Will I ever by happy again? I asked myself this question thousands of times after my mother, Jean, and my two daughters, Jenelle-age 19, and Amy-age 9 were struck and killed by a semi-truck driver who was speeding and reading. I was mired in a state of depression and hopelessness so deep and so strong that I thought the answer to this question would always be “NO.”
Before the accident, our family was a happy one. We ate together, played games and sports together, and went to church together. We enjoyed each other’s company while spending time as a family unit.
After their deaths, it was hard to be happy—in any manner. Before their deaths, we would break out in song, after their deaths, we would break out in tears. If for some reason we did have some fun, we would start feeling guilty.
It took a full year before we felt that it might be OK to add a little enjoyment to our lives. This is when we decided that it was possible and even OK to have limited fun in times of grief. To get to this point, we asked ourselves the following questions:
- What would mom, Jenelle, and Amy want us to do?
- Would they want us to be crying, angry, and grieving all the time?
- Would they want us to move on with our lives?
In our case, the answer was simple. They would want us to inspire and uplift others to continue to bring as much joy and happiness to the world as they brought when they were alive.
To get to the point of being happy again, we took a “small step” approach starting by understanding and acknowledging that our pain and emotions were normal. It was OK to cry. It was OK to still have good days and bad days. We focused on the important things like our health and our family.
Since this was going to be a monumental task, we decided to set modest goals. We realized that we had to get through a year of “firsts” before we could even consider trying to be happy. Those firsts like the anniversary of their death, the first Christmas, first missed birthdays, and hardest for me—surviving that first Father’s Day without two of my children. Once we realized that we would survive these first’s, we knew we could survive the second year and longer.
Was that second year better? Yes, a little bit. Our son, Matt, was heading off to college in the fall. We spent more quality time helping him to get ready for his grand adventure. We had also made the decision to adopt a child from China. We had more “love to give” and chose to expand our family by adopting a beautiful little girl. Melissa became part of our family on Christmas Day, 2005. Instead of thinking about Jenelle and Amy, these two planned experiences allowed us to “look forward” to something new and exciting.
My initial question was “Will I ever be happy again?” In our case, the answer was a qualified ‘yes’. If you are grieving the loss of someone special, you can also get to the point of “being happy” once again by doing the following:
- By asking yourself what your loved one would have wanted you to do.
- By making the decision to “focus” on important things like your family and your health
- By finding a way to “redefine your happiness.” We chose to adopt. You might choose to start a new relationship. Whatever it takes to “redefine your happiness” is what you need to do.
Life after a sudden and tragic loss is not an easy experience to survive as your life will never be the same. However, it is possible to be “happy once again”.
Randy Stocker is a survivor of the worst kind of loss—the death of a child—two children and his mother, in his case. Randy and his family live in Rochester, MN. He is writer as well as a professional speaker on the topics of grief and grieving. He is active in his community via civic organizations like Rotary, BNI (Business Networking International), the Chamber of Commerce, and his church. Randy is the author of the book, “Hugs Help”. His goal is to provide practical advice to both grievers and comforters.