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Lesson # 11: It is possible to be happy and have fun again after loss

This is a challenging concept to consider for anyone whose life has just been turned upside down due to a loss of any kind. Intellectually, we know that it is possible, but we don’t embody it. We just don’t feel it.

I didn’t even realize how much my demeanor and attitude had changed since becoming a single mother until my observant daughter pointed out angrily, “Mommy, you are not fun anymore!” I didn’t feel like playing with her, being cheerful, being fully present, and being the creative mother that I had been. I realized it wasn’t fair to her. But, damn it, life was hard!

Loss puts a tremendous demand on our mind and body. It is understandable that we will feel drained physically and emotionally; and that we will temporarily operate in a survival mode. We react to life in fight, flight, or freeze/faint mode. Every little thing can seem like a heavy burden that outweighs our capacity to carry on. No wonder we struggle to fulfill our daily tasks such as caring for children, pets, household chores, financial responsibilities, self-care, our job, relationships, etc. Neglecting those can potentially create more losses. So what can we do?

Well, time does play a part in this. It is simply unrealistic to expect people to bounce back right away from a profound loss. They need time to accept what happened, to wade through grief’s muddy pond, to gain some strength along the way, and to eventually find some clarity of where they want to go from there. It is hard to be happy when we cannot yet see the light at the end of the tunnel. That is what it’s like when we are in the middle of the mud. Only with patience and perseverance will we eventually find our way out where we can take a breather. There is no other way, unfortunately. There is no short cut. Trust me, I tried.

No one can take our grief away. No one can speed up the journey without our participation. They can only give some guidance, cheer on us when we make progress, encourage us when we are stuck, and lend us a hand as needed. It is not always easy to find those who can be present with us and love us unconditionally while we are trying to get out of the mud. But once our head is out of the mud (even if our body is still in it) we can usually feel some hope, see some possibilities, because then we can use our senses again!

Our senses are the gateway to tap into joy. Just imagine: we can purposely look at the sunshine and be in awe at its mysterious power. We can pay attention and listen to a song, a tantalizing melody that makes us want to sway. We can taste the sweetness of honey and feel satisfied. We can take the time to smell the roses and bask in their fragrance. We can feel the soft breeze upon our face and imagine that the universe is caressing us. It is not about replacing what we have lost, it is about deliberately paying attention to what is around us that moves us, inspires us, or just tickles our fancy somehow. Then allow it to touch our heart and soul.

I couldn’t just find another man to replace my deceased husband to be happy again. It had to start in my choosing to feel joy again by paying attention to what was good in the moment: sipping that first cup of freshly brewed coffee accompanied by a piece of rich chocolate, waking up with my dog furiously kissing my face, watching baby squirrels twirling and jumping without a care in the world, finding a book that inspires me deeply, visiting a friend and sharing laughter, browsing through National Geographic coffee table books filled with amazing pictures, walking through a flea market on a Sunday, spending time in nature and letting my senses absorb its beauty, salsa dancing in the living room, the list goes on and on….

When we train ourselves to notice any opportunity to find happiness in seemingly mundane activities and “things,” we become better at connecting with joy. And when we are joyous, we are also grateful. And gratefulness brings the right people and circumstances that assist us in getting out of the mud even further.

So be mindful as much as possible. Play a scavenger hunt using your senses to find delightful things all around you that can make you smile in contentment, make you laugh a belly laugh, make you want to dance with your whole body, and make your heart sing a happy song! Let me know how it goes…

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