One of my favorite authors (who I profiled for the Post a few years ago) is Nora McInerny, a young widow who is a writer and a podcaster. She wrote a book that came out a few years ago called “No Happy Endings” which, as you can imagine, was about how there is always going to be grief that remains after losing someone, even if we find a new love. (It’s about a lot of other things, too, so check out this link if you’d like to read what I wrote.)
In any case, lately I’ve been thinking about the idea that grief never really goes away. I think it’s an important thing to remember, especially in America where we really want to “fix” grief and find happy endings for people who’ve experienced loss. We also just want good things to happen to those we love. This was true for me: I know that my family and friends were so happy when they found out that I’d fallen in love again. A happy ending!
And yes, Chris is absolutely my happy ending. He’s the best damn thing that’s ever happened to me and I’m so lucky to have him. Every single day with him in it is a good one, even the ones that are hard, because he’s my partner in every sense of the word. I couldn’t write a book called “No Happy Endings” because I’ve found a happy ending.
It just wasn’t my first happy ending.
Let me clarify. No, I didn’t meet someone before Chris. I tried dating other men, but it was one failure after another. I never even came close to finding a happy ending with someone else before him.
Instead, I found it by myself.
I remember when it happened. It was the fall of 2019. I had been out on a terrible date (the guy had met me in Dupont Circle, made me tea with his camping stove, and then proceeded to tell me one conspiracy theory after another) and I was walking home from it and texting my widow group. They were supportive and pretty hilarious (and now that I think about it, I should write a whole blog post on that because it’s pretty funny) and I got on the metro and played loud pop music and then almost skipped home. I was singing to Taylor Swift as I got near my house, and later on an acquaintance texted me, “I saw you on the street and I was going to stop and see how you were, but I looked at you and thought, ‘she looks happy’ so I just wanted you to enjoy whatever was making you happy!”
It was true – I was coming home from a waste of a date, an evening that I’d never get back, another missed “happy ending” – but I wasn’t unhappy. If anything, I felt somewhat light and free. For the first time, dates that I was going on weren’t making me miserable.
I was actually finding them fun.
The grief wasn’t gone. I mean, just check out my fall 2019 blog for plenty of grief writing, and please also note that sometimes dating still made me unhappy back then. But by the end of the summer of 2019, I was at a point where everything didn’t make me sad. In fact, it was about 18 months after Shawn’s death when I realized that I had a lot of happiness in my life. In so many ways, I had made my own happy ending – one where I could have something bad happen and still feel joy listening to Taylor Swift.
I saw this in one of my widow friends the other day. She’d been through a lot, but was telling me about a few dates that she’d recently been on. Maybe she’d end up in a relationship and maybe she wouldn’t but she was taking it all in stride. There was still so much joy she could focus on in her life and dating was just one piece of it. Her grief wasn’t gone. She hadn’t yet found a second love, and wasn’t sure if she ever would. But that doesn’t mean she’s never going to have a happy ending. In fact – and this is my key point of the entire post – It doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a happy ending right now. She does! (And yes, I told her this!)
In fact, I think if you’re at the point where you can date without breaking down, if you are paying the bills yourself, if you are helping your kids through their lives and if you laugh with your friends at weekend barbecues – well, then, dammit that’s a happy ending.
Happy endings aren’t just for fairy tales. They’re also for the rest of us.