“There’s always a solution,” he texted me when I was having another bout of anxiety because something else had broken around the house and needed fixing or attention or whatever. Those four simple, wise words had an instant calming affect on me.
Two months ago I had fallen into such a deep depression after the death of my husband that I was afraid I would never pull myself out of it. And I knew I had to pull myself out, that no one could do it for me. I kept thinking about the post-partum depression I suffered after my daughter was born because the symptoms I was experiencing were nearly identical—days of feeling like I was in a fog, no desire or drive to do anything that I enjoyed, a never ending sense of utter sadness that I could never imagine going away. During my experience with the post-partum depression I keep saying that I didn’t feel like myself and I so wanted to fight my way through this fog. Little by little I tried everything I could to break myself out of it. And so I did.
My instinct to fight took over during this most recent episode of anxiety and depression as well. There are a couple of people who have come into my life since this personal tragedy—the person who sent me that text above— and some relationships that have grown stronger because of it as well. At first I thought that fate has a strange way of giving us people we need just at the right time. But then again I am responsible for the deliberate choice of surrounding myself with loving, kind, generous, positive people.
When an unexpected tragedy happens—especially the one that happened to my family—the natural instinct is to feel completely helpless. But in retrospect I see that I did have choices. And I made some crucial ones even in the midst of an ugly, all-consuming depression. I invited my sister, brother-in-law, and nephews to come visit almost every weekend. I asked my parents to go with me to pick up the new puppy I adopted. I accepted a former colleague’s—now a good friend’s—invitation to walk and talk and mourn. And I made a phone call to a contractor to rebuild the massive deck in my backyard.
It’s interesting to discover what different things for each of us become a symbol or an image of hope. A photograph, a painting, a special place, any number of trinkets or objects.
I know this might sound very strange to some, but my new deck has become that symbol of hope for me. Especially in the summer I will spend hours sitting on it, feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin, reading, feeding the birds, thinking. In recent years this happy place of mine has become worn to the point of being a mess and even unsafe. Within two weeks of Alan being killed I made that phone call to the contractor I mentioned above. At the time it felt impulsive, but in retrospect it was the beginning of creating a space that feels like my own, that I have control over, and that I’ve made a deliberate decision to change and improve. I keep joking that the puppy and the new deck are the two best decisions I’ve made this year, but I do think that this is actually true. A friend on Twitter commented that I’ve created a healing space with the new deck and some other areas of the house I’ve redecorated and rearranged. She couldn’t be more right.
There are still days when I think of how my husband was killed and our shattered family and the effect on our daughter and it feels like I’ve been punched in the chest all over again.
But this morning I was standing in the kitchen baking muffins, with our new puppy sitting at my feet, while my daughter was taking her morning class online, and a friend stopped by for coffee and to pick up some tools. I had a sense of happiness, and contentment, and even joy.
I have pangs of guilt—-which everyone tells me is natural—when I feel happy. Is it wrong for me to carry on with my own life? Is it fair that I get to carry on? But what is the alternative? Should I not do things that make me laugh or smile? Should I stop finding joy and pleasure in the company of the people with whom I’ve surrounded myself? Should I stop finding things, small things, to be grateful for every day?
But if I stopped, then I would give up that fight. And I don’t think that’s even a possibility for me.
As the season changes to autumn and the air is cooler I finally feel like I can breath a bit easier. The fog and sweltering oppression—literally and figuratively—of this summer is lifting. And the colors on the pond in my yard are starting to turn into lovely shades of red and gold. John Clare’s poem “Autumn” that I happened to read this morning captures my feelings very well:
Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun, And the rivers we’re eying burn to gold as they run; Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air; Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.…
When I look out over my yard I see my new deck in progress, I see the talented person crafting this beautiful space for me, I see the colors on the pond, I think about John Clare’s poem. I smile. I feel hope.
17 responses to “There’s Always a Solution”
Melissa, I held my breath while reading your post. A dear friend lost her mother as a young adult and she, too, found joy in the small things, or what we consider small things, like having coffee with a friend or remodeling a deck. Having struggled with depression and anxiety for twenty years, I am learning to seize every moment. On a whim I colored my hair a pale pink and was elated, not because the result was great but because I resisted the urge to sleep the day away. I am happy, unspeakably happy, you are surrounded with love and the beauty autumn provides. Life provides moments—hours—within which we discover our own resilience. Sending love and light your way.
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Thank you so much, Bianca for your beautiful words. I hope you continue to find joy in life every day. ❤
You are blessed, Melissa. Alan would want to know that you are okay, that you are happy. His place in your heart will not get replaced—your heart will just grow larger.
