I can remember the exact moment in time I felt happy – true joy – again. I’d been afraid to embrace what was left of my life out of fear that it meant I was forgetting.

Forgetting that at just one year into my marriage, I was burying my spouse. Forgetting the man who I’d spent a third of my life loving. Forgetting the soul-crushing news delivered as I sat in the parking lot after church: your husband has died.

I was walking by the mirror in my bathroom and I danced. I stopped, ashamed that I’d momentarily forgotten my hurt, my pain, my sorrow, my grieving. Saddened that I dared enjoy the moment for what it was: immense joy. There was nothing really dance-worthy going on in my life so I knew my happy dance came from a place of joy.

I often hear from those in the widowed community that I’m not alone in being flooded with guilt when those first bursts of happiness appear. That guilt often sends us into a tailspin of additional sadness, threatening to derail any healing we’ve made thus far. But I’d like to encourage us all to push through the guilt.

You don’t earn additional widow stripes for fighting happiness. The widow police won’t show up at your door to revoke your wish-you-never-had-it-in-the-first-place widow card. There are no brownie points for remaining in this dark place of sorrow.

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Grief is as unique as the individual experiencing it. I certainly understand that. But for the widow, who is right on the cusp of a breakthrough in her healing and is afraid to embrace her happiness out of fear that others may think it’s too soon…that she may think it’s too soon…JUMP!

You know the fragility of life and the importance of living each day to its fullest. Go get your happy! Whether it’s starting a new career, traveling, buying a new house or something as simple as accepting a friend’s invitation to go dancing, do it.

But you lost a spouse. You’re hurting. You’re angry. And, those are all phases of grief that you may need to experience as you get to that place of healing. But I’d be a liar if I didn’t say that I see some in our community who seem to relish this dark place. They shutter the shades of life at the mere thought of happiness and often lash out at other widows for seeking the light.

You don’t love your spouse any more than a fellow widow by remaining angry. You don’t show you’re so much more widowed than a peer by thumbing your nose up when dating is discussed. Your hurt is no greater because you choose to remain in your widow funk and damn the rest of the world to hell.

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The widow who seeks out happiness again – despite the pain, the fear and the uncertainty – is just as committed to her husband’s memory and legacy. She doesn’t forget by simply living her life.

My widow sister Nancy – who is hardly ever without a smile – had this to say about her journey post-loss.

It took 29 months for a real smile to finally emerge on my face and I’m so happy it is there most days. We have our moments, days and weeks but in the end, we survive the hardest of hardest days. I get up every single day and I laugh, I sing and sometimes I dance. I am allowed to be happy again; he would want me happy. I will never replace him, as he is irreplaceable. He was a “one of a kind” but I am happy again in different ways that my life is shaping”.

Happiness is a choice. There is no shame in being the widow who wants to be happy. Who wants to love again. Who wants to create new memories for her children while preserving the love she has for her husband, their father. Who wants to get back in shape. Who wants to move from the house she shared with her late spouse. Who wants a new career path. Who wants to live despite widowhood.

Mom to a feisty preschooler, Kerry Phillips became widowed at age 32. She runs an online support group for young widows and widowers venturing back into the world of dating and is a blogger for The Huffington Post.

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