It’s almost like when we’re grieving, we don’t want to feel happy—we’d almost rather be sad. I realize that I feel guilty for being happy some days.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to join my sons on their school field trip. The permission slip stated that we were visiting the safe house. I didn’t think anything of it. It’s to teach the children about safety…duh! Well, I was elated to go and spend that time with them.
I smiled cheek-to-cheek as I rode the school bus with my sons’ class. Heads bobbling, bodies shaking. I had the window seat. I took a deep breath, inhaling the smell of the school bus I remembered as a child growing up. I felt so young and free again. All the children were excited and couldn’t stop screaming and chattering. I guess to the average person this would have been overwhelming, but I basked in the moment. I played rock-paper- scissors, and we talked about Pokemon, Avatar, and every boy thing my son and his friends could think of.
The feelings of happiness amazed me, so I sat back and looked out the window, happy and free. I scoured the sky with my eyes and felt at peace.
The trip was so great…until I was standing with my son in front of an ambulance. The medics spoke about everything they do. Out of nowhere, it hit me like a tons of bricks as I peered over at the stretcher. All I could see was Damian lying there. All I could hear were sirens. I was so angry: are these the people who couldn’t and didn’t save him? All I could think about was blood, death, and medics scrambling to save him. I started panting, crying. I couldn’t breathe, and I felt so frustrated. Reciting this brings tears to my eyes as I type, replaying what happened. It was so unexpected, and it was so awful. It hurt so bad.
Life reminded me of my pain. Life slapped me with reality. He was gone.
I still can’t believe Damian is gone.
Eventually, I regained the strength to continue the trip. I made it through the emotional turmoil and fought to have that moment with my children. I fought my thoughts. I fought my pain. I am pain, but I can overcome it.
The sun was shining brightly. I found a spot where it beamed back at me as I felt it warm my skin. I closed my eyes and took in every moment. I inhaled the benefits of the sun, hoping to nourish my pineal gland, hoping to take in the healing energy.
Then, suddenly, I smiled. And I realized what a smile meant to me. I realized what a smile had already done in my life, and I smiled again. Over 100 years ago, French neurologist G. B. Duchenne showed the world the true meaning of a smile through his research. He concluded that smiling triggers brain activation. His studies proved that smiling creates positive emotions and deflects negative emotions. Endorphins and serotonin are released from our brain when we smile, giving us feel-good energy. Smiles impact us more than we know.
I was 19 years old, selling cell phones for Alltel, a top cellular company at the time. I’ll never forget my manager walking up to me one day and saying, “Shannon, do you realize you never smile?” “Huh?” I responded. He said, “You never smile,” as he chuckled. “You know, you could make yourself more approachable if you’d just smile.” I was processing the information, so I just nodded my head and agreed. His point of view was from a sales perspective; he was encouraging me to sell more and to invite customers my way. Hence the old saying, “A smile is contagious.” He didn’t even know what he was truly conveying at the time, and neither did I.
My manager’s name was Alex, and I’ll never forget him, because he doesn’t know how those words changed my life. I started smiling that day, and as cliché as it seems, my life truly was never the same. I never stopped smiling after that. Every person deserves a smile, and I’m always conscious of my smile. As an individual, we truly don’t know what a smile does. I share this story with many people I’ve gotten to know over the years. I’ve been in sales for years, and I excel, and someone is always reminding me that I’m always smiling. I never forget that something we view as so small has such a huge effect. My smile gives life, hope, peace, and joy to me, but more importantly, to those around me too.
I’ll never forget when I was selling furniture years later, and I approached a guest grinning from ear to ear. We shared stories, laughed, and shopped. She purchased something, and I thanked her and handed over her receipt. As I walked her to the door, she said, “I have to be honest: I truly wasn’t going to buy anything today until I saw you smiling.” That empowered me to continue to share my smile, love, and care through just a simple expression. All too often we’re consumed by our own emotions, when the easiest way to dig yourself out is to just smile.
And that I did: staring into the sky, I smiled. I dropped my head back down and enjoyed the rest of the field trip. I shared so many laughs, and we had so much fun. I returned to my seat on the bus and looked out the window, and experienced the same joyous ride back.
A smile can change your life. Allow it to help you grieve. Pick yourself up.
So the question is: have you smiled today? Go ahead, smile and mean it.