Thank you so much, Joe. What a lovely idea. Once again you know just the perfect, eloquent words to say. ❤
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Yes, this is the way to do it. Allow time and space for mourning, and build things into your life that lift the sadness. (In your case, literally building something!)
Years ago when I experienced an unexpected bereavement and I was alone, someone gave me a cookbook called Cooking for One. It seemed like the saddest thing, because the food we cook is an expression of the love we feel for the others who share it with us. But the book began with words I have never forgotten: it talked about resisting the temptation to live on sandwiches and tinned soup, and how it was important to take as much trouble to cook for yourself as for anyone else. To lay the table with attractive crockery and glassware and to enjoy beautiful, interesting well-cooked food because whether solo or partnered, we are worth making an effort.
So it gives me great pleasure to imagine you looking out over that beautiful view on your lovely new deck. I hope we get to see it in all the changing seasons.
Ah, this is a lovely post, Melissa. Surrounding yourself with love is the very best thing to do. I hope those moments of contentment and joy will increase as time wears on.
Melissa, what a beautiful post. I do hope you learn to appreciate your moments of joy again. My parents died within 12 months of each other and the grief was overwhelming. But we must go on. The Irish poet Derek Mahon died today and I always find comfort in his poem ‘Everything is going to be Alright’ – “The sun rises in spite of everything/ and the far cities are beautiful and bright/ I lie here in a riot of sunlight/ watching the day break and the clouds flying./ Everything is going to be all right” xx
Melissa, thank you for the gift of this heartening post, and for all you have written this year. You’ve confronted a numbing, unthinkable tragedy with thoughts and feelings of extraordinary depth. Your honesty and your grace inspire me.
By sharing your journey in such a beautifully vulnerable way, you are not only helping yourself heal but you are also helping others heal through your words. Thank you for the honesty which we sometimes don’t have the courage to share with others. What you are showing is that it is always good to share and be in community. We all experience loss in our lives, but we are never really alone.
Melissa, you’re such an inspiration. I can’t begin imagine the darkness you must have travelled through since your loss, but you *are* a fighter and you have some wonderful supportive friends and family around you. It’s not wrong to take pleasure in things, and I’m sure Alan would have wanted you and your daughter to go on through life, taking his memory with you. Take care. x
This post is so beautiful, and I am so happy that you’re able to find some happiness again in your life, that I am getting all choked up.
I happen to have here beside me (because my daughter just returned it to me a few days ago after reading it herself) a collection of poems by Sheree Fitch called You Won’t Always Be This Sad.
“release receive return rejoice / yes my friend I cannot forget to say / we the undone / can still rejoice”
Melissa, your post touched me deeply. I have neither had children, nor experienced a loss as shattering as yours. But your comparison of your present grief to postpartum depression is a revelation to me. Why are these feelings so common when, by reason, women should feel nothing but joy at the prospect of nurturing a new human being? Perhaps the word ‘depression’ is a misnomer: this feeling is not meant to crush us down, but to put us in a primordial chaos of the soul from which a new life is born. You describe your new life with beauty and courage that will help so many people through their hard times. Thank you!
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Thank you, Melissa, for sharing your thoughts and experience.
What a encouragement: “There’s always a solution”.
Enjoy with poems on the deck at the pond.
All good wishes from overseas
❤ I’m so glad you’re in place now where you can heal and enjoy things again
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Melissa, your sharing of the raw emotions of grief are heartfelt by everyone that reads them. As cathartic as it is for you, it helps those around you understand and better help you in every way. I think your writing could very well become a book. Good Grief.
Although everybody has, or will have their own process, I think you are handling this in the most healthy way. One step, one day, one week at a time. Always moving forward but never forgetting to check your rear view mirror to see your precious memories. I’m so glad you are finding joy in the most unexpected places because it’s all around us. We just have to be receptive to it. And you clearly are. ❤️
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Thank you so much for writing this response, Danielle! It’s hard for me to tell how others are reactions to my writing. It’s good to know that they are appreciated. ❤
Beautiful post, Melissa. I cried all over again after reading it. I still remember when you first shared the news on Facebook or Twitter and it was unbelievable and shocking and heartbreaking. I am glad that this new deck is helping and hope you enjoy reading there. I love all the pictures of Phoebe that you share. She is so adorable and I’m glad she gives you lots of love. I am hoping that Phoebe and Henry will be besties. Sending you lots of love and hugs. Take care.