Making Connections Between Grief and Joy
Grieving is one of the most painful experiences we go through. Every experience of grief is different, because every relationship is different, and each loss affects every person in a unique way. But grief is universal, and so is the deep desire to move beyond the sadness of grief. Here’s a message we recently received from someone who is grieving:
“I lost a friend of mine two years ago. It was unexpected, and I still haven’t fully recovered. I cry almost every day, and I never seem to know when grief will hit me. I’ve tried talking to some friends about it. But they only make me feel worse. They say things like ‘Everything happens for a reason’, but there’s no good reason I feel this way. I don’t know if I will ever be happy again.”
I can certainly relate to how this person feels, and how you’re feeling now. Even though we aren’t grieving the same loss, I know how frustrating it is to hear unhelpful advice when you’re coping with the profound sorrow of losing a loved one. Loss like that is not reasonable or rational, and we won’t make sense of much of the loss we experience, no matter how hard we try. I know it often feels like you will never stop feeling sad, but you can move forward and it’s ok if it takes time.
In some ways, we don’t get over our grieving. What we lost can’t come back into our lives, even though we wish things would go back to the way they used to be. So it’s completely understandable that there may always be a feeling of sadness when you remember what you have lost. But grief is not a static feeling. It changes as we change. So there will be times of deep sadness. But as your grief shifts and changes, you’ll find sadness mingles with joy, gratitude, and other “brighter” emotions. I know it sounds odd to hear that there are bright sides to grief, but there are ways to shift your outlook to a more hopeful and less despairing one as you learn and cope.
What to Know About Grieving
Grieving is Part of Love
Love is a joyful emotion, and it is tied to our grieving after a loss. I love the way author Anne Lamott describes the connection between grief and love, and how we can strike a balance between the many emotions we have when we grieve:
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” – Anne Lamott (Source: Wikipedia)
When you think about what you have lost, it allows you to still live with a memory of what you had when they were physically present. I always tell stories of beloved friends and family who have died, and when I do, it often brings a smile to my face. Not because I’m not also sad when I think of them, and certainly not because I forgot to think of them. I smile because I am constantly reminded how strong our bond remains even though they’re gone, and that comforts me. Noticing how much I think of them is a reminder of how much we loved one another. My sadness doesn’t go away, but it is no longer the only emotion I feel. Try thinking about your loved one and ask yourself some questions:
- What did you love most about them?
- What is a story about them that makes you laugh?
- What is something you see that reminds you of the things they enjoyed, hobbies they had, or times you shared?
In exploring these questions, pay attention to how your feelings change. As you practice this for a few minutes each day, you may start to notice your heart doesn’t only feel heavy and sad. You may feel a sense of brightness and “lightness” that makes your feelings of sadness less overwhelming.
You Are Allowed to Be Happy
After losing someone, there have been times when I’ve laughed at a joke, appreciated a moment, or enjoyed a conversation with a friend, only to be hit by a sense of guilt afterward. I felt bad for feeling happy, as if being happy or enjoying something is a betrayal of the loved one I lost. But the truth is, we’re allowed to be happy when we grieve. Writer Julie Vick says this about feeling happy during a time of grief:
“I have found this practice of not pushing aside difficult moments, but being open to both joy and pain at the same time a helpful thought process in many situations. When dealing with tough times, negative feelings can often be all-consuming, so I’ve started to look for whatever small shimmers of light I can find.” (Source: Headspace)After losing someone, there have been times when I’ve felt bad for feeling happy, as if being happy or enjoying something is a betrayal of the loved one I lost. But the truth is, we're allowed to be happy when we grieve. Click To Tweet
Here are a few ways you might find ‘shimmers of joy”:
- Going Outside: Is there somewhere peaceful or relaxing you can walk or sit to admire nature? Natural beauty is often a source of calm and tranquility, even when we’re feeling sad. Sometimes we used to go to these places with loved ones. Sometimes not. Depending on how you’re feeling, you may want to sit where you used to sit with them. If that’s too much, find a new place to enjoy on the days you can’t bear to go to places that remind you too much of them.
- Making Art: Making art can be relaxing, it can be a great way to process difficult feelings, and it can remind you of activities, colors, and art forms you enjoy. Even if you’re not an artist or a musician, it can still be fun and helpful to distract yourself with something new for a little bit. You could even create something to honor your loved one that makes you feel more aware of your connection to them, and keeps them present in your life.
- Cooking a Favorite Meal: Cooking or eating a favorite meal can be just the thing to make you feel better after a tough day of grieving.
Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About It
It might seem like talking about what you lost would just make things more difficult, but rediscovering hope and finding joy may come easier when talking to your loved ones about what you’re dealing with. Here are some suggestions for how to have these conversations:
- Find Friends You Can Talk To: If your friends have offered support during your grief or asked how they can help, find times to talk with them about your loved one. They don’t have to be happy stories. Just start from where you are and get in the habit of expressing the many feelings you’ll experience when you grieve.
- Write Your Story: Writing about your grief is a great way to come to terms with a wide range of emotions. Think of it as telling a story. Whether you blog, keep a private journal, or share it in a support group, writing about your grief is telling a story about you, a story about what you lost, a story about your relationship, and a story about how you will continue to grow and learn as a result of having known the loved one you lost.
- Think about what your loved one taught you: Mother Theresa once said, “Some people come into your life as blessings. Some come into your life as lessons.” There’s a lot of truth in that. Even if I don’t know what to make of the loss itself, thinking about what I’ve learned from friends and loved ones I’ve lost can help me feel gratitude for them.
Remembering what we learn from others is also a good reminder that we were all created with a purpose, and that we can make loved ones we’ve lost a part of living that purpose by carrying their lessons through life with who we are.
- Nurture Your Spirit: It may seem like your loved one is “right there”, even though they have passed away. There may be moments when you have a feeling of comfort you can’t explain, or when you get a sense that someone or something is helping you through this really challenging time. There is a spiritual side to loss. Thinking about your spiritual beliefs is a way to better understand how your grief is affecting you. It can also be a way to feel more connected to your loved one. If you’re open to thinking of God as watching over both of you, you can try asking God for comfort and peace during a trying season of grief.
- Find a Mentor: It’s really important to remember that, even if there are days where grief feels less overwhelming, there will be other times when it will become seemingly unbearable. It may come out of nowhere, or it may result in new emotions you’ve never felt about the person or situation before. In times like these, it’s a good idea to reach out to someone with experience guiding people through the complex and surprising feelings that come with grief.
TheHopeLine is here for you, no matter where you are in the grieving process. Our HopeCoaches are trained to talk through grief without judgment, and to help you find hope in even the most difficult times. Healing during grief is possible, one day at a time. Talk to a mentor today about your grief recovery journey, and get some support to help you face the days ahead. We are here for you.
We also have a partner, GriefShare, who is a caring support group of people who will walk alongside you through one of life’s most difficult experiences.
Photo by aluko ayomiposi