Joie de Vivre?

I was questioning “who I am” and “what’s my nature” in my last. But look at the language – who’s the I that wants to know, and who is it she thinks she needs to know? Am I one, or am I two? More likely I’m four or eight or 73 because what what I think and what I feel seems to shift so often. So is THAT who I am, the sum of what I think and feel?

I don’t fucking know. When I’m focused, like when I’m writing, or when I’m at work, I don’t sit around pondering. I’m just doing what I’m doing. And when grief and sorrow grip me by the throat, I choke. When they loosen, I breathe easier. And the moments are as they are.

But then I’m home and gone’s the distraction between me Philip’s death, me and Natalie’s moving, me and what-all I think is wrong with me. I can’t figure out something I’m needing to know – how to live with all that’s wrong, because of course there’s something wrong. Living means suffering. Not every moment; there is nothing that’s every moment. Except if we back it up and look around at the wide world then yes, someone is suffering every moment, suffering in ways we couldn’t pretend to understand. If I take that, add to it the way life’s felt to me since I can long remember, then mix Philip’s death into it all, I find myself asking, what the fuck? Why the insistence that it’s better to be, or to have been? Sure, I can personalize it – better for me that Philip was, that Natalie is. But better for me to be? Why? And before anyone’s too appalled to keep reading, why is even asking the question enough to create revulsion and a surety that the asker is too far south of sane to be acknowledged as anything other than in deep need of help? Understand I’m not asking why it’s better to live than to commit suicide. Suicide’s not part of this equation. What I’m asking is why is it assumed that it’s better to have been than to have never been? And why, since we know we’re going to die (do we? really?) do we spend no time pondering what that means and instead equate success with how many more years medical advances give us to live? Staving off the inevitable doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

And if we went so far as to end natural death – which seems to be the goal – what would we be left with? A planet that couldn’t sustain all of us, run by a powerful elite who’d do the choosing that life/god/nature used to do for us. If you think life’s not fair now, spend a few minutes contemplating that scenario.

This is not the post I meant to write. I started to write about the way I judge myself by the amount of friends I don’t have and the lack of  traveling and other experiences which I should, by my age, have had. At 56, I should have a better life resume. It’s an old trope, one that’s gotten worse since I put myself on Match. Match is a compilation of people advertising themselves. I’ve spent some time reading through profiles, and it’s exhausting. Who’s sailed the world, climbed mountains, eaten exotic food, taught yoga in the Andes, completed multiple triathlons (all at the same time!), while running one of the largest corporations in the world – does anyone out there breathe? Are these the things that matter – who’s done the most and with who and how many ?

That’s when I start with, “What the hell do I have to offer anyone?” This is, for Chrissake. I’m supposed to “match” the joie de vivre of every other profile, of everyone who’s just lovin’ life and wantin’ more and wantin’ some special someone to do their wantin’ with. I am not that girl. Who’d want someone who hasn’t accumulated the totally awesome experiences that everyone else my age seems to have accumulated? Reading the profiles on Match, I’m sure there’s a big fucking party going  on somewhere that I most definitely have not been invited to.

Understand this is not a thing. Match only brought it to the surface. These are some of the things I’ve suffered about for years, these are things I can’t seem to figure out. Am I supposed to change, to be gregarious and extroverted? Like that’s better than what’s so? Is any of this my nature? Do I accept, do I resist? My life is what it is. Am I seriously going to decide what I’m worth based on how many times I’ve gotten on an airplane?

Here are the facts:

I don’t have a large group of friends. I have several close friends, none who know each other. The only group I have any connection with is my writing group – and while I know it’d be good for me to get back there, I’ve gone exactly twice since Philip died. I haven’t traveled a lot. I’ve been to Italy once, I’ve been to parts of the U.S. I don’t climb mountains or jump out of airplanes. I don’t play sports, I don’t exercise regularly. I do NOT follow politics. I’d rather read in my living room than on the beach, and I’d rather write more than anything. The rest of it is story, and since I’ve yet to meet a happy ending that felt real, you can bet your ass you won’t find one here, either.

