Happiness or Contentment

After trauma and loss, can you find your happy again?

I just got back from therapy. I started going back to therapy shortly after Tom died. At first it was weekly, then every two weeks, and now it is monthly. I don’t want to be stuck in the grief or have the trauma of caregiving complicate things. I know me, sitting in grief is a comfortable place. I did it after Tom and I lost our twin daughters and again after our son. Tom knew me too. During the ALS years, Tom and I would talk about what life would be like after he passed. He was adamant that his wish was to have me learn to live and be happy again and not get stuck in grief. Today the conversation of working through the trauma of caregiving and losing my husband with the therapist expanded on a conversation I had with my friend Mary during one of our podcasts. We spoke about being broken and how do you come back after such an incredible loss. Can you come back and be happy or do you understand that happy may not happen and you become content with your new life? My discussions with Mary for our podcast has been very helpful as I move through this side of ALS. In the moment, I don’t know if I will ever be truly happy again. The kind of happy you are when you are in your love bubble and the world’s problems seem so far away, because it takes a lot to penetrate that bubble. I was the kind of happy that while I knew and had experienced bad things, my love bubble was intact. I had my amazing husband and my amazing son. Until I didn’t. Tom’s ALS was the one thing that popped that bubble and my perception of things.

When we lost the twins, it happened to us, and we had each other to lean on. When ALS entered, it happened to us and we had each other to lean on. When Tom died, it happened to us, and I was alone. My happy was gone. My soul, like our love bubble had been pierced. How do you come back from that? How do you find that kind of happy again? Do you become content with life or do you learn to be happy again? To be honest, being content doesn’t seem like a good way to honor my husband. Especially when we had those conversations about learning to live again. Am I letting him down or myself? At 13 months post loss, the incredible emptiness of his absence is still so intense. I am talking about the happiness you have in life in general. Happiness that you find in being alone or in a crowd. The idea of being able to honestly say, I am a happy person. I used to be that kind of person, but these days that is not exactly how I would describe myself. I wonder if I had my happy and I should be content with just being content.

As you can see, there is a lot to work through. I didn’t just lose my wonderful husband and best friend. I am the product of what intense caregiving leaves behind. It’s called trauma. As a society, we don’t talk about this. The narrative is that family caregivers give of themselves, they are selfless for caring for their loved one. Do we think about the unintended consequence of what that caregiving does to the caregiver? Do we even speak of it? I think the answer is yes, we talk about it. If we tell our story, the good, bad and ugly maybe we can normalize these big feelings. We will all be touched by death and some of those deaths will be so monumental they will change you to your core. When that happens, know it is okay to tell your story. It will be how we work through the trauma and grief. Maybe we will find that working through these things will show us that while contentment is perfectly acceptable, maybe we will find we want to find a new happiness. I look forward to that day.

Working on finding my happy again,


NOTE: While it is only the person that is diagnosed with ALS, and they alone must battle the actual disease, ALS is still a family disease. There are two sides to that terminal illness coin. The person with the disease, and the family that steps in, steps up and experiences every second of the disease with them, and it is the family that is left to pick up the pieces after the loved one has passed.

2 thoughts on “Happiness or Contentment

  1. DiAnne Craig

    Hi Laura, this is DiAnne Craig, Tom was my boss at various times I was with the agency. The entire time I worked for the state he alone was the mentor I counted on. The insanity of the agency at times, and the struggles we had to deal with to keep the TDCJ machine working as best we could.

    I don’t know if you knew, when I moved back to Texas and got my old job back, my husband couldn’t be here when I closed on our new home here in Willis. So, I asked Tom to come do the walk through before I closed on the house and stand in for my husband. He did just that. He even showed up with an electrical tester to check the outlets. He was the BEST boss ever. Kind, firm, fair, consistent, and expected the best of everyone. He led by example. I remember trying to reach out to him after he was diagnosed, and I never got to talk to him. I was able to send him an email/or message. I kept up with how he was doing because of your posts, stayed in contact with Jennifer Robinson and Michelle Shelton, (who has now joined Tom another gone too soon). They always had the latest updates. I just want to say, my heart goes out to you, and Trey, I can’t begin to imagine the pain you all experienced and continue to endure.

    I do believe that Tom would absolutely encouraging you find your happy again…and to do it because it would bring him the most joy knowing you are happy. I don’t believe there is not a timeframe for grief. I am not sure I even agree anymore the “Five Stages” of grief are helpful. I never seemed to go through the textbook “stages”. I don’t know if grief can ever be “resolved”, and I have found happiness did begin to come back when I made the choice to go find it. Even if it is was only for a fleeting moment. And the more I focused on choosing happiness, finding moments of joy, I was able to build on that. It took time…and then more time.

    I admire your courage, willingness to share your pain. You may not realize just how many you help with your blog. Tom was a great boss, great friend, and an even better human than most I have ever met. I can still see him with a pack of twizzlers sitting at his desk and thinking, this man is going to run this agency one day. And had ALS not shown up, he would have been the best executive director of the entire state! My prayers for you…and those prayers are you honor Toms suggestion and go for the JOY….little pieces each day. I am sure he would love that! I know he adored you and his son…. y’all are the apple of his eye!! He was a happy man…. he made a differnce in each life he touched. He is missed….I too wish I could just call him somedays for advise. He was a great listener…and offered some great life skills….one of the best teachers ever!

    Take care of yourself, Hugs, DiAnne Craig

  2. Sara

    Thanks for sharing. I think working with a professional is better than friends or family— no matter how good they are at listening.

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