“She seems like a really happy person.”
“Yes. She’s always been like that.”
A stranger made the comment to my mom in the waiting room while I underwent my daily radiation treatment.
Happiness has been a theme since childhood. When I was 13 years old, the music teacher wrote in my yearbook, “Keep smiling.” At the time, I didn’t think I smiled more or less than others, but I took the comment to heart. As an adult, I realize that he probably wrote the same generic message in everyone’s yearbook, but when I was a kid, it made me feel special, like someone noticed something in me that I didn’t realize before.
I was reminded of this comment yesterday when the nurse said, “Keep smiling.”
I’m not always happy and I don’t try to be happy. Trying to be happy is like trying to have curly hair when it’s straight. Even with a curling iron, the curls never last very long. Just like curls are only temporary, you can’t fake happiness for long.
But I’ve also never experienced lingering sadness. Through the years, I’ve had my share of hurt, rejection, sorrow, and disappointment, but I’ve never had the feeling of wanting to be elsewhere but unable to move.
That is, until recently, when I realized the consequences of always being in treatment.
I accepted that my cancer was incurable but I didn’t realize that it meant that I would never truly feel well again. I would always have lasting symptoms from treatment. My glass would never be full again.
I wallowed in bed all day. Attempts to coax me out were futile. I didn’t want to stay in bed but I also couldn’t move. I wasn’t happy being there but I also didn’t want to leave. I felt paralyzed.
Some might say, “Just get out of bed. You’ll feel better.”
No. Actually I won’t. I needed to give myself time to grieve. I needed to grieve the loss of my health, the health that I won’t have now or in the future.
“You never know what will happen in the future. A miracle could happen. A new drug could work.”
Yes that’s true. I’m hopeful, but it doesn’t make me feel better. It doesn’t take away my grief.
Giving myself the time to grieve is what lifted me out of sadness, slowly, but ultimately, bouncing me back to my usual happy self. I can’t say that this approach would work for others but I can say that it gave me more compassion for people who’ve wrestled with depression.
I can also say that as a loved one you can continue to invite someone out even when they’ve said no before. You can continue to offer your support, whether it’s through a loving message, a favourite snack, or a surprise in the mail. You can also continue to let someone know that she is loved. Unconditionally.