My husband and I spent thirty summers together. Because we began dating when we were young students, we grew into our adult beings and roles together. However, in the balance of our long relationship and the dizzying dividing up of tasks as we married and became parents to four children; until he died, some things never changed.
Among them, he was the mediator and I the warrior. He gave counsel; I am prone to caustic command. I could never let go of a slight to someone I love; he could move on.
As Jim might have said, I put the bitter in bittersweet.
There is no one who takes things more personally than I. As poet Tony Hoagland wrote:
Now that I know “the other deepest thing,” I like to think I still can change.
While her father was dying, one of our daughters took a seminar about “The Science of Happiness.” (More than 350 students showed up for its initial meeting; there was room for fifteen. The fighter in my daughter managed to secure a spot.)
The class is taught by a Medical School professor and described this way to potential students: “Focuses on the science of happiness, integrating findings from positive psychology, psychiatry, behavioral genetics, neuroscience, and behavioral economics. Begins with a brief history of ideas on happiness from Aristotle to Kahneman. Considers the genetics of happiness including the notion of a biologically determined hedonic set point, the brain’s pleasure circuitry, and the mind’s power to frame events positively, a tool used in cognitive therapies. Questions whether pleasure and happiness are our purpose.”
At the conclusion of the class–only weeks after her father’s death–our daughter wrote a paper about research on whether one can change one’s attitudinal “set point” for approaching life’s sometimes sickening waves.
I don’t know the answer, or whether it can be found in science.
But I do know it’s worth trying to let go of some of the bitter, attempting to absorb some of Jim’s grace. After all, as he did say many times, “What’s the worst thing that could happen” if I do?
(c) 2012 Stephanie M. Glennon