At the close of a difficult 2012, a good friend of mine sent out holiday greeting cards with the following quote from Dr. Seuss in his message: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” In our end-of-life work, which is so much about supporting family members of patients as they grieve, and supporting our fellow staff members as they work through their own losses or react to the death of a patient, this bittersweet quote has special significance.
What strikes me about it first is its emphasis that something is finished. A death has occurred, but also a relationship has ended. Many years after a death, there may still be crying because, indeed, a relationship is over and the deceased person is desperately missed. In his second sentence, Dr. Seuss gives us a message of hope…that we can, someday, get to a place of happiness and joy about what we once had but is no more.
But, there is a chasm between this quote’s two sentences. Thankfully, our human nature is to build a bridge over that chasm, because we need to cry over our losses…and we deserve to feel happiness about what used to be. As we all know, we often feel both sides of the bridge simultaneously, or we are rushing back and forth across the bridge in feeling happy and then sad again about the death or loss. We can hope that eventually, after much bridge crisscrossing, we will spend more time on the side of the bridge where we are smiling because it happened.