Learning to Accept Happiness Without Guilt
“27 Missed Calls from Mom”
The most significant events often leave an indelible image in our minds. Life’s major moments, however, aren’t always that pleasant. And one of the clearest images ingrained in my mind is reading that notification on my phone about missing 27 calls from my mother. It was in that instance that I learned about my father’s death.
Losing My Dad
It was a cool November night in my university campus in Santa Barbara, California when my phone started ringing. And when I saw it was my mom calling, I shrugged it off, thinking it was just her reminding me about an aunt’s birthday or to buy groceries. The next morning, I took my phone out to call my mom and let her know what time I’d be arriving in Minnesota for Thanksgiving.
Then, I saw the missed calls, and that’s when the dread kicked in. She answered, and calmly uttered the words I’ll never forget: “Lauren, the day has come. I love you, and I’ll see you later.” My dad was in hospice care for a lung condition — the day my mom was referring to was his last day there.
Living with Guilt
When you lose someone, you might find yourself asking questions such as, “Why didn’t I spend enough time with him or her?” or “Was there something I could’ve done to prevent this?” These manifested as I stepped inside our house and reality sunk in.
I saw a photo of my dad and me, and I felt the urge to smile as it was a happy moment from my childhood. Yet, something was telling me I shouldn’t smile and feel joy at all. I lost my father, how could I live happily without him? Do I even have the right to be happy, since he’s not here anymore?
When I got back to school, I struggled even more. I couldn’t focus in class, I didn’t want to talk to anyone, and I couldn’t sleep because my chest was hurting. While I understood that these are all part of the grieving process, as a study published on Psychosomatic Medicine indeed found a link between bereavement and those symptoms, I didn’t know how, or rather, want to move on. In hindsight, I realized that part of grieving is accepting the loss, as your life shouldn’t be consumed mourning. I didn’t know that yet, though.
Learning to Be Happy Again
One day, it dawned on me that my dad wouldn’t want me to be filled with grief. It was a tough wake-up call, but I learned that a happy life is possible even without him. After all, the ‘Understanding Grief’ packet provided here on Transitions GriefCare shares that it’s important to welcome humor and happiness to cope with a loss. This epiphany reminded me that I’m not alone, and it’s possible to experience happiness without guilt after a loss.
I started seeking solace in reading because people didn’t know how to act around me. I was like a wounded person that must be treated with pity and care at all times, which somehow made things worse, recovery feel impossible, and happiness seemingly forbidden. Thankfully, turning to literature helped me understand my own grieving process, especially in terms of what was going in my brain.
Letting Go of Guilt
For instance, it was an enlightening experience to know that our brains cause us to feel more fatigued and anxious when we’re grieving. In fact, researchers at Maryville University have pointed to complex connections between mental wellbeing and cognitive abilities, which means that the feeling of not feeling yourself after a loss — no matter how much time has passed — is pretty normal. This is why it’s important to be patient with yourself and focus on your healing, and your ability to take on tasks at school or work will follow.
As I began to allow the grieving process to go forward, not only did the feeling of guilt start to escape, but I started feeling like myself again. While Columbia University’s Dr. Katherine Shear states that feelings of grief will never fully go away, we can accept the loss of a loved one in time, once we allow ourselves to. Although I’ll always miss my dad, I’ve come to realize that more than anything, he would want me to be happy — and so should you.
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Authored by Lauren Donnan
AUTHOR BIO: Born and raised in Minnesota, now UK-based Lauren Donnan traded life in the Midwest to pursue a career in London. Despite being miles away, she still visits her mother twice a year. And when they’re together, you can catch them at the farmer’s market finding ingredients for a delicious dinner.