Ieuan made me laugh last week and as I caught a glimpse of myself in my bedroom mirror, I didn’t recognise the woman smiling back. It was at this point that I realised that I don’t laugh as much as I used to.
Grief will do that to you. There have been times when I have smiled at a friend or passer by and instantly asked myself if that was genuine or forced. There have been evenings where I have looked back on my day and asked myself, “was I really happy today?”
I think since Evalyn’s death a small part of me has been on auto-pilot, not quite wanting to stop or take a breath in case I choke and tumble. But because of this I probably haven’t appreciated the good times that we have had as much as I should. Seeing the reflection of that stranger in my room made me realise that I really need to take in these moments more when they happen and even try to create some. Day’s can be so repetitive sometimes; wake up, go to work, do the household chores, go to bed. And then wake up and do it all over again. Maybe sometimes we just need to change around the order and add a few new things into the mix?
So this week I set myself a ‘Happy Challenge’. For one week, I would do one thing every day that made me happy. It didn’t matter if it was big or small, but it had to be something. I wanted to be able to look back at the end of my day and say, “I enjoyed doing that today. That made me happy. That felt like living.” . . . .
“Shall we go for a picnic?” Ieuan asked me excitedly.
“But it’s raining,” I told him.
“It’s only a bit of rain,” he insisted with a shrug.
My eyes shifted between his smiling face and the raindrops on the window and I realised he was right. We had already faced our worst storm last November. I’m sure we could handle a bit of summer rain.
So, we packed a lunchbox and we went to the beach. The wind was strong and the rain was cold but we were happy. We snuggled up on a bench under a shelter and watched the waves in the distance. Before we left we quickly ran down to the sea and threw three stones into the foamy water to see who could get theirs the furthest. I’m not sure who won but Ieuan insists that it was him. . . .
One stone for Ieuan.
One stone for me.
And one stone, of course, for Evalyn.
I haven’t enjoyed a night out for at least 18 months. The first 9 due to constant sickness throughout Evalyn’s pregnancy and the second 9 due to grief. I’ve had no reason to wipe the dust from my heels or sift through the part of my wardrobe reserved for the fun times.
Today I had a reason. Today my friend said “I Do” and I spent most of the morning trying on clothes and secretly hoping that it hadn’t been so long that they’d gone out of fashion! I curled my hair (with a bit of help from Ieuan!!), applied my make-up and I was ready to face the day with a smile.
It was a far cry from my ‘comfortable’ look which I’ve worn like a second skin lately. My reflection may have looked slightly unfamiliar but I could see a hint of the woman I used to be in the eyes that stared back.
It’s comforting to know she’s still there somewhere.
One of my favourite things to do is go walking along the River Hamble but we never quite find the time to go there enough. But it seemed like a good day to take advantage of the sunshine and although the ground was still wet from the rainfall of the night before, we pulled on our wellies and made our way down to the river bank.
It was both calm and beautiful. Nick and Ieuan skimmed stones across the river’s surface before getting stuck in the mud and Yogi the pug went for his very first swim (thankfully he was quite good at it)!
We didn’t think ahead to bring spare clothes for our five year old or something to dry the dog and the inside of our car resembled the river itself by the time we arrived home. Still, we had fun and we laughed alot so I’m calling that a successful morning out.
Today we had ice cream for breakfast. Because, why not?
When Ieuan was growing in my tummy, I used to pick up my ukulele, place it across my bump and play him a little tune. I used to do the same for Evalyn. I would play the same lullabies I had played to her big brother four years previously and she would kick along to the beat. She was going to be a musician, I was sure of it!
But then Evalyn died and the music became fainter and fainter until one day, it just stopped. My ukulele sat collecting dust on the shelf and the songs I would sing around the house became memories of a time that once was and would never be again . . .
I haven’t played much music since November. I’ve probably only picked up the ukulele a handful of times because it’s so easy when you’re grieving to forget the things you used to enjoy doing. What’s the point? What’s the point of trying to enjoy something when your heart feels so heavy? That’s what I used to tell myself. But I’m slowly realising that there is a point. You have to try and find yourself again and it’s these little things that act as a compass in finding your way back to some form of happiness.
So, today I picked up the ukulele and me and Ieuan played songs and sang at the top of our voices. And for a moment, I was the woman who played songs to her bump, carefree and content. . . .
The woman who looked forward to the future.
I told myself that with the weather as wet and rainy as it was today, the cinema would be packed. But it turned out that everyone would rather stay at home than venture outdoors.
Apart from us, the cinema was empty. Just me, Ieuan and a huge screen filled up with a kids movie . . . . and seeing as they weren’t being used, we even bumped ourselves up to the VIP seats! It would have been rude not to!!
I’ve kept a journal since May 2012. This was the month I began my maternity leave whilst pregnant with Ieuan and I was determined to record everything. And I never stopped.
When Evalyn died, I did question whether or not I would be able to pick up the pen again. Because, what would I write? Pages upon pages of sadness and questions that could never be answered? But I realised that this was Evalyn’s story now and in turn, it was our journey.
My entries haven’t always been happy. But I think that’s what my ‘Happy Challenge’ this past week has been about. In order to find happiness again after grief, we have to start small. We don’t get to wake up and automatically believe that the day is beautiful. We have to search for the sunrise and ask ourselves what we can do to make the day bearable. We have to look for that slither of happiness in our day and that’s what I make sure I write about in my journal. I write down what has made me happy that day so I can remember that I smiled.
Today hasn’t been particularly eventful. I’ve done some photography work, put together a blog post and took Ieuan swimming where I watched his determination carry him forward to swim a few strokes all by himself. He smiled at me from across the pool, all proud of himself and I realised that that was a happy moment. These happy moments are everywhere, you just have to breathe them in. And I came home and wrote in my diary that today was a good day.
Because even the smallest things can create the biggest smiles.