I figured it out; the secret to happiness amid the chaos of life and the painful reality of death and losing people we love. It wasn’t something that happened all at once, but when it hit me, I just knew. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way and by no means perfect or profess to have all the answers. I am quite flawed, full of imperfections and idiosyncrasies. I have not had a life one would consider dull or easy. I am both a dreamer and a realist. I am a paradox of contradictions. When I was a teenager and into young adulthood I prided myself on the fact I did not need to learn from the mistakes of others. I would make my choices (despite what other knew or believed) and come what may. I have always taken the blame for the hard knocks I’ve had in life. This comes from being self-aware and knowing that I make mistakes and I am not a victim of life. My choices, good and bad, have consequences. I am also realistic enough to know there are a few things in life that happen to us that we don’t get to choose.
We were eighteen months apart. She was my buddy and my best friend from the beginning. I loved her and I was jealous of her at the same time. At times I wanted to be her and other times I wanted to beat her up. I loved to listen to her and teach her. When I was five years old she was almost four, I would come home from kindergarten and teach her everything I learned each day. She would gobble it up and learn with me. By the time I was in 5th grade and she was in 4th grade she was able to skip a grade and move up. She was 16 when we stood side by side at our high school graduation. I held her hand as she gave birth to her first baby that she gave up for adoption. She held my leg and helped me through the birth of my son. When I moved out of state we talked every day. We were more than sisters. We were best friends, partners in crime, the greatest improve team and the yin and yang of each other’s lives for 34 years, until she went off and left me for good. She just up and died on me and our family one day. There was no warning, no preparing. One day we were stopping at every rest stop from Disneyland to Phoenix to hug and say bye to each other as our fun-filled, month long multi-family vacation was coming to a close and the next time I saw her, one month later, she was in a coffin.
That was 3 years ago. A few years before the death of my sister I met a man who I only knew briefly. This man was the most crotchety, grumpy, angry, self-centered man I ever met. He was my mother-in-law’s husband. My step-daughters called him Mr. Rick. He was their step grandpa years before they were born, yet he would never be known as grandpa. Mr. Rick was not happy about the fact that his wife’s son stayed geographically close to them and remained in constant contact with his mother. This man disowned his own family and expected his wife to cut ties with hers as well. My mother-in-law loved her only son who was 17 when she married Mr. Rick. By the time I came into the picture they had been married over 15 years. Mr. Rick had a very hard time with my son. When he turned 3, we stopped getting invited over to grandma’s house. I knew Mr. Rick did not like my husband, but I could not help but feel it was more than just that. One day my mother-in-law told me about Mr. Rick and why he was no longer welcoming us into their home.
Thirty years earlier a tragedy over took Mr. Rick’s life. His three year old son was boating with his mother on a lake at a city park when he fell into the water. Neither the mother nor her boyfriend could swim so they did nothing to save the little boy. He drown that day. I think Mr. Rick died that day, too. My son and I were no longer welcome at grandma’s house because he was a three year old boy. I vowed to myself the moment I heard this sad, sad story I would never be like Mr. Rick. Life is for the living! How could he choose to live in darkness for the next 30 years? Self-medicating with alcohol and pot instead of enjoying the family, life and people around him; selfishly hurting others and making them sad because he felt pain. For the first time in my life I knew I could learn from others mistakes. I knew his view on life was wrong.
When my sister died I was in shock. I went through the stages of grief. This was something that happened to me that I did not get to choose. Why did we stop and hug at 6 rest stops in a row? We were being silly and having fun. We had no idea we were saying good bye for the last time. When she was gone I felt like a part of me had gone too. This loss was harder and cut me deeper than the death of my biological father at the age of 14, and the death of my child who was born prematurely and lived for only 30 minutes. This was my sister. My shadow growing up, my confidant, my best friend. What was I going to do? I was not going to be overcome with darkness like Mr. Rick that was for sure. I was not going to be a victim of life. The darkness and depression that once plagued me in young adulthood was not going to be a way of life for me.
The answer; the big secret is this: Every motivational poster and inspirational uplifting quote that has had a meme made out of it is true. You get to choose happiness. There is always a silver lining. Life is for the living. Live a life you love and love the life you live. Happiness is not out there, it is in you! Choose to remember the good and push out the sorrow. Grieve for things, people and times you have lost, but don’t live in grief and sorrow, depression and pain. Grieve and live!