Sunday, February 23, 2014

Redefining "Happily Ever After"

When my beloved and I first became an item 15 years ago, I told him that I wanted happily ever after. That led to a lot of discussions into the nature of this state. He was afraid I expected a fairy-tale romance every day when in fact I meant simply that I wanted a chance at happiness every day. Or every day happiness, with all of its irritations. Or at least the opportunity to work side-by-side and see what we could build.

For 15 years I have had that. I am very, very lucky. And I had every expectation that I would be able to continue this version of happily ever after for years to come. After all, in fairy tales happily ever after means at least for a really long time.

On January 18th that changed. My beloved was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. You can read about it here and frankly in just about every post for 2014 to date. If you want to know how he's doing go here. Now, just over a month later, the shock is wearing off and I'm beginning to think about how I manage in this new normal. What does happily ever after look like now?

I don't have a good answer for that yet.

I do have some ideas of what happily ever after is becoming. This is subject to change, of course, but it might be useful (it's at least useful to me) so here they are.

  • Ever after means something different now. Each morning I wake up and try to remind myself that I have today. None of us are really guaranteed anything beyond this breath; I am just in a position of being more aware of that than most people. Today can be a kind of happily ever after.
  • The happily part is different now. I used to take great joy in the every day pleasures - going grocery shopping together, laughing until we couldn't stand, stuff like that. Those pleasures are changing now. I'm looking for smaller grains of happiness and learning to cherish them. Holding hands. The moments of clarity through medication and pain. Watching him take a small bite of something and remembering, however briefly, that food can be good. Knowing he is finally sleeping well.
  • Happily ever after now means a different kind of work together, different problems to solve, different understandings of time. But it still exists in glimpses I will not deny.
There will certainly be times when I can't find light, but to deny what happiness there still is in this stressed, painful, uncertain place is to submit to illness too early. There is still joy. There is still a future, though it may have been redefined. There is still a kind of happily ever after.

I know this may sound like I'm denying what's happening or as if I am a pollyanna. I am not. What I am is one person, standing witness to what has been and what will be, and reminding myself that what happily ever after really means is right now. This moment. I am reminding myself that even in the dark, even when I am at my most scared and desolate, happiness can be found in difficulty and that ever after is all any of us ever have.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. Dear dear good friends, what a shock to stumble via LinkedIn on your news a month ago. I regularly think of you both with love and such joy to count you as friends. Much much has happened, this seems such an important time to catch up with you.. Like my frail mother's illness last year, and my brother who was diagnosed with cancer about 8 months ago probably now only has 1 or 2 weeks left of his journey. Let's connect on skype, with love, Paul Rankin

    1. Dearest Paul,
      We'd love to talk. email good times. xoxoxo

  2. Laura, I thought you had to be 103 to be so wise. You find your happiness hiding in a smile, in the song on the radio, in the warm embrace of your beloved's hand. Hopefully a tiny bit of happiness sneaks in around the edges with the emails and phone calls and cards and well wishes sent your way. When I think of you and Kevin I smile just for today and call my self lucky just for today to have two such wonderful friends in this big old world. Buckets of love to you both, and a tiny fart joke tied to a purple balloon.

    1. I fake it so well, dear friend. Really I'm writing what I want to be feeling, not what I usually am feeling. xoxoxo

  3. Laura, your wisdom takes my breath away. You are absolutely right - happily is being together through what ever comes your way - feeling the love you have with each other. Blessings.

    1. I won't let this &@($&^%)@!) disease take away the glimpses of light. Writing this was reminding myself of that in the midst of a hard day. I wouldn't trade one day with him away, even the hardest ones. Even if sometimes all I want ot do is run away.

  4. Ahhh my love, when I saw this pop up on Facebook I was admittedly a leeeetle scared. I love you both so hard & just as I don't want to believe Kevin is sick I don't want imagine you are hurting (yup picture me hands over my ears lalala) but of course you are. But you are right your happily ever after begins anew each day (right because each tomorrow is the after of today?) so you'll have tons of happily ever afters :-)

    And I don't know if this will help or not but it was the wise wisdom of my mom (um who wasn't always so wise and probably not in this case but I liked the way she looked at the world for this and maybe it can help you reframe? She did after all "collect" you as one of her own - she always collected never adopted because she knew people had families of their own)

    When an old friend had come to see her post diagnosis, they walked in with the "cancer face" and she greeted them with "ohhh hi Amy dear, if I'd have known I'd get to see all my old friends I'd have done this years ago" again probably not too bright but she sure had a way of spinning it to the silver lining... I hope that that silver lining can follow you around!

    I love you more than I can describe


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