Walking home, my mind was filled with worries. How many “likes” were my posts getting? How much money was left in the bank after rent and groceries? How was I going to provide my two young children without a partner to help support us? The weight of a widowed, solo parent felt extremely heavy. Here’s how I learned to rediscover your happiness.
At That Moment, My Youngest Child Exploded With Glee
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We were walking home with a wagon filled with food basics, but she wasn’t burdened by the scarcity. She didn’t care about how dark it was, or whether she would be fed in time for bed.
She was enthusiastic to run. Her brother, four years her older and already much wiser than his age, had taken the responsibility of pulling the heavy wagon home. He felt joy in taking responsibility for his family, of letting me let go of our burden. And all she wanted to do was run.
She grabbed my hand, and insisted that I run with her. Her brother chased after us, wagon in tow as the two of us girls fled from him. Giggles exploding from both of them so contagious that I had to join in the fun. Running, and laughing, and really being in the moment.
All the worries and heaviness of being an only parent fell away. I was living in the moment.
Grief Can Be Overridden By Gratitude
You too can rediscover your happiness.
When I was newly widowed, the pain of losing my loved one almost overpowered me. Breathing was difficult. Eating was almost impossible. However, one of the first memories I have of the morning after Myke died was taking my 2 1/2 year old son out for Slushies, and showing off our blue stained tongues to each other in the mirror. I have a picture of that moment; the memory is tight with joy and ultimate grief mixed together.
Every moment in that first year of widowdom is infused with a mixture of pure joy and terrible sadness. Every photograph of happiness conceals the struggle I was going through. Yet, both were real. One never superseded the other.
You are going through the same push-me-pull-you situation, where your will to go on is mixed with the need to curl up and die. It’s a horrible feeling, I know. But I promise you that you can and you will get through it.
Step One: Start a Gratitude Journal
It’s like a diary that you had as a teenager, except this one isn’t going to be filled with whiny, self-defeatist poems. Not that there’s anything wrong with writing bad poetry – just that your focus for these entries is to retrain your brain towards the light. Just as a sunflower will open up and follow the sun, your brain needs encouragement to look forward to a brighter future.
Buy a blank book – I prefer with an entire blank canvas to free create – and a good quality ink pen. I seriously recommend these products: they have been my go to writing implements for decades. Their quality is unmatched. These will be your ritual tool set. You will only use them for this exercise. They will not be used for scribbling down grocery lists. They are now deemed sacred tools for your development.
Everyday set aside 20 minutes to write down what you are grateful for today. It can be long, detailed sentences or a bullet-form list. Some days you might start at a blank page for the entire time. Other days you could write a novel. The important thing is that you get into a routine of 20 minutes of focused introspection. It will start to condition your brain, rerouting old pathways into new. If some days you just can’t think of anything to be grateful for, go back and re-read old entries to remind yourself of when you could.
Step Two: Be Open To Moments of Glee
I was in a blur of emotions and responsibilities after my husband suddenly died, leaving me alone to raise our 2 1/2 year old son alone. Paying our rent and feeding us with a family income which had just been cut in half. Survival was my default headspace. What kept me from falling into total despair was watching my son’s delight at the world. Where I saw a lawn full of dandelion weeds, he saw a “wish flower” field of wonder. I allowed myself to be open to these moments of his glee, and eventually I too felt some stirring of happiness through him. Still later, I was able to open myself up more and have my own moments. Small ones at first. Which opened my awareness a little bit more to feel more gratitude each time. It’s still a work-in-progress, but I’m in a space now where my laughter is real, and I can be overcome with pure, unadulterated happiness.
Step Three: Repeat - Rediscover Your Happiness
It really is that simple.
The brain works in patterns, and if you can instill a new neural pathway you will be doing some minor brain surgery with major results. Cognitive behavioural therapy has been used with much success. Healthline.com says “It’s considered to be extremely effective. About 75 percent of people who enter cognitive behavioral therapy experience some benefits from treatment.” Heck, if you’re a parent, you’re working on that everyday! *sounds of glass breaking from an unattended room*
If you consistently work on actively trying to see good things and purposefully acknowledge them with gratitude, eventually you won’t have to struggle to see them. They’ll eventually spring up all over the place – without you having to even think about it.
Want To Know The Secret Part Four?
Once your brain is attuned to gratitude, it becomes second nature. You will rediscover your happiness. If you see a homeless person, you will be grateful for having a roof over your head. If someone is having a bad day, you’ll want to comfort them instead of shying away from their emotions. You’ll not only have developed a healthy empathetic vein, but a strong resilience to trauma.
Here's My Promise To You
I’ve been in your situation before, and it really sucks. No one really understands what it’s like to lose a loved one. To be left behind with the echoes of unattainable promises.
I can’t bring them back. However, I can offer comradely, patience, love, understanding, and a way out. I can help you find your focus to get through the darkness and find your footing on your own.
This space is intended to be a safe, supportive arena where you can find solace in comradely. I’ve been through hell, and I’ve brought water buckets to put out the fire that’s consuming your now.
Now it’s your turn. Comment below about one thing that made you smile recently. You can be brief, or you can write a novella. Just get it out and share. I’ll respond to each comment that comes in.
Follow me to find inspiration, hope, and most of all solidarity.