Happiness through grief is a choice. People have to ask themselves if they want to be happy. Unfortunately, there are certain people who don’t want to be happy. Some of these are people who have grown up with punishment as a stabilizing factor in their lives. In other words, this type of person believes that if he does something wrong and is punished, he can go on with his life. Without punishment, life cannot continue, and this person is the only one who “knows” how much punishment he is to undergo.
Some people will look at the death as a punishment they deserve, and for a certain period of time will choose to be unhappy. A parent and child argue over an insignificant matter; one dies before the apology. The person left behind may choose to believe that God is punishing him for the argument. People who believe this will feel they deserve the punishment and the unhappiness. They don’t!
People deserve happiness, can achieve it, and should want it. Here are ten areas to consider in order to achieve happiness through grief. Not all of these areas must be used in order to achieve happiness. Some may apply to you more closely than others; those are the areas on which you should concentrate.
Change the way you talk to yourself.
Instead of looking at faults and focusing on that, focus on your good points. Accentuate the positive because you deserve to be happy. Consider this quotation from Proverbs 23:7: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” If you think you are a good person and deserve happiness, you will become that happy, good person.
Understand your feelings but focus on your behavior.
Understand the guilt, understand the anger and realize that the guilt and anger have an object. Focus on how you intend to release that anger. Jogging or physical exercise can be a positive release from the anger because you benefit from it. Your self-image will improve, which would reinforce the positive way you talk to yourself.
The best therapy for a wrong feeling is right behavior.
Rather than getting mad at a co-worker when the anger really stems from the grief and not the present situation, do something positive:
Write in your journal.
Talk with a friend.
Take a brisk walk.
After you have allowed yourself the time to divert the irrational anger, talk to the co-worker about the problem. There may not be a problem.
Focus on a specific plan of action.
This plan of action can be developed in any of these five areas. You do not have to plan each area at once. Make plans for as many areas at one time as you feel comfortable with and then tackle the rest. Only you can determine your priorities and how much you can undertake at one time.
Make a spiritual plan of action. Some people feel a need to visit a priest, minister, or rabbi. A church may offer solace, friendship, and comfort, as well as a place for volunteering one’s time and talents.
Make a social plan of action. Oftentimes the mourner wonders how soon is too soon to start dating. Going out with friends can be fun, but the idea of being the “5th Wheel” may creep into one’s mind. No one enjoys being the odd-man-out, so it is usually easier to stay in. Forget it! Make new single friends through community centers, churches, or health clubs; then you won’t be the “5th Wheel.”
Make a physical plan of action. Think of improvements, if any, that when made would make you feel even better. A sixty year old widow finally has braces for her teeth. Start an exercise program that includes a friend. Join a health club. Do some physical thing that will make you feel good about yourself.
Make an emotional/psychological plan of action. Socially you decide how soon to get into the main stream of living. Emotionally/psychologically you will make a determination about whom you will share your life, your aims, your hurts, your feelings. This is a critically important area because your trust with relationships is developed here.
Make an intellectual plan of action. Older people who are retired, and because of insurance policies and pension plans are set for life (financially), may decide to return to school just for themselves. This is wonderful. It is a positive step forward by the survivor.
Develop new interests and activities.
Find new ways to develop new interests, or rediscover old interests. If you never bowled but always had the inclination, maybe it’s time to try it.
Utilize the resource of religious faith.
It is common to reconnect with those strong religious feelings after the death of someone important to you. Rather than question the emergence of these feelings, use them and the resources available to you during the time that you need faith. Many people find comfort in the thought that the resurrection of Christ was a spiritual conquering of death, and that the church offers this as hope.
Deal with dependency needs.
A parent can depend too much on children doing those simple errands that can be done by the survivor, or by hiring someone else. Transportation, home maintenance, cooking or cleaning, may have always been accomplished by the partner who is no longer there. Now it is the survivor’s turn to show an understanding of what independent means. It is not always easy to do this, but it is necessary. Make the conscious decision to find that “neighborhood handyman” to put up those second-story storm windows. Men should talk with male friends who have also been through this to discover the easiest meals to prepare or the best laundry detergent to use. Hire the junior high school student to cut the lawn and shovel the sidewalks. Or, move to a no-maintenance condo and hire a housekeeper!
Focus on assertiveness.
On the other hand, what happens to many survivors is that they find it difficult to go on with life because there are too many others to please. Whether from a large family, or a moderately-sized one, when a parent dies, the adult children may feel that the surviving parent has to live with one of them. She, or he, cannot possibly want to stay in that big house all alone. The survivor thinks that the children must come first and she wants to please them. The survivor must do for herself and tell the well-meaning children that she would like to be at her house surrounded by the possessions and memories of her life. Find your voice and use it. Control your environment.
This means that you need to do the work yourself, if you physically can, or have it done for you by someone else. Here is a story of a woman who dealt with her dependency needs, focused her assertiveness, and controlled her environment:
Elizabeth, in Traverse City, heats her house with a wood-burning stove. The house fronts the water and the back overlooks a heavily wooded area. Every year, Rich would gather, cut and stack the wood for the winter. With his death, Elizabeth knew that this could not be done by herself, and was too great a task to impose upon her son, and/or her son-in-law. Instead, Elizabeth put an “ad” in the church bulletin that she needed help with chopping, gathering, and storing the wood. She could pay all volunteers with dinner (pizza in this case) and drinks (pop). The turn-out was incredible. Twenty people showed up and the job was done in just a few hours. Because of its success, Elizabeth is thinking about making it an annual event!
Recognize the fear of rejection.
Sometimes adults have the child-like reaction of feeling abandoned when an important person in their lives dies. It can be viewed as illogical or irrational, but that doesn’t matter to the person who feels this way. The important idea to remember is:
YOU HAVE NOT BEEN REJECTED.
DEATH IS A PART OF LIFE.
IT IS A NATURAL PHENOMENON.
Through it all — DON’T PLAY GOD.
In order to achieve happiness remember that you cannot do everything, you cannot be all things to all people and you need to be nice to yourself. Paraphrasing St. Augustine’s “Serenity Prayer” explains the essence of what you, as the survivor, must maintain:
Accept the things you cannot change;
Be assertive enough to change those that you can;
Ask God to give you the wisdom to know the difference.
These exercises are designed to match the ten steps to achieving happiness through grief. Pick one that is most beneficial to you right now and do it.
1. List ten positive aspects about yourself.
2. Give an example of a “wrong” feeling that you have had, and a “right” behavior to counteract it.
3-5. Enroll in a community college, or university for those enrichment classes you always wanted to take.
Become more active in your church by volunteering your time or joining the social club.
Join a health club, or speed walk at designated malls in the morning with groups.
Convince yourself that you will make one new friend a month.
Sign up for a class at a high school in the Adult Education program.
6. Make a list of your dependency needs.
7-8. Make another list that explains/tells how to conquer those needs you listed in #6.
9. If you feel rejected, write in your journal all your reasons behind this feeling, and when you feel this the strongest.
10. One more list:
List everything you cannot change.
List everything you can change.
Realize the difference.
Canine, J. D. (1990) I Can I Will: Maximum Living Bereavement Support Group Guide. Birmingham, Michigan. Ball Publishers.