The Pursuit of Happiness

Independence Day was always one of Matt’s favorite days. As an immigrant, he knew what it meant to leave the only home he ever knew and move here hoping to live the American dream. He loved everything this country stands for and lived every day if his life here to the fullest. Every year up until he was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer, we spent the 4th picking blueberries in the morning, followed by swimming, bbq, and drinks in the afternoon, and topped off the night with fireworks. He cried every time he heard the star spangled banner. He embraced American culture and everything that went along with it. He believed in the good of America. He was happy.

Since he died in August, I haven’t been happy. I have had moments of happiness. I have had temporary happiness that served to fill my need, but it was always fleeting, and I chased it hoping for the same “high” I got when I was with him. Depression after the death of a loved one is debilitating. You are never the same. You find yourself looking around wondering why anyone has a single reason to smile. When you do find those slivers of happiness, you hold on to them. Not because they’re good for you. Not because they’re the right fit. But because you’ll do anything, even minimize yourself, to not feel so alone.

In my pursuit of happiness, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that some days you just have to sit in the hard. Every day has some good in it, but the underlying grief that I’m left with affects every corner of my life. It affects personal relationships, my health, my finances, the way I handle conflict, the way I handle disappointment.. I wish I could flip a switch and feel differently. I can’t.

The lack of happiness makes me feel the pain and disappointment of situations differently. With great love comes great loss, and I find myself reeling every time I suffer a loss now. After much self reflection I have figured out that what my therapist says is right- it takes time.

You can’t speed the process. You can’t ignore the hurt and pain because it will compound and eat a hole in your soul. You can read every blog about loss, every self help book, tear your knees up praying, look for comfort in the bottom of a wine glass, and nothing will ease it until you put in the work and let time do it’s thing.

Time is cruel, though. Every passing day I am reminded that I’m not getting any younger. Every day I think about how hard life is alone, raising a small child by myself. Dealing with depression, anxiety, and grief and also trying to be a good mother, friend, teacher, and daughter is tough. I’m lucky that the people around me understand how hard it is for me to do simple things right now. I’m lucky that my daughter thinks I’m doing a great job even when I know I’m not. She doesn’t remember her dad before cancer, which means she doesn’t remember me as a mom before cancer. This fact crushes my heart. We had it all. Now she has a shell of the mom she had because life just feels so hard. Still, I try. Pool parties and bomb pops and music and smiles. I try.

Grief changes the trajectory of your life. It would be easy for me to stay in relationships where I don’t feel valued or respected just to hold on to a shred of something normal. I can’t do that to myself, and won’t. I know my worth, I know what I bring to the table. More importantly, I know that I’m a child of God and that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Reducing myself to nothing to be in someone’s life is not God’s plan for me.

Days are hard. Nights are harder. Allowing myself to sit in the discomfort of grief without outside relief is sometimes more than I can mentally handle. I shut down. I go days without sleep. Food. I have to remind myself to drink water. Things I used to enjoy are not enjoyable. I don’t know which way is up and sometimes, I don’t even know what day it is. Simple things seem overwhelming, overwhelming things seem impossible.

Every morning I congratulate myself for making it through the night. For now, I’ll keep pursuing happiness. For now, I’ll keep fighting the demons that try to take over and pull me deeper into the darkness of depression. Every single second of every single day I will continue to pray that I’m able to rebuild my life and make it into something beautiful. I know God makes graves into gardens. I know that my happiness is not comprised of a person or a thing. It’s inside me somewhere, and I can’t wait to feel real, genuine, long lasting joy again. Only then will I be free.

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