A performance of Handel’s Messiah lasts two hours. Toward the middle, a line grabs your heart and squeezes hard: “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” The restraint with which Isaiah describes the sorrow of the coming Messiah makes the poignancy painful. Acquainted with grief.
Where is happiness in this tableau? I asked my friend Marta, whose husband, Richard, died of Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) three years ago. Her insights shed light on what faith, hope, and love look like when it’s toughest and how being “acquainted with grief” doesn’t mean being overcome by it:
“Happiness can seem so out of reach when you’re just trying to cope with what life throws at you,” Marta said. “You can’t cut through the sadness of the depression – happiness wouldn’t do any good…you may achieve some happiness, but then something else gets thrown at you.
“When Richard was dying,” she continued, “I tried to keep life as normal as possible day by day — or hour by hour. You find your happiness in little increments, for example when I was reading Auntie Mame to him – he only wanted funny books – and we’d laugh so hard. That was our hour of ‘happiness’ every day.
“Our daughter said that amidst the sadness, Poppy’s dying had brought us so much closer together. She realized how much we loved each other and that we have to show it and say it before the person is gone. That’s happiness right there. It’s not your whoop-di-doo times. It’s all these moments of enlightenment that you get while you’re coping.
“I’ve learned after being dealt this crappy hand the last few years that you have to do something. You can’t just roll yourself into a little ball and die. You have to realize that life is still good – life is good…. I’m surrounded by interesting things. There’s so much you can still learn. You don’t just stop – you’re still here!”