How’s that sound for a profile??

Then there’s this. I know a couple – let’s call them X and Y – who have a lot of money and who are very socially active. And I love ‘em – they’re not pretentious, nor are they boring. They’re two really good people with lives utterly different from mine. More normal, I think – and I don’t mean because I’ve lost a child and they haven’t. They just seem mostly happy, have lots of friends, have careers, have combined and separate interests and they really like each other.

So this weekend, Fourth of July. They were going to the beach, they were having a houseful of people. I mean, it’s a holiday – isn’t that what people do? Me – I woke up Friday relieved to have a whole day of nothing to do so I could putter around my apartment. Yesterday I managed to get myself out for a couple hours in the morning to sit with some friends at a table in the local Farmer’s Market. Then I spent two and a half hours with my grief counselor. Today I was supposed to have dinner with Kirsten, who’s now sick. No worries. I’ve been in all day and now I’ll be in through the night. And I can’t figure out why I feel like something’s wrong with me because I’m not with a houseful of people when that’s the exact last thing I’d want to be doing anyway.

I’ve already mentioned this, but it bears repeating. Decades ago, when I was in my 20s, I’d gone to meet my friend Gerard on St. Mark’s Place, in the health food store where he worked. He introduced me to a friend of his, and we chatted for a few minutes while waiting for Gerard to close up. After we spoke – and we weren’t speaking in any particular depth – she told me this was going to be a life of spiritual awakening for me. I was thrilled. I imagined that meant some great path to peace was going to make itself known to me and when it did, well…finally, I’d be happy, I’d walk through this world in a different way.

So time has come, and yes – I do walk through the world in a different way. The big secret is it’s not about being happy. It’s about facing death. And far worse than facing my own, is facing Philip’s. This is what I lose sight of when I’m wondering about all the parties that I’m not invited to, or why I don’t want to hang out at the beach, or what’s the exact number of friends I have or what the word “friend” really means. Truth is I have the same distaste as Phillip Lopate for what he calls, “…the spectacle of joie de vivre, the knack of knowing how to live…the stylization of this private condition into a bullying social ritual.”

I’m getting damn sick of my own song. Maybe instead of questioning my worth based on my age and the amount of things I’ve not done, I’ll question what I could possibly want from someone at any age who still thinks those are things that matter.

© 2014 Denise Smyth


28 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stephanie Lemner
    Jul 06, 2014 @ 18:32:29

    Want to be your friend for all of those reasons, and more. You are authentically you, all those perfect imperfections just seem so real, in places that seem so false, so fake all the time. Have a Grand time in your living room.


    • Denise
      Jul 06, 2014 @ 20:23:44

      I’m going to cry. I hit “publish” and thought, my God, what an awful, angry person I am, what does all that sound like?. Then here you are, saying the kindest things – so thank you and since I can’t really hug you I’m sending you one anyway.

      Oh, did I say thank you? ;o)


  2. tric
    Jul 06, 2014 @ 18:35:24

    Life can feel so lonely at times especially when we think others are having a good time. Thankfully you have wordpress!


    • Denise
      Jul 06, 2014 @ 20:27:36

      Yes – and there are so many people struggling with so many things, and there are people who’ve overcome what they’ve been suffering and inspire the rest of us; and people like you, who often make us laugh ;o)


  3. behindthemask
    Jul 06, 2014 @ 19:34:55

    You know you sound a lot like me. I’d rather be home and not around people too. Add in I just lost some of my closest friends. It’s been a awful week. Sending you hugs. You’re fine just the way you are. xo


    • Denise
      Jul 06, 2014 @ 20:26:05

      You know, it was really hard reading what you wrote about your friends. I don’t know why I’m so protective of you…and I can’t do anything but feel it. I’m so sorry you went through that – sending you love and hugs right back. xoxoxo


      • behindthemask
        Jul 06, 2014 @ 20:44:32

        Thank you so much. Did you see the password protected one? If not and you want too I can send you the password. I also have something else I want to share with you.

