“Happily ever after??”

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The reality is you have no idea where your life will take you tomorrow. You are like a mist that appears one moment and then vanishes another.

James 4:14 (VOICE)

“And they lived happily ever after… The End.”

How many times have you seen the above words, either at the close of a fairy tale or the end of a movie?

How many times have you, as a parent, read a story to your children that concluded in this manner?

Attention, people of Earth:  There is no such thing as “happily ever after” this side of Heaven.

It’s a crock, a pie-in-the-sky term which plays to our romantic side and wistful daydreaming.

No one, no matter how lovely the life or the relationship or the family, lives happily ever after.  “Happily ever after” gives a false sense of security, a technicolor existence that can never live up to those three words.

“Ever afters” eventually come to an end.

And endings are not pretty, at least the ones I’ve experienced in my life.

Endings are messy.  The majority are not wanted by at least one of the parties involved.

Endings may evoke sadness, helplessness, hopelessness, and anger.  They may cause great pain.  Lives are forever changed by endings.

Death is the ending feared most by the human race.  But let’s face it by taking the bull by the horns.   We’re going to die some day.  As James so eloquently puts it, we’re like a mist, a vapor–here today, gone tomorrow.

Endings are inevitable.  We cannot get around them.

Embrace that reality.  Incorporate it into your daily living.

The sooner that simple fact sinks in to our sometimes-thick skulls, the sooner we can go about the business of living “happily every day.”

Whether you like it or not, at some point in your life (or at many points in your life), an ending you’re not prepared for will occur.

Your “happily ever after” stops.

The best way to deal with the reality of endings is to live fully in the moment.

Every minute of every day, every day of every month, year after year after year–don’t take your happy for granted.

Choose it.  Live it.  Experience it.  Love it.

Instead of happily ever after, live happily every day.

Then when “the end” comes, you can face it with no regrets.

An open letter to grief

Dear grief,

I hate you.

For a bit over four years, I’ve battled you on a daily basis.  In the beginning, I was numb–really I think it was shock.

I’ve lost loved ones in my lifetime prior to this.  Grandparents, a 44 year old uncle, a 46 year old aunt, my dad, my father-in-law, and several close friends.  You took up residence with me for quite awhile.  The most difficult being the loss of my dad, I remember crying in bed on a nightly basis for months.  I was so blessed to have a husband who loved me, who held me close while I cried.

Then a little over four years ago, the unspeakable happened.  That loving husband and daddy to two little boys died.

And grief?  You welled up inside me, spilling over like hot lava from a volcano eruption, pouring out all over my world.

You damaged everything I knew and loved.

Not only was I dealing with my grief, but also the unimaginable grieving of two boys–old enough to grasp the depth of what they had lost, and smart enough to ask the tough questions.

I didn’t know how we’d get through you.

Counseling helped.

Immersing ourselves in our faith, our church, and being surrounded by a loving support group of friends and family also gave us the lifelines we needed.

All I knew for sure was I had two boys depending on me to suck it up, and I needed to find some semblance of normal.  Not the wonderful, safe, lovely normal we previously had, but a new one, fashioned on a wing and a prayer.

If you’ll excuse the language, grief, you are a sonofabitch to live with.

I never know when you’ll rear your ugly head.  For the first two years or so, you were a constant companion, no matter the circumstance.  We assumed you would be with us every waking moment.  You were with us, at times, in our dreams.

Then, slowly and deliberately, you stepped back from the spotlight, content to roam around the periphery of our lives.  We began to laugh again, to have fun, to really enjoy life, all without any guilt.

Oh sure, you decide to pop up when we least expect it, but the times without you are now more numerous than those with you.

Not only do I hate you, grief, but also your siblings: guilt, regret, and fear.

Guilt and regret, when coupled with grief, keep one looking in the past.  “What if I had done this?”  “If I had only…” “Why did he not…?”

None of these are healthy.  Nor do they do my family any good.  It’s a bit like worrying.  Worrying won’t change anything, and will only rob you of joy in the present.

Fear is your worst sibling, I call it the “black sheep” of the family. Fear is the absence of faith.  When fear creeps in, right alongside grief, it’s a one-two punch of bad.  The only way to beat fear is to face it, head on.

But as much as I hate you and your siblings, today I had an epiphany:

I am a better person because of you.

You, with your twisted pain, have molded this family into a unit far stronger than I could have ever imagined.

We’re tough.  We don’t take anyone or anything for granted.

We grab hold of each day as the gift it is.

And my sons?

They are astonishingly normal, in spite of you (and me).  Empathetic, sensitive, confident, full of hope for the great futures that await them.

Secure in the knowledge that even in the midst of a terrible, crappy situation where their dad is in heaven, they are still so blessed.

They are confident, young Christian men who are already making a positive difference in their little corners of the world.

And although I wish their dad were still with us, physically, we know he is with us nonetheless.

Because of you, grief, I am a different person.  A more compassionate person.  A better person.

And I’m going to spend the rest of my days helping others deal with you.

You’re ugly and messy and a hard pill to swallow.  But battling you makes one strong.  When you are cut down to size, with God’s help, you really aren’t so scary.  You’ll always be in the shadows, but you’ve finally learned your place.

Death is a part of life.  Our society sweeps it under the rug, it’s a taboo subject most are too uncomfortable to discuss.

Although you will never be welcome in a household, some good can come from you.

I thank you for the lessons learned, the love that’s multiplied because of you, the hope that’s sprung in our hearts in spite of you.

Hey, grief, don’t get too comfortable…I still hate you.

But you’re evidently an integral part of the plan God has for my future, the future of two boys. So I accept you for who you are.

We’ll tolerate you for the rest of our lives.

Respectfully,

Nancy