Shelly Hickman

Ramblings and Whatnot

Life and Happiness After Loss


Twenty years ago today, I lost my daughter Sydney to leukemia. The night before she died, she had slept between her dad and me, and the memory of waking the next morning to discover she was gone will forever be etched in my mind. While many interactions and events from that time in my life remain blurry, I can so easily revisit the pain and heartache of that moment. It was almost as if I had died with her because when I bring that scene to mind, I see it as a spectator, like I was floating outside my body, as we often hear in descriptions of near death experiences.
It seems unreal that twenty years have passed since that morning. For some time I couldn’t conceive how I would ever be happy again after losing her. It just didn’t seem possible. Or even right.
But one day – I don’t remember exactly when it happened – I realized I was happy. And it was okay to be happy.
My family is no stranger to tragic loss. Last summer we lost my dad to suicide. After Sydney died, I knew in my heart that it didn’t exempt us from further tragedy. Life is full of grief. It’s just part of it, and I am still working out the grief from the loss of my dad, as I know is my mom, my husband, and my kids. There is no moving past grief or getting over it. Ever. You just have to move through it, and until you do, you’re not doing yourself any favors.
I once listened to a podcast with author Elizabeth Gilbert, who lost her partner to cancer. Elizabeth was her partner’s care giver up until her death, and she described the experience as excruciating, heart wrenching, but also beautiful in its own way. She said she wouldn’t have had it any other way because things happened just as they should have.
Elizabeth is far more evolved than me. I don’t find loss beautiful. I agree that it has a way of making you more appreciative and more aware of all that’s good in this world, but I would much rather have seen Sydney grow into adulthood and have a long and fulfilling life. And while we all know the odds are good that our parents will go before us, I would have preferred that my dad left this earth in a far less traumatic way.
But we don’t get to choose. Shit happens. Life happens.
Twenty years ago, if someone had told me I would find happiness again, I would have nodded appreciatively while silently spewing a few choice words their way. But they would have been right. I have a husband of thirty years I love dearly, who has been my rock through good times and bad. I have two thoughtful, smart, and funny kids who have grown into amazing adults and make me proud every day. And more recently, a sweet and sassy future daughter-in-law, and a grandbaby who brings me more joy than I can express. I will miss and grieve my daughter and my father the rest of my days, but my life is good.
So, I guess this post is for those who are grieving and wondering if they can ever be happy again. I’m here to say that you most certainly can. I know that right now it seems out of the realm of possibility. I’ve been in that deep, dark pit you’re convinced you will never escape. At times you will believe the pain is more than you can physically bear.
But one day – you won’t remember exactly when it happened – you will realize you are happy. And it is okay to be happy.

Happy heavenly birthday, my sweet Sydney Bean.

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About Me

Las Vegas native, Computer Science teacher, and writer (when the mood strikes). Author of five novels – mostly romantic comedies – available on Amazon and Audible.


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