        Hubby and I made one last effort today to at very least end on a less volatile note with our former friends. They refuse to talk to me. He will only text with Hubby.

    • Denise
      Jul 06, 2014 @ 20:56:47

      I did not see the password protected one. Can you send me the password? I just don’t understand, Zoe; what I most don’t understand is how they’re more angry at you than hubby.

      Sounds like hubby’s a gem, Zoe. For that I am glad ;o)


      • behindthemask
        Jul 06, 2014 @ 23:22:29

        It’s one hot mess that’s for sure. I don’t understand when they’re angry at me why they won’t talk to me about it either. I think I’m just a scape goat really for all that’s wrong in their family situation. Can you pass along your email again? I’m sorry to have to ask.

    • Denise
      Jul 07, 2014 @ 05:54:06


    Jul 06, 2014 @ 22:02:18

    Denise, I want to thank you for your writings. You express, what I have felt and been wanting to say. You say it , in a way, that I feel your pain and it leads me to think about how I can get through. My son Greg, at 21, took his life on Feb. 23. 2013. 5 days after his 21st birthday, He was in his junior year of college in NY , Brilliant, funny, so loving to all.. my only child and my pride and joy. We were best friends, my movie partner, and we had a beautiful relationship. He was bipolar and they switched his meds, that week , Gave him a double dose of a new medicine and he jumped into Niagara Falls. I feel as if , I went with him. Life has very little meaning to me. I just want him back and I am angry. I sit at home and really have no close family. My sister died at 21 also. Greg should of graduated this past spring from college and I could not wait to see that day. The day came but not with Greg apart of it. Just wanted to say, I am with you … struggling and grieving . We all grieve differently and have different journeys Thank you for taking the time to share your heart.



    • Denise
      Jul 06, 2014 @ 22:31:06

      Oh, Judy – do you realize they both died on February 23rd, but one year apart? There is a special hell for parents who lose a child and I think that hell goes even deeper if they’ve made their own decision not to live any more. I am so sorry you have to live with this – what can I say to you? There isn’t the language. I keep saying that before Philip died, I’d already used words like grief and anger and despair. But now I’ve got these feelings I’ve never felt before, and those words just don’t capture it. But all of us who’ve lost a child – we know what each others’ silences are saying. And I keep trying to put words on all of this because it’s all I know to do to keep some form of sanity.

      I hope you keep reading, I hope you find other blogs that will make you see how shockingly often parents lose their children. But I do know the isolation of it, because yes, I can find people whose children have died, but none of them lost Philip – and none of them lost Greg. These are our very own terrible losses.

      I’m here if you need anything, if you want someone to talk to. My email (which I think is public anyway) is if you want to write. IF. I’m just saying that so you know I’m out here thinking about you.


  5. daveallen
    Jul 06, 2014 @ 22:10:21

    I just had four days off. My big accomplishments were sleeping in till 11, and watering the plants. If I get real ambitious next weekend, I’m going to lay on the couch with a bottle of win and a book for 48 hours. Life is what you choose for it to be, not what others think it should be. Your writing says more about you than climbing a hundred mountains.


    • Denise
      Jul 06, 2014 @ 22:36:09

      Oh shit – I forgot to water the plants! ;o)

      Thank you – you’d think I’d know by now it’s MY life and MY choice how to live it. And much as I’m loving work and loving the interesting busy-ness of it, I need time off and time alone. I am grieving and that’s as much a part of my life as anything. MORE of my life than anything. I need time to sit with it; I need unplanned days so I can breathe.


