Will I Ever Know Happiness Again?

My daughter Erika died, and I believed that with her went all the happiness and joy life once held. From that
place, I didn’t see how it was possible to ever be happy again. Thankfully, I was wrong.

Of great concern to many people who are in the initial throes of deep grief is whether or not they will ever again
know true happiness or experience real joy. They are experiencing thoughts and feelings that are often shocking
and scary. I know I did. We might grapple for past coping skills we developed surrounding other losses, yet weWill I ever know happiness...AfterTalk Grief Supportfind that nothing prepared us for this! The initial pain can be so intense and relentless that we can’t feel anything else, so we don’t see how we could ever make our way from that place to a life that includes actual joy. The  distance seems simply too far, and the task beyond daunting—it feels as if it’s utterly impossible.

From that perspective, the conclusion we draw is that our life as we knew it—with all the beauty, love, and happiness it included when our loved one was here—is over. We fear that our lives will be nothing more than a game of endurance until the day we die.

It is a frightening notion that we leave a life of “automatic” joy and happiness and enter a life where it seems to be
completely and forever absent.

It is also shocking to realize how much our loved one was the source of our everyday happiness. It’s as if a
vacuum comes along and sucks everything positive right out of our lives, leaving despair in its wake.

That is how it is.
Yet it is only true for a while.

The great spiritual guide, the Dalai Lama, said,

“Consider the following. We humans are social beings. We come into the world as a result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationship with others.”

Nothing affirms this statement more than the relationships we share with loved ones.

Take our children. They are everything to us—our meaning and purpose in life, and the source of a love we
never knew before they were born. I’ve heard new parents say they never knew such love existed. So when a
child dies, a parent’s life seems desolate, like taking a colorful photo and turning it to gray. No color is left in their
lives, and all they can feel is pain and hopelessness. Parents don’t see how they can take a dull gray photo and
restore it to the beauty, radiance, and boldness it used to hold. This bleak perspective impacts not just parents,
but anyone who loses someone they profoundly love.

Like taking a colorful photo and turning
it to gray. No color is left in their lives,
and all they can feel is pain and hopeless.

I have learned much about happiness since Erika’s death. I know that, despite other losses experienced in my
life, I often took its presence for granted because it came and went regularly, organically.

It never dawned on me that I might reach a point in my life where I had to actually “do” something to create a life
with a “new kind of joy” and a “new kind of happiness.”

British statesman and novelist Benjamin Disraeli said,

“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.”

This is a new concept to many. Mostly, we are used to going with the happiness flow of daily life. Happiness is
just there, and when it isn’t, we know it will return. But, when faced with the significant loss of a loved one, this expected pattern may be completely disrupted.

So, what is the secret to happiness?
And will we ever know
and feel it again?

Author Leo Buscaglia said,
“What we call the secret of happiness is no more a secret than our willingness to choose life.”

There is a key word in that statement: choose. And never have we had to more consciously make that choice
than after our loved one has died.

What I knew of happiness before Erika’s death was that it could be counted on. After Erika’s death, resurrecting
joy and happiness required conscious choices only I could make.

At first, I kept trying to re-create the same feelings that I had when Erika was here—kept trying to get back to
“normal.” We wonder why can’t the past eventually be the future again? Whenever something significant
happens to us, positive or negative, our lives change forever thereafter. We cannot go back—we can only go

I said to myself, “Okay, there’s been enough pain. It’s been long enough, so I’m ready to get back to my old life
again.” Then I realized, “Susan, this IS your life!” I realized I was headed the wrong way because that old normal
was not to be. The life I led before was based in part on my physical relationship with Erika. Now that our
relationship had changed with her death, so had my life and my “normal.”

There it was. A blank canvas in front of me and a “new normal” waiting to be created. So now what? Yes, you
must go on, eventually re-investing in life. Of course, this is not realistic in the beginning of the grief journey. But
when you are ready, and you will most likely know when that is, you will turn your vision to the future and start
taking the steps needed as you rebuild your life, including a new relationship with your lost loved one.
You don’t get there quickly or easily. You might even feel upset reading these words because every part of you
cries out against “going on,” as if that translates into “leaving your loved one behind.” That’s not what you are
doing. You are finding a new way to have an enduring relationship with them. This you must do, for continuing
bonds with your loved one is an important part of your life now. This you must commit to, and only you are in
control of doing whatever you need to do to create your new life.

Colin Campbell and Gail Lerner lost both of their teenage children, Hart and Ruby, in a horrific car accident when
they were T-boned by a drunk driver. Colin addresses this idea of whether or not happiness and joy can ever be
a part of their lives again. In his amazing book Finding the Words, Colin writes, “The thought that the rest of our
lives would be this terrifying seemed literally unendurable. … But the state of being in crisis, the acute fear and
pain of early grief, does slowly pass. The constant panic and terror subside as we gradually process the reality of
our loss. Remarkably, we slowly gain the ability to hold joy and happiness, alongside our grief. Actively grieving
allows us to move past helplessness and toward a place of reengagement with life.”

Perhaps you feel guilty thinking about being happy again, as if that would somehow dishonor your loved one. Some people feel they have no right to be happy when their loved one has died. Yet we are here, and choosing life, living it to the fullest, means we must re-embrace its beauty, love, happiness and joy. Otherwise, we have chosen to lie
down and give up. That is no way to treat your precious self, nor is it the way to honor your loved one.

So how do we do it? It is called grief “work” for a reason because it takes work and a deep commitment to create
a life of new meaning, joy, and happiness. You need to re-invest in yourself by setting clear goals, just like you
have at other times in your life. First, to deal with your grief, access grief tools and techniques such as grief
groups, grief counseling, grief therapy, grief education, grief books, and any other types of grief support that will
help you. Second, to deal with your life changes, formulate a new goal. For example: get a degree, learn a new trade, lose weight, run a marathon, make a new friend, change careers, move into a new home, learn a new
language, change a bad habit, fix a troubled marriage, redo your landscape, or eat more healthfully. I know you
have one or more of your own goals to add.

All these steps entail a strong commitment and some degree of work. But how have you achieved any of your
challenging goals in the past? Did you just go through life waiting for everything to fall into place? No. You
committed to and went through whatever you had to in order to achieve those goals. So, the answer to that
question, “How do we do it?” is: You begin rebuilding a new life of happiness and joy by consciously choosing
certain life-affirming actions which you commit to and willingly work on.

My friends, I say these are some
of the most important goals you
will ever again set for yourself.
This is your life!
Don’t give up—ever!


The reality is that, with all of the resources and support offered by griefHaven, AfterTalk  and others, you can and will achieve a life of new happiness and joy.

When you are ready, set your goals and know that we are walking with you every step of the way. In other
words, you are not alone. Give yourself the gift of at least trying the different types of support that come your
way. Although the journey isn’t easy, you have the power within you to mold your life into one of new meaning
and purpose … and one that honors your loved one.

On behalf of everyone at griefHaven,
we remind you that you are not alone,
because we are committed to
you and your journey …

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