I was once called “happy-go-lucky” and it was not meant as a compliment. I’d say that happened about fifteen years ago. That verbal exchange has since, ironically, become an inside joke for those closest to me.
I think about that label a lot. Happy-go-lucky. (I enjoy a word spelled with dashes)
Does that mean I’m an optimist? Maybe it was meant to imply that I can’t be taken seriously? Maybe, being a “happy-go-lucky” person, I perceive very serious situations as not so serious? Maybe it’s all a big joke to me? Frivolous, silly, ridiculous.
After my son Noah died in a swimming pool accident a few weeks shy of two years old, I was talking to a close friend about how well it always “appeared” I was doing. I never knew I had this auto-pilot setting. The “happy-go-lucky” girl in me felt obliged to make others happy, or at least comfortable, before myself. Even in the most serious of life’s events, that was still my instinct.
I’ve always deflected with humor. Although crying is what kept me from exploding due to fluid retention, it is the bodily function that made people the most uncomfortable. Maybe they were afraid if they joined me in crying, they weren’t being supportive? Totally inaccurate. Or maybe they were afraid they’d make me feel worse? Totally impossible.
Judaism is wise when it comes to the rituals after someone has died. After Noah was buried at a graveside service with over 300 friends and family members surrounding us, the rabbi had everyone line up on either side of the path leading from the grave. My husband and I were to walk through this parting of people as a symbol of support. It is a beautiful tradition. But looking back on that moment, I even felt the need to greet everyone along the uneven bricks. I went from the most guttural of crying as I sat in a folding chair at my son’s burial to this politely smiling woman thanking everyone for being there. Of course, I was in shock. That is undeniable. But for some reason, I had the need to show them all I was okay. Which is ridiculous of course. I hugged and kissed and smiled and thanked my way through the friends that travelled so far to be there in a day’s notice. I comforted them by pretending to be anywhere remotely close to my right mind.
Noah died six years ago. We’ve since had a daughter we named Miriam that is sunshine incarnate. She just turned four. We named her Miriam after hearing “Miriam’s Song” sung in temple one Friday night. We were in the throes of grief and failed fertility treatments and hopelessness. And suddenly the happy-go-lucky version of me poked her head out and I whispered to my husband, “I like the name Miriam. If we have a girl, let’s name her Miriam, ok?”
So the label that was meant to diminish me actually is what sustains me. I never realized how “happy-go-lucky” I actually was until I needed to be. And now that character trait is what will push me through any difficult days to come until we’re done on this earth.
Of course “difficult” becomes a relative term after you lose a child. I just found out my husband may be out of a job in the very near future. We are never more than a week ahead of bills. In fact, we are always behind. Dance classes and little family getaways are pipe dreams. And yes, I find myself freaking out a little. I’m also scared, frustrated, and sad. I search for that “happy-go-lucky” girl to remind myself that it will all be ok. We’re healthy and together with a roof over our heads and food to eat. Maybe “happy-go-lucky” actually means to know what’s real and not real. And to take most of it with a heavy dose of faith and a tiny grain of salt.