The 5th Annual Happiness Happens Month, in August 2004, started with a mention in Newsweek, a major news magazine at the time. I was on cloud nine so to speak because I believed that Happiness Happens Day and Month were on the verge of being an internationally known celebration. My belief was so strong that I was working on my book proposal (a book that’s still not published yet), and my hope for the Society making a difference in the world was burning bright.
What’s the cliché, you find out your true character when you are challenged. God was about to send me a challenge that would forever leave me living an ironic August.
It was Tuesday, August 17th, and I’d just gotten to work, had thrown my stuff on my desk, and was about to head into the morning meeting when my desk phone rang. I paused trying to decide if I should answer and risk being late for the meeting, or return the call after it. For some reasons, I answered. It was my aunt who my mother lived by. She told me my mom was very sick. They had gone to the emergency room at the small to hospital where my mom lived in the middle of the night. She was about to be transferred to larger hospital in the city nearby. She said my brother and I needed to get there as soon as possible. My mind still replays that call like it happened yesterday.
The next two and half weeks were spent in what I dubbed the Waiting Room of Hades, more commonly called an ICU waiting room. It’s a room of waiting for uncertainty to become a certainty. You’re waiting to find out the future of your loved one. Will they recover to health? Will they have to coexist with a life changing health issue? Or will they literally live or die? If you’re there long enough, you reach a point you’re not sure what you are praying for. You want a miracle. You want to either go back to the hours, days or weeks before you ended up there or for spontaneous health to return. Eventually neither seems like a possibility—miracle or not.
My mom passed away on September 3, at the age of 61.
It’s been nine years since that life changing emotional roller coaster. I’d be naïve to ignore the reality that in a month I started a happiness celebration, I also experienced some of the saddest days of my life. Every August, I lead a celebration to remind people that happiness happens. Every August, I’m haunted by painful memories when time crept by in nanoseconds and ultimately ended in my mother’s death. In August, I live both sides of the same coin: happiness and unhappiness.
I still miss my mom a lot. No one loves you like a mother does. The last time I saw my mother before she was in ICU she talked about when she wouldn’t be here anymore and I didn’t want to hear of it. During that conversation one of the things she said that stuck with me was, “Oh, honey, you can’t understand until it happens.” She meant that to understand the loss a parent you have to live it. She was right.
Is there a silver lining in death? For me that story would be its own book, and I’d never be so bold as to answer that for anyone else.
But I did find a silver lining from the experience: COMPASSION.
I learned that even if someone appears normal on the outside we really don’t know what’s going on in their life. The months that followed my mom’s death I could be happy living in the moment one minute and the next I’d either want to or did burst into tears. Now, I’m rarely bothered by people being not-so-pleasant with me anymore because I understand that I really don’t know what caused their expression of crankiness.
I also learned that when unhappiness happens it’s really not for me to judge how long someone needs to feel unhappy. My job is simply to love them. Everyone approaches difficult situations in their own way and walks their own path.
In short, I became softer and less of a know-it-all. Some of my friends might challenge my growth on the later.
Every August during Happiness Happens Month I’m reminded that life is a dance — just like the song Garth Brooks sings The Dance. If I missed the pain then I’d also have miss the dance. When God challenged my happiness it reinforced that I wouldn’t want to miss one happiness happens dance step because each and every one of them represents a moment of happy that defines my soul.