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.

More in News

(Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast for the week of Nov. 27

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire File
Even the Grinch got into the holiday spirit at last year’s Gallery Walk on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022.
An abundance of traditional and new ways to capitalize on this year’s Gallery Walk

More than 50 events scheduled Friday afternoon and evening from downtown to Douglas.

This view is from Wrangell on Sept. 11, 2022. (Photo by Joaqlin Estus/ICT)
Conservation group supports formation of new Alaska Native corporations

The conservation group the Wilderness Society has changed its position and now… Continue reading

From her hospital bed on Friday, Nov. 24, Christina Florschutz demonstrates how she pulled pajama bottoms that she found in the landslide debris over her legs, arms and head to keep warm. Her house was destroyed in the landslide, and after spending the night in the wreckage, she was rescued the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 21. (Caroleine James / Wrangell Sentinel)
Elementary school aide who survived Wrangell landslide calls circumstances a miracle

Christina Florschutz trapped overnight by landslide that killed at least 4 people, with 2 missing.

Lylah Habeger (left) and Jaila Ramirez lead the Konfeta Corps during a rehearsal of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” at Juneau Dance Theatre. The ballet will be performed in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.At.Kalé auditorium Friday through Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Juneau Dance Theatre)
‘Nutcracker’ tradition, with a twirl of new choreography

This year’s performances feature a cast of 93, ages 5 to 78

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Rain at the National Weather Service Juneau station on Nov. 11 doesn’t exist as snow until hits the upper portion of nearby Thunder Mountain. So far this November has been both warmer and wetter than normal. (Photo by National Weather Service Juneau)
El Niño playing outsize role in Juneau’s warmer temperatures, according to National Weather Service

Early peek at numbers shows Juneau is 4.9 degrees warmer than average this November.

An emergency rescue vehicle parks in front of the Riverview Senior Living center at midday Monday after resident Nathan Bishop, 58, was discovered in the attic about 40 hours after he was reported missing. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Nathan Bishop found alive in attic of Riverview Senior Living complex after 40-hour search

Family members say they remain supportive of facility’s locally available assisted living services.

Most Read