The Bitter and the Sweet

Summer Morning, Greenland
(c) August 2012

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:

… I did, I took it all quite personal—
the breeze and the river and the color of the fields;
the price of grapefruit and stamps,
the wet hair of women in the rain—
And I cursed what hurt me….

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?

Evening in Greenland

(c) 2012 Stephanie M. Glennon

Author: Stephanie

In her spare time, Stephanie works full-time, and then some, as an attorney. She has published articles and delivered talks in arcane fields like forensic evidentiary issues, jury instructions, and expert scientific witness preparation. She attended law school near the the banks of the Charles River and loves that dirty water; she will always think of Boston as her home. You are welcome to take a look at her Facebook author page, or follow @SMartinGlennon on Twitter and @schnitzelpond on Instagram. Bonus points for anyone who understands the Instagram handle. All content on this blog, unless otherwise attributed, is (c) 2012-2023 by Stephanie M. Glennon and should not be reproduced (in any form other than re-blogging in accordance with the wee Wordpress buttons at the bottom of each post) without the express permission of the domain holder.

3 thoughts on “The Bitter and the Sweet”

  1. I wish it didn’t take loss to bring me here, but I feel more gratitude and ability to enjoy or acknowledge the sweet. Pain does provide its gifts…. Who would have thought losing a loved one could bring around more happiness? Thanks for this wonderful post.

  2. Thank you. You have written beautifully about this strange set of gifts that comes from knowing deep loss, and I think once again put your finger on it: it’s an uncomfortable thought at first, but pain can change some of us for the better and make us appreciate what’s lasting and left in a relationship that somehow continues after death.

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