  6. normalisboringsoiheard
    Jul 07, 2014 @ 14:21:23

    Dating websites! I think a lot of people (not all) have a loosely based on actually events of their life account as their bio, and a glamour shot photo, taken a few years back! 😱

    I like your post today. It’s very real, it was very NO EXCUSES, it was a blunt reminder, I need to be me, and not compare myself to other people. I need to be more secure with who I am, The good, bad, ugly and horrifying, I own all of it, and I (try to) handle it as gracefully as I can, with the people who love me in it. Oh and one ex husband I can’t get rid of. As I said, the horrifying. So thank you!!

    Have a wonderful week!!



    • Denise
      Jul 07, 2014 @ 19:38:04

      It was really a relief this weekend to just do what I wanted. What’s with the comparing? If I don’t have down time I can’t breathe. I continue to have this “idea” about other people’s lives and how they’re better than mine. It’s a story – sometimes I just want to tell myself “SHUT UP AND LET ME BE!”

      And you, too, enjoy your week. ;o)


  7. lensgirl53
    Jul 07, 2014 @ 14:32:26

    Denise, count me among your friends. It is sad not to have friends. I do not have many. There were so many before our son died and then poofff….like my son, they were gone. As you say, WTF!!! I don’t even have many on my blog. I would suppose that the unhappiness of my posts are the reason for the virtual and the internet isolation….so to speak. I don’t know. I hate Facebook and I belong to a unique group of people who do not belong. 😉

    Grief is…it just is and it hurts and sucks and it is everything awful for what seems like a long time. We need others to lean on and yet, there are not that many who give a damn. The world is selfish and uncaring. It will not allow for our grief to intrude on what will be its own short term happiness. As for those folks, they are just as unhappy and lonely..why else would they be there, too? Like many a resume, the facts have been inflated with high expectations that will only lead to a big let down in reality. I hope you can breathe on your own for a while…and then perhaps when the time is right that “special someone” will come charging into your life like the white knights of old. There is a someone out there who is not about the mountains but who knows how to traverse the valleys….that is the kind of person who is worth the wait. xoxo


    • Denise
      Jul 07, 2014 @ 19:45:29

      I think that’s one of the lessons of this – I don’t want to work at finding a guy. I don’t even know what I want when it comes to that. I don’t sit around and miss having someone around. But I think it would be good for me to meet the right someone; and at the moment I’m going to do as you suggest – breathe and let it be. And I swear, Dale – Philip is protecting me. I feel it. If it’s right, he’ll let me know.

      I keep reminding myself I am who I am. And you, too – we are in a special hell. There are people to help, but something broke inside us that no one can deal with but us. God that feels so lonely. Philip helps – sometimes, though, I won’t let him. Sometimes I’m just so mad.

      Yes, Dale, we are friends. And I say that with love and gratitude. xoxoxoxo


  8. deeincollingo
    Jul 07, 2014 @ 14:33:09

    Denise, I am learning it’s more important to be authentic than to say what others want to hear. I am grieving too and always appreciate your raw honesty.


    • Denise
      Jul 07, 2014 @ 19:48:46

      Thank you, Dee. When I write, I’m right there. Me, just as I am. Walking through the world it gets harder. As I just wrote, sometimes I tell that freakin’ voice in my head, “WILL YOU PLEASE SHUT UP AND LET ME ALONE!” What’s it matter the way anyone else lives? I’m looking at what they do and making up some glamorous story about it. And all that does is keep me stuck. It’s me i need to pay attention to, not the fantasy of some better life that can’t possibly exist.


  9. Lucia Maya
    Jul 08, 2014 @ 05:01:52

    Love this. The older I get, the more I accept myself as I am, an introvert, not up for a big adventure (though others think I have courage – I think I just do what I want…).

    I’ve never liked parties, and I like to be alone, but I also love people. So now, I like to meet people like this! I like getting to know you, care about your life, love you and cry with you…and it’s ok that we don’t meet or hang out. It works.
    And you are more than ok. I think you’ll really like yourself soon…


    • Denise
      Jul 11, 2014 @ 17:52:04

      Ya think? I don’t know…

      How is Hawaii? I’ve your two last post in my email, waiting to be read. I’ve been crazy busy at work, and I want to read them over the weekend when I can take a breath and take them in.

