No one is going to hold that against you.