What’s Loss Got to Do with It?

A Letter About Life, After 3 Years of My Own Adversity and Loss

The idea for Hello Happy began taking root last September. Founder Megan Oliver heard a talk from happiness researcher Shawn Achor just days after learning of her dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis. For the years leading up to this news, she had been making a conscious effort to be positive; however, at that moment, it was difficult finding reasons to stay positive.

My dad’s cancer diagnosis came after a series of (and would continue to be followed by a handful more) significant adversities in life—all of them quite traumatizing in their own right, and much worse when considered collectively.

Choosing Happiness

In 2017, I made a commitment to myself to prioritize my well-being. I set off an a happiness journey. Little did I know, concurrent to this quest, I’d be challenged by some woeful and significant hardships…starting with the separation from my best friend and partner of 12 years. Unhappy in our marriage and finding no improvement in the relationship despite my best efforts, I asked for a divorce. My then-husband (perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly) became unrecognizable and set out to make the separation misearable.

One month after seeking divorce, my mom was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer with low survival rates (happy spoiler: she continues to be a champion in her battle!). Nevertheless, I fought to stay positive and supportive for my mom at the same time as my separation was evolving into a painful test of strength and character.

Finding Home

The divorce forced us to sell our house. In an effort to appease my soon-to-be-ex and avoid an even uglier separation than what had already developed, I sacrificed a good portion of my investment in the property and walked away from the sale of our house with less than was owed. But I knew that money couldn’t buy the happiness I sought. So out I went, moving into an apartment of my own.

If a Tree Falls…

It was the night before moving day, and my first night in the new apartment. My voice echoed through the still-barren rooms as if to remind me of my new solitary venture. The next morning, as I was leisurely awaking, noticing the wind piercing the creaky walls, a tree fell…onto my new apartment.

Maybe I should have recognized the felled tree as the bad omen it was, but I could not have fully predicted the chaos to come from this new living arrangement (from leaks and flooding, to mice and much more that would became an unending problem). It was inhabitable, but my landlord was relentless. I moved out early and paid two rents for some time, just to find a nice place to live.

On the Upswing

It seemed as though things were about to improve. I moved into a beautiful apartment right off of the main street in my neighborhood, within walking distance of all my favorite places.

I explored a new passion and became a certified Antigravity Fitness instructor. I was building a sturdy financial foundation, eating well, taking care of myself, and finding time for the things I enjoyed. I had a loving and supportive partner. Life seemed to be on the upswing.

Then one day, Nudge, my cat of 15 years—my fur baby who had been by my side through it all and outlasted my marriage—fell ill. Her health took a drastic turn overnight. Within 24 hours, I found myself making the selfless but excruciating decision to humanely end her suffering. I never wanted to be in that situation and it’s a decision I hoped I could avoid ever being in again.

My cat’s emergency developed the morning of a job interview (I probably should have seen this as another omen). Ultimately, I took the job and moved into a position outside of my expertise. Unfortunately, while my team at my new gig was incredibly supportive and the firm afforded me opportunities I know I would’t receive almost anywhere else, I struggled to find fulfillment in my day-to-day work.

This was around the time that I heard my dad’s news.

Out of Left Field, My Dad

For one reason or another, my dad’s health had been a challenge for years. And while we had all been focused on my mom’s battle with brain cancer, my dad’s cancer diagnosis came as a surprise out of left field. Ultimately, it would take his life in just a matter of months.

The grief and the logistical process of resolving his final wishes has been a struggle made even more difficult thanks to the global pandemic. Nevertheless, my family has been strong and persistent—slowly chiseling away at our to-do list.

Making Room in My Heart

As I had been making peace with my circumstances, I finally opened my heart to accepting another companion animal. My partner and I adopted two sweet kittens a little over a month ago. And it was such a joyful experience. For a brief moment, caring for their tiny little bodies gave me hope and purpose to push forward.

Alas, last weekend, one of our new kittens fell inexplicably ill. Fig was the younger and more timid of the two cats. But he adored me, and I him. We were glued at the hip. While I’d been working from home, he sat all day long by my side. Suddenly, Fig’s little 8-month-old body started failing him, and one of my greatest fears—losing yet another loved one—was coming true. My partner and I had to make the incredibly difficult decision to end Fig’s suffering. The experience was eerily familiar to me. The decision to give the vet permission to euthanize our dying kitty came within days of the anniversary of Nudge’s death.

Tending Toward Optimistic

I like to say that I’m generally an optimistic person. Even in my most unhappy moments, I found things for which to be grateful.

But to say that I feel optimistic right now would be a lie.

In 2017, setting out to find my own happiness, I never realized I would be tested by such heartbreaking and trying experiences…back-to-back-to-back.

There comes a point, where I can’t help but think, “well this is absurd.” It’s laughable at the same time as it’s excruciating. The grief is compounding.

Searching for Meaning

I’m struggling to make meaning of whatever lesson the universe is trying to teach me with all of this. My best guess is that I’m supposed to learn to appreciate what I have while I have it. Well duh. Or perhaps it’s meant to reinforce my calling.

As I search for happiness and meaning in my own life, I question how I might cultivate happiness in others.

Happiness Through Adversity

My pain is real, I know that. I also know that I’m not alone in my suffering, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic and the continued fight for Black lives. WE are having a real moment.

Few of us are thriving. Many of us are suffering. We may feel empowered at times, but constantly under attack. We are facing many similar struggles, yet we feel alone in this.

It’s easy to lose hope. It’s at the point when we just can’t understand why we must bear all this weight on our shoulders that we have two choices: we can either break or we can turn to our community to lift us.

If not for the support of my loved ones these past few years, I would not be a functioning human. And I suppose that’s one of the lessons I’m meant to learn.

We need to reinforce our communities and rethink our priorities. I’ve always known it, but aren’t humans just notoriously good at ignoring perfectly good advice that we know will help us?

Our social networks help us through all the hardships we could possibly face.

And so I ask you—and with my own work I hope to explore—how can we reinforce our communities? How can we lean on our neighbors when we need them? How can we lift others up through their adversities? How can we set aside our own struggles to show up for others when they need it most?

Together, we will persevere.

A Final Message

We will make it through this. There have already been and will continue to be casualties. But the ‘collective we’ will survive and come out of this stronger. To my Black brothers and sisters, we are here with you. I am here with you. I hear you. I see you. I love you. In my heart I am holding space for you, and in my community I am creating space with you.

To loved ones experiencing job loss, know that I will step up for you. I will not fail you. I will not leave you on your own. May you find this extra time a gift to focus on what you love.

To my neighbors grieving loss through this pandemic, I know that we cannot give back to you what you’ve lost. But may you find solace in noticing the loving remnants all around you. And when you reach out your hand, we will be there.

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