September 27th was my birthday. When my husband left for work he kissed me and said, "Happy Birthday Hon." After three deaths in the family I did not think I would have a happy day at all. "I'll try," I replied.
Three deaths are too much. For months I had been walking around in a fog or thinking about the basics of life. Who was I? What do I do? Could I still do it? Would I be happy again? Daniel Goleman, PhD discusses the body's responses to happiness in his book, "Emotional Intelligence."
According to Goleman happiness increases activity "in a brain center that inhibits negative feelings and fosters an increase in available energy, and a quieting of those that generate worrisome thought." Happiness also gives the body a chance to rest, he says, and generates enthusiasm and energy for pursuing our goals.
I did not have much energy lately. Three successful deaths had generated hundreds of worrisome thoughts. I was not sleeping well. The financial and legal paperwork came in faster than I could process it. Although I made daily "To Do" lists, at the end of the day the lists were longer, not shorter.
Since I have been in crisis before I have good coping skills. I have learned how to care for myself. Kelly Osmont, MSW writes about self-care in a booklet titled "More Than Surviving: Caring for Yourself While You Grieve." "Your life is important," she writes "To regain a sense of control over your own life, start by taking charge of its direction now."
What an empowering idea! I could take charge of my birthday. Maybe I would not have a "Happy Birthday" in the ordinary sense of the phrase, but I could have a productive and meaningful one. How did I spend the day? I did some of the things I love most.
Cooking is one of my passions. Fall apples had arrived in the grocery store. I baked some apple-cinnamon muffins. The smell of the baking muffins was comforting and took me back to childhood. I froze the muffins for another day.
Decorating is another passion. We had needed a bedside table in the guest room for years. I ordered a table from a catalog store and paid for it with credit card points. It was almost like getting a table for free. The table will be delivered next week.
Volunteering is also a passion and I volunteer for health organizations. I was working on a nutrition outreach project. This was the perfect day to finalize details and write the press release – tasks that took hours. When my husband returned from work he asked, "How are you?"
"Fine," I said. "I had a productive and meaningful day. I worked on the nutrition project, ordered a bedside table, and baked muffins." My husband wanted to take me out for dinner, but I wanted to stay home. We had an easy supper, clam chowder and apple pie a la mode, and went to bed early. I snuggled in my husband's arms, whispered "Happy Birthday," and went to sleep.
Copyright 2007 by Harriet Hodgson