• Happy?

Happy New Year!

When pleasantries feel like a slap in the face.

Happy Holidays!

A punch in the gut.

Happy Birthday!

A knife in the heart.

Happy? Seriously?! Happy! What does that even mean? Are you kidding me? Do you honestly think I can be happy when my loved one has died? My life will never be happy again!

You might feel outraged, shocked, angry or hurt at the audacity of someone wishing you a happy anything. Please, before you react, pause, breathe and tell yourself that they are not wishing you a happy… as a dismissal of your pain but as a wish, a prayer, a desire for healing and goodness to (once again) be accessible to you. Reframe their happy to a wish for peace, comfort, strength, healing, or respite from the intensity of your pain and sorrow. Their wish for you is not intended to make you feel dismissed, your pain and sorrow marginalized or forgotten. Most likely words escape them and yet they want to acknowledge you still. When possible, detach from the trigger and connect to compassion, to the opportunity for a teachable moment. Thank you. I appreciate you thinking of me. This is a difficult and sad time but it is nice to know that you wish me well.

There are no right words. No magic gesture. No recipe. There is care, concern, the effort to acknowledge, to show up, to try. And sometimes that just has to be enough. Even when it isn’t.

Grief is gutting. Triggers are everywhere, even in common pleasantries made conversationally, habitually, not with the intention of causing further pain or suffering but, rather, to acknowledge that you are being seen and thought of.

Be patient with your grief.

Be compassionate with yourself.

Try to manage expectations of yourself and others.

Happy will not elude you forever. It just might feel different.

Happy will not be as it once was but as it can be now. Try not to compare to what happy felt like prior to the death of your loved one. Instead, compare “the now” to how you felt when your loved one first died.

Happy might not feel authentic, accessible, possible in the nostalgic sense of the word but happy can exist, differently. Happy might be the awareness that it does not feel as impossibly painful to breathe. Or that you slept 5 consecutive hours in your bed. That you actually felt present and connected for a moment to the people and places that surround you rather than absent, detached, floating in the fog of deep grief.

Happy are moments strung together not a baseline. A good cup of coffee. Hearing a song on the radio and realizing that you are humming along. Feeling the warm sun on your face and actually feeling it. Seeing the sky is a perfect shade of blue and truly seeing it for its beauty. Recognizing that you accomplished one or two things on your to do list. That you went to a movie, read a chapter of a book, went for a walk, returned a text, call or email. Happy can be the acknowledgement of resilience, courage, strength, grace, persistence. The awareness that you have survived another day, that you are enduring what once seemed unimaginable.

You give power to words. You assign meaning. When a person wishes you a Happy…. try to receive it as a blessing, a prayer, a wish for the intensity of your pain to subside and for the love, positive remembrance and healing to comfort.


  1. Diane January 4, 2019 at 6:23 pm

    Thank you so much for this! I truly appreciate
    your insight into the well wishes that people
    give to those of us that grieve. Your article
    allows me to see the gifts people give us
    with their words and to listen beyond the
    literal meaning. Your website is extremely
    valuable and continues to provide healing
    through reflection. Happy New Year!

  2. Jennifer Stern, LISW January 4, 2019 at 9:59 pm

    Thank you Diane. I am so glad that you are finding Transformative Grief a valuable resource in your healing. Take care.

  3. KATHY GILLER January 5, 2019 at 2:50 pm

    I find myself constantly believing that I will never be happy again. This helps frame it in a new way though it’s still painfully hard to accept that the life I had with my beloved will never be again.

  4. Jennifer Patterson January 10, 2019 at 2:14 am

    Jennifer, Thank you! Soooo good… I appreciate your words very much! Many Blessings to you!
    ~ Jennifer

  5. Jennifer Stern, LISW January 11, 2019 at 12:01 pm

    Thank you. And to you! Take good care.

  6. Jennifer Stern, LISW January 11, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    It is painfully hard to accept and yet what choice but acceptance do we really have? Treat yourself with compassion and your grief with patience. One day at a time. You will experience happy once again, differently. Believe. Trust. Take good care.

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