Happiness within misfortune

For some people their lives go by with ups and downs, but they are essentially happy from childhood to later life.  Friends, family, work and also their love lives combine to form a positive vital and chronological whole in which bad times, those that there are, remain eclipsed by the happiness experienced.  This is how my life has been for 75 years, during which I enjoyed a happy childhood, an uneventful adolescence, a settled adulthood and satisfactory work, all of which was crowned by meeting Carmen at University, who would later become my wife and the mother of my two children. All told, 48 happy years together in which, as well as excellent communication, we shared joys, plans, a few uncertainties that I can barely even remember, and all this as a whole gave us a happy life.

When this life was at its very peak, in later life when all the sharp edges have been worn away, when retirement offers freedom without the responsibilities of education, as this is provided to the grandchildren by the children, who we in turn educated, those grandchildren who are such a boon to happiness, however at that precise moment, without any preamble, misfortune strikes. Just when you have made the most plans with which to add the finishing touches to a happy life, everything crumbles around you with the appearance of Alzheimer’s. When you notice a slight forgetfulness in your loved one that then becomes significant, anxiety in the face of the first time they get lost in town, incoherence during conversation, incontinence etc., everything collapses around you, the plans with which to crown a happy life are over and a new stage begins for which you are ill-prepared. The suffering, feeling of guilt and sadness become inseparable companions. When you have spent months experiencing these sensations, you begin to reflect and to approach things differently, within your misfortune you realise that the world isn’t going to end, that it shouldn’t end, that simply a new and final stage has begun, an unwanted one, but one which must be gone through, and that you must not let yourself be consumed by despair. Much strength is required for this and you feel as though something inside you is pushing you onwards and renewing the inner strength you thought lost, adding to this is the lost gaze of your loved one who is no longer there, who no longer exists, her smile dimmed, the contact of her hand, a gentle embrace in which you notice her body close to yours and an almost furtive kiss, like when we were young.

The sensations all this produces are new and lead to a new happiness, different to the life you previously lived, but happiness nonetheless. The feeling of guilt from having taken her to a care home disappears, you accept she is no longer the woman you married; she is a different human being who inspires in you great tenderness and a new kind of love. You are happy taking her out for a walk and strolling hand in hand, having a drink and seeing how happy it makes her, you even notice how she wants you with her when you speak with someone else, as if she were jealous and didn’t want to lose you. Seeing how she reacts when you go and visit her, she probably doesn’t recognise you, but she does recognise in you someone who gives her affection, kindness, protection and tenderness, which makes her smile faintly.  All this softens the misfortune and you get hopeful every afternoon and you begin, even though it seems contradictory, to experience a different type of happiness and love. You return home alone, but the loneliness no longer buries you, it no longer depresses you, there is sadness but it is different now, it is no longer devastating and deep down you are longing for the time to come when you can see her again to experience that new sensation. Being with her is no longer a burden, it is no longer an effort, it is a new romance, it is a new sensation of love which reawakens feelings you thought had long gone.  Deep down you feel happy and joyous, it is happiness within misfortune.

Manuel Costa

Valencia, Spain