Being happy


This photograph resurfaced recently. I don’t remember exactly when it was taken, but Elodie’s T-shirt suggests it was after one of her Royal Academy of Dance summer schools. We are, from the clue of a green chair, in a Battersea Italian restaurant that was our favourite when we lived in London. We would take Elodie and Juliette there as babies, because it was at the end of our street and the waiters never minded a bowl of pasta upended by a small, chubby hand.

I guess we had taken Elodie there for old times’ sake. She looks ten at the most here, which means it was only around two years after Juliette had died. What struck me seeing this photograph again is the look on our faces.

Pure happiness.

I have no idea what is making us laugh, but Steph’s taking the picture, so that may be a clue. I look as though I haven’t slept for a week, but it’s extraordinarily reassuring and almost a shock to see us look happy, at a time that I remember as being so hard. It makes me wonder at the faultiness of memory, or my memory at least. Anyway, in this instance I’m glad for it.

I’ve just had a week’s break from work and the children have been on holiday, so we joined up with my sister, Dani, and her family on a camping trip to the Peak district. It rained as we put our tents up and mustered supper for the ten of us. It went on raining as the children played, and as Dani and I started on the Whisky Macs and the men on Jack Daniels, graduating to Baileys by way of a nice Shiraz.

It was still raining through our now compromised waterproofs the following morning as Steph and I trudged the ten minutes back from the washing up station, with sore heads and dripping pans and plates. Just as I was feeling everything was a bit grim, Steph turned to me gesturing gallically and with genuine pleasure at the rolling green hills, the grazing sheep and our playing children, filthy and laughing in the crook of the river, and asked, ‘What more could you want?’ Moments like these ratchet up my love for him. His mood is the life raft into which I can leap when mine more inevitably, sinks.

When Juliette was ill, Steph’s optimism was watertight. Sometimes I longed to see it sag a little when I languished in the water, so I was not so alone with my fears. It never did. His faith in his daughter’s recovery was unsinkable, right up until she left us.

At other times, I see Steph as the pole of a Swingball set. I’m just the bright bit of fluff on the end of some string weaving back and forth, then up and down, as life does the hitting. I’m grateful for the way he is. If he were different, I don’t believe our marriage would have survived. So far, we are beating the odds for parents like us and I try not to take that for granted.

Anyway, Elodie, who never joins us camping – (“Why would you want to be outside, cold, wet and uncomfortable when you could be inside and warm?”) – has otherwise inherited her father’s bright outlook on life. She encourages our habit of taking it in turns at supper to describe, ‘the best moment of today.’ After we’d washed the mud off our skin and shampooed the smoke from our hair she asked us each about our favourite thing from the camping trip. That moment walking with Steph was mine, amongst laughing with the sister I adore and noticing how our children bore discomfort with good humour because they were with their beloved cousins. More stained glass moments for my memory bank. I just have to keep looking for them.

10 thoughts on “Being happy

  1. I was out with some friends last Christmas-time, 10 months after Philip died. One of them took a picture and put it on Facebook; someone who saw it remarked to my mom, “She looks good, she looks happy.” I looked at the picture in sort of shock; yes, I was smiling. I was also in knots. As the months rolled on I was more functional, but no less devastated. Now,15 months later – I feel worse than I have in months. To be expected? If it’s how I’m feeling, I guess it’s expected. And I am sorry this is the way I came to find you, but you should know your humanity comforts.

    1. Denise,
      I, too, recently lost my son (54 weeks ago, he was 23). I read your Gravatar profile. Do you also write a blog? I would be interested in reading it if you have made it public.

      1. I appreciate it and so will many other parents who will be able to discover your blog.

  2. I always hope what I write comforts rather than disheartens those that are earlier on this road, so I really appreciate your words, Denise. How you’re feeling now doesn’t last at the same intensity, I promise. After only 15 months since the loss of your son it’s still so new and raw. I hope very much for more peaceful times ahead for you.

  3. We live, therefore life must pick us up and carry us along, even if we don’t want to participate. Then one day, despite our broken hearts, we find ourselves laughing. At first, I slammed my lips together because the sound was strange, and for a moment I had forgotten that my heart was broken.
    Somewhere along the way, in the years that have gone by, my heart has healed, albeit with scars.

  4. A couple of years after Jason died, I started working in a coffee shop part-time. My husband and I were trying to decide if we wanted to open a coffee shop and I started from the ground up to see if it was for us. Anyway, one day a lady with whom I had brief acquaintance came in. As I made small talk while making her coffee, I asked her how things were going and how her book was coming along. She was surprised that I knew who she was, as she obviously didn’t recognize me, and so I introduced myself. She said, “Are you Jason Carney’s mom?” When I said yes, she said, “But you’re so happy!!!”

    I was stunned. She was shocked I could smile. It seemed as though she felt I had no right to laugh. Of course, as bereaved parents, I think we learn early on to put on our game faces or masks; otherwise, we discover people don’t want to or can’t handle being around us. But, we do have moments of genuine laughter, too. As I recall, though, at the time I was on antidepressants because I wasn’t functioning or handling Jason’s death and the aftermath very well.

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