There are times in our lives when happiness comes easily…weddings and babies, parties and graduations. We are happy without thinking about it, caught up in the joy and excitement that naturally happens during exciting events. But life is made up of lows too, and everything in between. It’s that “in between” that I have been thinking a lot about in the past couple of months…those times when we are happy, but maybe don’t take the time to fully realize it until faced with true sadness.
I look back at the months before Rooster and Derek died, and I realize now how good things were. We were looking forward to our spring break in Arizona, camp was doing so well that we were full for the first time in decades, and life was, on the whole, peaceful. I knew how attached I was to Rooster, and I knew it would break me when he eventually died. But I think I completely underestimated how much of my happiness was wrapped up in that dog. The joy of dog parks, sharing him with people every time we went on therapy visits, watching people’s faces when they saw him for the first time, seeing the joy he brought to campers every summer. He was happiness embodied, and his loss has hit me hard. Especially in the face of the even greater loss of Derek just two weeks later.
And in the past 6 weeks, I have thought a lot about what makes me happy, and tried desperately to focus on those things, because honestly, I am tired of feeling sad. It has made me realize that while there are many times in our lives when happiness comes easily, there are MORE times when we are surrounded by the quiet happiness of everyday life, and we have to open our eyes to those everyday moments, especially when faced with the deep sadness that life can throw our way.
In his book, Homesick and Happy, Michael Thompson talks about the 8 things parents cannot do for their kids, with number one being “make them happy.” And we want to…gosh, we want to make them happy. But happiness is something they have to find for themselves. I have thought about this a lot with our kids as we talk about events that happen in their daily life. They’ll come home from school, and sometimes they will have dealt with something difficult, and when asked, “How was your day?” the response is, “Bad.” But when pressed, it turns out that the rest of their day was actually pretty great, but that one bad thing had colored the whole day. Our kids tend toward the “all or nothing” judgment of things in their lives, and I have been trying to help them focus on the happiness that, rather than shouting, quietly whispers all around them. That just because an event in your life wasn’t exactly, perfectly, the way you envisioned, that doesn’t erase all the good. That events and friendships are rarely perfect, but that they are still worthy of their time and effort. I want them to understand that life can be good even when things are hard. Derek’s death was unimaginably hard for all who loved him, but the day of his service was the perfect example of the good in the midst of the Hard. Never have I seen such an outpouring of support as I did that day, and I know that even the youngest kids came to understand that day what it means to be a part of the Deerhorn Family.
Finding happiness over the past six weeks has had to be intentional. Seeking out and focusing on those things that make me happy. This has been especially difficult going to camp a couple of times this spring, without Rooster. This is my new normal, and I can logically look around and see all the joy and happiness that surround me. But the heart isn’t always logical, and often needs reminding that life is still good. Several things have helped me during this time. One is thinking about Rooster and Derek and how freely they gave of their time and their love, and the realization that I want to do that even more myself. Obviously our kids are also the embodiment of all that is good in the world, and I have focused a lot on them. It has also helped me to focus on others during this time, rather than on myself, and what I can do to spread joy that inevitably encompasses me as well. Just like the joy of giving gifts at Christmas, I know this is one thing that brings me true happiness. Happiness might not always come quickly or easily, but I know it is out there to find as long as we continue to look.