Last week, during a mundane supermarket shop, I bumped into an old friend from college who I haven’t seen in a while, who told me she had discovered my blog and was so happy to hear I was doing well. “Your children are so beautiful!” she told me, “I’m glad you’re happy!”. And I nodded and told her I am, I really am, and yet later, when I reflected on our conversation back at home, I wondered if perhaps I had protested my happiness a little too much, nodded a little too vigorously in parts, questioned whether I should have told her, whilst I am very happy to have four healthy children in my arms, I am still so sad that one is missing?
And that night, as I lay in bed, going over and over our conversation in a way which only those still awake at 3am would understand, I remembered the words from an old fridge magnet, propping up newsletters, a dentist reminder, a hand painted drawing from nursery, which simply read, “The word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.” And I realised that although my sadness at losing Joseph will never go away, and nor would I want it to, there is nothing wrong with balancing out those bad days with good, those sad thoughts with happy ones. There is nothing wrong with having good days, and bad days, or sometimes just a mixture of the two, co-existing, meandering in and out of sight as and where the path may lead us. Perhaps the nature of grief is such that we will balance the two, for always?
And that doesn’t mean that it comes easily, because it is undeniably difficult at times, possibly the hardest part of navigating parenting after loss – wanting to be thankful for the four healthy children in my arms, wanting to be grateful for a family many can only dream of, wanting to be happy to wake up every single morning to a day filled with promise, all whilst feeling sad for the one who is missing.
There are times as the children grow, when their milestones are met – their first steps, their first words, their first days of school – when I feel so incredibly happy that my children are growing healthy and strong, but I still feel sad that Joseph did not.
There are days when I watch the four of them together, when I swear my heart could burst and my cheeks ache from smiling, when we laugh together, and have fun together, and to look at us from the outside in, we are the picture perfect family, but I feel sad that one is missing.
There are moments on Christmas morning, when our living room is a flurry of wrapping paper, excited squeals and surprised faces, and I am so happy to enjoy all of those moments, but I feel sad for the one who did not.
During holidays and birthdays, during Summer days and rainy days, through special days and every days, I am happy. I really and truly am happy. But I wish that Joseph was here too.
And that’s the crux of it, I suppose? That one tiny word which impacts on my happiness on a daily basis.
I am happy, but…..
And if I’m being completely honest with you, perhaps there are fleeting moments when I do feel nothing but happiness. Perhaps there are days when I find myself living in the moment, just a regular Mummy with a little hand in mine, when I laugh right from my belly, when my eyes sparkle and my cheeks crease, when I am the proudest Mummy in all the world, no doubt about it. And in those moments life is wonderful, and joyful, and everything I had hoped it to be and more. Until instantly, that shroud of guilt washes over me, the gnawing feeling of panic clawing at my chest, berating myself for experiencing true happiness when one of my children is no longer here.
And then the scales topple, the sadness taking over, the voice in the back of my mind asking me how can I ever be happy and fulfilled when a part of me is missing? How can I laugh and smile without a care in the world when my son is gone? How can I ever be truly happy again when the eternal weight of sadness lies heavy on my shoulders, when every happy moment is a reminder that one of my children isn’t here to share it with us? And as such, there are days, fewer and farther between albeit, where I feel nothing but sadness at all that we lost.
And I think it is that, learning to balance both happiness and sadness, both gratitude and loss, which is the one I struggle with the most. Perhaps it will get easier with time, perhaps I will berate myself a little less, enjoy the moment a little more? Perhaps I will become more adept at weighting happiness in my favour, or perhaps every single day will be a new balance to decipher, who knows?
Am I happy? Absolutely.
Am I sad? Always.
And whilst I don’t have the words to really explain it, someone far wiser than I sums it up perfectly,
“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”