He would have wanted you to be happy.
I have encountered variations of this phrase over and over, through the years. I've observed it from afar, spoken at funerals, in movies. Sometimes it comes out of the mouths of the bereaved themselves, a grief catch-phrase used to describe the coaxing required to go on with life. It seems to be presumed that there is some comfort in this idea that the deceased would (want to) propel the bereaved beyond their grief..., to an existence where happiness resumes as dominant.
I can see how, at a surface level, this thinking appears to provide some encouragement for the bereaved. Particularly if the death in question happened according to the natural order of things, where grandparents precede parents, who precede children, in death. I think most people would agree it's realistic to assume that the former generation would hope for their children and grandchildren to be happy, even in their absence. The bereaved might actually be able to visualize the words coming from the lips of the deceased, may have even heard him/her impart this notion at one point, before or during the dying process, if it wasn't sudden. But does the plausibility of this thinking actually lessen the grief experienced or hasten the "return to happiness" for the bereaved? I don't know. Maybe, in some cases, it is possible.
Or maybe it's just another way that society ensures that the bereaved don't outwardly wallow too much or too long, cleverly disguised as a "wish" from the departed. I mean, the dead really have no say in it. Maybe it's a way we are accidentally perpetuating the western world's obsession with happiness. People seem to like to have something positive come out of something viewed as negative, and so it is generally accepted as a comfort to the grieving.
Whatever it is and wherever it originates from, when someone suggests that Zachary would want me to be happy, it tends to strike me as a smoothing over of my very real grief and my need to actively and intensely grieve his death. Also embedded in the suggestion to be happy despite the recent death of a loved one is the subtle idea that grief and happiness are mutually exclusive. That if you are grieving, well then you are the opposite of happy. And ultimately, you will return to a state of relative happiness when the grief has alleviated. For bereaved parents, who will perpetually grieve their deceased child(ren), this implies that they will never again have happiness.
Would Zachary want me to be happy?
I don't know. I don't think it's fair to put this on him. He cannot speak for himself.
I will tell you what I do know. I will tell you precisely what Zachary wanted. And what he wanted has broken my heart.
On Tuesday, January 14, on his eighth day of life, Zachary wanted someone to hear his moaning, his cries of pain. He wanted his mama. He wanted to be fed. He wanted to be rid of the restlessness and agony that kept him awake throughout the day. My sweet, helpless baby wanted someone to DO something to make him feel better. He tried everything within his infant abilities, to show us. On Wednesday and Thursday of that week, he wanted that ventilator gone, the full-body pain to stop, the needles to stop bruising him. Until he could no longer show us what he wanted because he was medically paralyzed and heavily sedated.
For me, the idea that Zachary would want me to be happy fails to create an illusion of peace around the horrendous circumstances of his death. I am just as shocked and devastated, even if it were true. I still rage at the senselessness of his suffering and his death. I am still as broken by the reality that we only had two weeks together, that I won't mother him as he grows up and becomes a man. I am still filled with sorrow that I can't see and touch and hold him each day. I still want him back.
I am grieving. And right now, it is intense. Happiness is not even attractive to me anymore. In fact, happiness repels me..., even as I believe that grief and bits of happiness can feasibly co-exist.
If I'm honest though, I don't think Zachary (with his now eternal wisdom?) would wish me happiness above all, anyway. I am pretty sure happiness is not the thing I should have highest hope for, as I strive to live my life, to honor Zachary's and B.W.'s memory and to raise C.T. My gut says that I should be living my life authentically (my grief, a part of it) and work towards purpose and meaning. And, if and when bits of joy and happiness present themselves along the way, I should take them, be thankful.