      I so pictured you the opposite…I actually felt better that you wrote that. Like, wow – I really am in good company ;o)

      So much love to you, and I’ll comment over the weekend. Til then… xoxoxoxo


  10. Rose
    Jul 09, 2014 @ 13:28:28


    You are soooo gooooood with words, that I just want to copy and paste what you write and say: this is also who I’m!

    And I have had the chance to find this out the hard way. I’m the opposite of you. I’m very friendly, my house is always full, a know tons of people, and I love to engage in all sorts of activities. However, that does not mean I am extremely happy. That means I’m lost, and I’m looking for something or somewhere that will make me happy. However, at the end of the day the only way we will ever find this happiness is if we give a chance to the one we know the deepest, ourselfs. I can be surrounded by zillions of people, and I can say that perhaps if I’m lucky enough 1 or 2 among the huge group of people I know are really my friends. Most of the time, I go through my problems, and find a solution for them by myself.

    Unfortunately, the world is changing and is changing to fast. Some values are been lost with this change, and one of the values that we are losing is to appreciate people for WHO they are internally, NOT what they want to show to society or WHAT they have.

    We don’t stop to listen to one another anymore. If I tell someone, hey I’m not happy, something is not right inside of me, nobody will pay much attention to my cry. However, if I say hey I went to watch the world cup in Brasil and it was awesome, a lot of these people surrounding me will want to stop to listen to my history.

    It took me a long time to realize that. It also hurt me a lot, specially because I know I’m not like that. When someone tells me they are not doing ok, I want to know what could possibly be hurting them. I want to sit down next to them and hold their hands and look into their eyes and say let’s talk, and I’m all ears for you.

    But, this fast pace, changing world is not allowing us to do much of that anymore. So, don’t feel guilty, sorry, pitty for yourself, or assume there is anything wrong with you, because there isn’t. You are actually right. They are actually moving away from whom they really are to become something the world want them to be.

    It’s sad that we are not that far away from each other, but we still can’t manage to sit down, hold each others hands and just talk or listen to one another.




    • Denise
      Jul 11, 2014 @ 17:49:19

      First, thank you for your kind words. Second – HOW ARE YOU? I remember what was going on when we were in touch last. I’ve been thinking about you – if you have time, maybe you could email me and let me know how you’re doing…how you’re REALLY doing.

      So, so good to hear from you…


  11. Richard Meyer
    Jul 10, 2014 @ 16:27:24

    Hi Denise, I came across your blog via Facebook. We have a mutual friend, Rebecca Bergstrom. I was a member of Same thing as The only thing missing in their profiles was winning the Pulitzer or Noble prize. Don’t feel bad. As with your writing, photography is my passion. If you would like to friend me on FB, you can see my images. They are kinda unusual.
    Richard Meyer


    • Denise
      Jul 11, 2014 @ 17:54:26

      Ha ha ha on the Dharmamatch comment ;o)

      I would very much like to friend you. I’ll be in touch over the weekend – I very much want to see your photos.


  12. grahamforeverinmyheart
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 20:43:17

    I’ve been thinking about you lately. I’ve been listening to Longing and Belonging: The Complete John O’Donohue Audio Collection ( It’s beautiful and I think you would like it. Lots to think about. Very soothing.
    You have many friends, they’re just out here in the ether (like me). Those of us who live in this special hell can’t fit into the usual friendships any more. It doesn’t work, unless we’re being fake. There aren’t many people who are up for the challenge of accepting who we have become. If you have a few close friends, then I envy you. I have pushed so many people away because I hate to spread my misery around and it’s difficult to watch others enjoy what I have lost.
    Your writing reaches out and connects to so many people on a REAL level, unlike so much fluff that goes on in the name of people’s social lives.


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