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When Happiness Makes You Sad (Another Note on Grief)

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One of the weirdest aspects of grieving so far has been how much the happiest moments now make me want to cry. There’s just something deeply painful about experiencing something wonderful without my dad, or simply realizing that I can’t share it with him later. I first felt this when I got my new job almost directly after he passed away—a cruel timeline if ever there was one. I was so ecstatic and so angry at the same time. The one person whose excitement would have equaled mine in levels of gushiness was now gone.

With that sadness settled, which is to say accepted, it now pops up unexpectedly whenever I’m overwhelmed by happiness for whatever reason. It struck me with particular intensity the other night amidst a party in my apartment that my roommate and I threw. A lot of the people I’m closest to were there, along with a sprinkling of newer friends and friendly strangers.

As an outsider it probably looked like your average party, nothing truly remarkable happened—although I must say it was decidedly less sloppy than most (thanks, friends). But to me it just felt like a giant fucking hug that I couldn’t and didn’t want to escape. “Everywhere I turn there’s someone I love,” joked one of my best friends, summing up my feelings exactly. These weren’t people I had to put on “airs” for—no these were people who really know me and have coaxed me through various life shit-uations, sans judgment or, at least, judging me without losing faith in me.

My dad was always extremely social, and notorious for his ability to stay in touch with his oldest friends. One half of me is like that, too, while the other half is completely reclusive and needs A LOT of alone time to recharge. He didn’t always understand that about me, though by the time he died he seemed to be much more accepting of it. His funeral reflected just how skilled he was at maintaining age-old friendships, with people from numerous different phases in his life there to say goodbye. Minus the morbidity and on a smaller scale, that’s what this party felt like to me.

There were friends since middle school, guys I’ve dated, friends from summer camp, guys I’ve hooked up with and briefly loathed only to become good friends with, the closest friends from college, or friends who I’ve since become close to that I met in college, guys I consider my second, third, and fourth older brothers, family friends, my roommate’s friends who I’m happily getting to know more and more, etc. This variety—which I’ve always gravitated towards in my friendships—struck me as a gift given to me from my dad, a skill he taught me via his own behavior.

Later, as I danced to favorite song after favorite song with my best friend, I began to feel like a weepy mess. When surrounded by so much love, it’s almost harder to forget that something great is missing. All of that warmth makes even the slightest chill more pronounced, and in this case, the chill is huge—an icicle perpetually prodding into my side. But when held up against the overwhelming joy of that evening, it felt like a pain I could live with, that I would never necessarily overcome but that wouldn’t stop me from living on the level that my Dad always endorsed.

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