Joy is something hard to fathom when we are going through grief. In the darkest of times it can be difficult to direct our focus toward anything other than what we have lost. When grief is heavy and our pain is raw we wonder if we will ever again experience bliss or hold the beautiful gem of joy.
From my personal experience and in working with thousands of grievers over the years I have learned that joy can absolutely be incorporated back into our lives after a deep loss. As a matter of fact, experiencing moments of joy is essential to the healing process. The question is how do we connect with and find joy again?
Perhaps a more appropriate term when it comes to joy is that it is not something we find but rather something that is rightfully ours to begin with and that we work to once again claim. To reclaim joy we first must walk through the valley and allow ourselves to fully feel and grieve. The pain of grief must be experienced, the loss acknowledged and integrated as the new reality of our lives moving forward. Joy and pain are not exclusive of one another and as we move through deep grief back into life they begin to coexist as part of the balance found in healing.
At the foundation of building a quality of life after loss where pain and joy can coexist is hope. As we work and walk through our grief we begin to embrace the love that still remains regardless of the physical limitations of our loss. As memories of life and love begin to be embraced we can allow the light of hope into the darkness of our grief. It is in this hope that we begin to trust that we can let go of some of our pain when we are ready.
The light of hope may begin with just a flicker but will brighten as we continue to reach out to others while allowing others to reach out to us as we lean on love. Because each loss is unique and each grief journey its own path, hope is found in different ways. Some find it in their faith and a belief they will see their love one once again. Other’s find it in those who have had a similar loss and have found healing and peace once again. Some find hope in keeping the legacy of their loved one alive by doing good works in their honor.
Eventually it is hope that allows us to once again stand face-to-face with the opportunity to claim joy. Joy comes by the drop and may only last for a moment initially. Many in grief feel guilty the very first time even a hint of joy is felt. Joy is so important however as it offers us a much needed reprieve from grief if only for a moment if we are open to allowing it in. Joy can be found anywhere, in the eyes of a puppy, a brilliant sky, the taste of a delicious meal, the laughter from a clever joke or the tender touch from someone we love. Allowing a little joy in guilt free opens the door to even more joy finding its way into our lives.
It is said that we can’t truly experience great joy unless we are able to fully experience deep pain. Our loss can lead us on a journey of true discovery and appreciation for the gift of the entire human experience. The transformational qualities of grief offers the opportunity for ordinary people to experience an extraordinary life lived in a deeper and more meaningful way. Be open to joy, it is your birthright. Claiming our joy does not mean we are denying our grief, it means we are embracing every aspect of our emotional being in fully expressing the love that lives on for those we love who have died.
By: Alan Pedersen
Executive Director, The Compassionate Friends USA