Happiness is letting go

HappinessSounds easy enough, but what does it mean?

“Happiness is letting go of what you think your life is supposed to look like & celebrating it for everything that it is.”

Most of us have an idea of what our lives are supposed to look like, based on outside influences, culture, family history, media, societal norms, etc. Most of our lives are spent in pursuit of the ideal life defined for us by experiences as we are growing up.

We set personal goals that include things like:

  • attend University, trade school, travel abroad
  • have a prestigious career and rise to executive rank
  • live in the city, suburbs, country
  • buy a house, boat, car
  • be a stay at home mom/dad
  • be an entrepreneur
  • live alone
  • have children
  • get married
  • write a novel, play, poem, blog, song
  • travel the world
  • fall in love

Rarely, if ever, do our goals include things like:

  • raise an autistic child
  • bury a loved one
  • be the primary caregiver of an aging parent
  • declare bankruptcy
  • love an addict
  • live with bi-polar disorder
  • put a violent child/family member out of your home
  • get into an abusive relationship
  • close a failed business
  • get a divorce
  • get laid off
  • have a miscarriage
  • suffer from depression

Yet, despite our best efforts and admirable attempts at the ideal, at some point we will face life situations that are not what we imagined for ourselves.  When this happens, we have two choices.  We can look at the situation and label it as sad, hard, screwed up, sucky, miserable, burdensome, hopeless, dismal, overwhelming, isolating. We can sit in a state of constant pity for ourselves, wallowing in the misery of our situation, believing no one’s life is harder than our own. Focusing on what we see as ‘wrong’ dulls what we think is ‘right’.  In reality, there is no wrong or right, there is only what IS.

The second choice we are given is one of acceptance. Accepting our life as it IS in this moment is the pathway to happiness. Our monkey minds spin around labeling each experience hard/easy, good/bad, lucky/unlucky, success/failure. Accepting that every experience is exactly the experience that we need and every experience comes to us exactly when we need it, liberates us to find gratitude for our life as it IS.

Watching Alzeheimer’s slowly take my grandmother away, there were many days that I wanted to stay home and wallow in self-pity rather than sit with her. Most days she didn’t know my name, she rambled on about her childhood boyfriends and people I never knew. Finding gratitude in those moments saved me. I’m one of the lucky ones who was given the opportunity to know her grandmother as a child, carefree and silly. I became her girlfriend and we chatted about trips she had taken and men she had known. I learned to accept her in the moment, let go of expectation, and be grateful for what I had, not resentful for what I’d lost.

My father died of brain cancer. His illness gave me the chance to reconcile a difficult relationship.

My step-father died of colon cancer. Our conversations deepened and we left nothing unspoken.

My grandfather died suddenly when I was hundreds of miles away.  I didn’t get to say good-bye but I never saw him sick.

The practice of acceptance is done moment by moment, day by day. Some days are easier than others. I look at empty relationships and feel sadness, desiring a deeper connection, but in that moment I remind myself to feel gratitude for the lesson, to accept what the relationships are and to release any expectations I have.

All sorrow is a result of our wanting things to be different than they are – the resistance to what IS. Releasing expectations does not mean that we give up hope. Hope is what remains when we surrender to what IS and celebrate all that we have.




In Her Kitchen

We lost my grandmother this past year to Alzheimer’s.  That’s not exactly true.  We lost her many years ago to Alzheimer’s, this past year we were finally forced to let her go.  Anyone who has dealt with this horrific disease knows without my explanation what a heart-wrenching and long good-bye a family experiences.  Our story is similar to so many that I’ve heard and read over the past few years but that does nothing to ease the pain of what we all have shared.  There’s a quote that comes to mind that says something about shared love being multiplied and shared sorrow being divided.  I’m not so certain that applies in the case of Alzheimer’s.

The number of things I miss about my Nanny increases with each passing day.  She was my constant, my biggest fan, and my first exposure to unconditional love.  She was yellow grits in the morning, fried bologna sandwiches at lunch, and rice & gravy at supper time.  She was a pitcher full of sweet tea in the fridge and a cookie jar that never emptied.  She was a pack of Juicy Fruit gum in her pocketbook to keep us quiet during church.  She was mud pies and baby dolls.  She was an envelope in my college mailbox full of one dollar bills taped together accordion style and a note saying, “Be my sweet girl.”  She was red bows at Christmas and homemade birthday cakes with little pink flowers.  She was soft and warm and she smelled like Ivory soap.

I grew up in her kitchen.  Wearing her bib apron, faded and worn, I followed direction and basked in her attention.  For Sunday dinner, my jobs were specific and never really varied much no matter how old I was.  Fill the tea glasses with ice.  Butter the brown-n-serve rolls.  Fix the deviled eggs and stuff the pears with creamed cheese.  I can recite that menu in my sleep:  fried chicken, rice & gravy, butterbeans with okra, sliced tomatoes in season, corn on the cob, brown-n-serve rolls, deviled eggs, and pears with creamed cheese.  Occasionally the butterbeans were replaced with green beans or field peas but the main menu items stayed the same on Sundays.  Dessert would vary depending on who was in attendance.  If my uncle was home from college, we could count on banana pudding and lemon meringue pie.  On these occasions my job also included crushing Nilla wafers for the pie crust and lining the pudding dish with cookies.

In 1991, Nanny decided to write down a few of her recipes for me in a spiral bound notebook.  I don’t recall the reasoning for this if any was ever given and around 2005 when I started to notice her memory fading, I started asking her to write down all of the things we had cooked together.  I cherish these notebooks and pull them out when I need to feel close to her.  The funny thing is, that trying to cook from her notes is next to impossible and I end up laughing at her when I get to the end of a recipe and see a note that says, “add a little milk to the filling”.  It’s at this point that I talk out loud to her and ask, “Really Nanny?”  I guess I should have paid closer attention when she was here, then maybe I would know what “a little milk” is.  Or maybe it’s best this way, some things will never be the same.  No matter how many times I try to figure out the correct measurement of “a little,” there is a part of me that hopes I never get it right.