The author with a Kenai River rainbow caught during his honeymoon in June. (Jeff Lund / for the Juneau Empire)

I Went to the Woods: It’s OK to be happy

Of course, it’s not as easy as going fishing.

By Jeff Lund

For the Juneau Empire

My Aunt Kathy passed away last week.

She was my mom’s cousin, so that doesn’t make her my aunt, but within a family, titles are up to interpretation and discretion. She was loving, caring, vibrant, had a true heart for service and unfair abilities in the kitchen.

We weren’t super close. In fact, other than my wedding in June, I only saw her and that part of the family at Thanksgiving when I lived in California.

When I heard she had cancer, I thought of my dad, and how his prognosis went from two years to two weeks to any day within the span of a week. I see things from different angles now, and can’t help those angles from showing up at times like these. It’s not that I’ve lost my faith, it’s just the realities of being human don’t always allow for miracles. The world changes. The doctor throws out numbers and you just scramble to find your way through this new life. Then comes the end.

I think about just how little words helped me after my brother poured Dad’s ashes into a creek on Father’s Day over a decade ago. It’s not that I didn’t want encouraging words, I just didn’t know what to say and I didn’t know what I needed to hear. I didn’t want an over generalization about things happening for reasons, or how it’ll all work out. If anything, I dreaded a cliché or internet screenshot. I knew they meant well and I appreciated where their hearts were but I didn’t really want an avalanche of words, I wanted the right words.

“It’s OK to be happy again” ended up being those right words.

Talking about fishing isn’t a way to attempt to make this column fit into a space reserved for outdoors, it really was the powerful something I could do. It was a way to be productive and find some joy. I remember fishing more than I ever had the summer Dad passed, and I had fun. It was heavy and sad and I wished Dad was there or could see. But it felt OK to be happy. I didn’t dishonor my Dad or love him less if I went fishing. I didn’t have to wait six months or a year to smile again.

Of course, it’s not as easy as going fishing.

One of the most beneficial things to overall happiness would be the ability to hold onto the mindset after a loss. There is togetherness. There is a deeper sense of gratitude and appreciation. There’s an intensity to what it means to love and be thankful. The frivolous nonsense we allow to clutter and distract us from what’s important and the inflated, entitled sense of self melts away. It reveals a version of ourselves that, if we could only hang on to it, would live better and happier.

Inevitably something often puts most of us back into the same groove as before. Maybe our new-found outlook isn’t shared by someone who is still mired in cynicism. Maybe we get exhausted by the brutality of real life. Maybe we just forget.

This week, millions of people will be prompted to express thankfulness or gratitude. Some won’t take it seriously while some will see an opportunity for a hot take and to virtue signal to people in their echo chamber.

Still, there are those who will feel deep satisfaction and happiness in the expression of true gratitude for what we have, what we had, and even things like fishing.

• Jeff Lund is a freelance writer based in Ketchikan. His book, “A Miserable Paradise: Life in Southeast Alaska,” is available in local bookstores and at “I Went to the Woods” appears twice per month in the Sports & Outdoors section of the Juneau Empire.

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