The Stories Without the Happy Endings
by Sharon Tjaden-Glass
We announced my first pregnancy to my husband’s family at a wake.
I was eleven weeks pregnant with my daughter when Doug’s grandmother passed away. Her nine children, many of her grandchildren children, and even some of great-grandchildren flew in from all over. We had been planning to tell everyone when I was twelve weeks pregnant but… Everyone is going to be here, he said.
So there, in the funeral home, we quietly shared the news as we greeted his aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces, and nephews. I was worried that it would have been wholly inappropriate. That under the great loss of this matriarch, his family would be unable to feel happiness or excitement while deep in grief.
I could not have been more wrong.
I was hugged. Bear-hugged. Kissed on the cheeks.
In the midst of grief, gratitude is possible.
It will even save you.
We’d like to believe that emotions are like light switches. Anger and sadness on, happiness off. Some emotions are diametrically opposed like that. And if all emotions were like that, they would be easier to understand.
But some emotions are tricky.
Some emotions make odd companions at different times in our lives.
Emotions are more like a rich cast of characters, all vying for center stage. But it’s easy to forget this. When you’re caught up in grief, it’s easy to narrow the emotions that you believe that you’re allowed to feel.
Only the ones that feel appropriate.
Only the ones that you feel you won’t be judged for.
I think if we acknowledged this, we could save ourselves some of the guilt that comes with grief.
Of all people, mothers are acutely aware that the truth is much richer. Much more complex. Much more distressing. That in the midst of your grief, you can feel contentment. Even gratitude. And in moments of gratitude, you can feel resentment and frustration.
Walking with love teaches you that every moment is rich with emotions, even ones that you’d prefer not to acknowledge.
Not all stories have happy endings. We know that, of course. We happily acknowledge that fact when it doesn’t apply to us. But it’s harder to own a story that doesn’t have a happy ending. Harder to admit.
Harder to make it your own.
But what if we could? What if we could fold the abnormal into the normal? What if our stories didn’t need to have happy endings or silver linings?
What if our stories could be just what they are?
Sometimes joyous. Sometimes painful. Sometimes redemptive. Sometimes humiliating.
What if we could believe that all of our stories–happy or unhappy–are worthy of being told?
Maybe if we normalized the stories that don’t end happily, the ones that don’t end with an “it’s all worth it,” we could feel less blind-sided when we are struck by tragedy. Maybe we would feel less singled out when we are affected by tragedy. Maybe we wouldn’t feel like we are the focus of God’s wrath or indifference, or however we decide to frame our loss.
If more of us can talk about the hard stuff, it becomes more bearable.
Not because it’s less painful–but because we can see that we’re not walking this path alone.
Dealing with loss is more bearable when we can see that the words Why me? are so misguided. Why me? are the words that we say when we believe our stories have never been lived by anyone else.
Why me? is a lonely phrase. It reduces everything to a simple, defined concept. It is heavy and narrow, like a brick. And the more you say it, the higher you build the walls around you. The higher the wall, you reason, the safer you’ll feel.
But a higher wall doesn’t make you feel safer, does it?
The only thing a higher wall does is keep you from seeing outside.
And what a sight it is.