Welcome to the first in a new series of posts drawing from conversations taking place on the Grief Revolution Patreon.
Such great exchanges are taking place in that growing community of grieving and supportive hearts that we want to enable the wider community to benefit as well. So, with the consent of our awesome patrons, each week we’re going dive into our monthly live Q&A sessions and share a new question, its answer, and any subsequent discussion.
This week’s question concerns the challenges of experiencing new joy with a grieving heart.
Don: There seems to be a common occurrence that permeates my life, that when I find moments of happiness it is often followed quickly by moments of pain or sorrow. When I married Mary over 30 years ago that changed. She was a very bright chapter to what had been a very dark chapter before. 15 years later she got sick and survived her cancer. We were happy again. Then complications to her treatments and she survived. We were happy again. Then our boys were back from college almost two years ago and she died without warning days after they got home. Since I have been working to find joy is this new life. Experimenting.
Now my youngest is really struggling. I was just finding a few moments of joy when this new shit hit the fan. At times I wonder if I should try to find joy again. I do but it’s exhausting. Makes me question whether I should find joy again for fear of bringing pain. I know this is unreal thinking but it echos in my head all the same. Any insight or suggestions Megan, that would help me find perspective? Or at least a counter mantra I could repeat to push against the fear of looking for joy in fear of bringing pain. Losing Mary has stripped so much of the strength I once held.
Megan: Hi friend. It sounds like your mind has paired “new joy” with “impending pain.” That makes sense to me – it’s the rhythm you see when you look back. I think that’s the danger when we look at events as cause and effect, or as existing inside the punishment model: don’t get too happy, because pain is always around the corner. I can totally get into that thought pattern, too. Sometimes the evidence just reads that way. And if there’s only room for one or the other, why bother working hard for joy if it’s just going to be snatched away and be replaced by yet more pain?
That belief system is really persuasive: it’s one thing or another; any joy now begets pain in the future. Black or white. Life is good or life is shit.
That’s one valid worldview. And: there are other ways to read life.
You have had periods of joy. You have had periods of deep pain. Sometimes they interweave, sometimes one or the other has center stage. There might be long stretches where one of the two is silent, or one of the two is less relevant.
Also – I think we can look at “finding joy” as a massive project. Something you must undertake. Something as big as pain, something as long-lasting and stable. I think that sets you up – makes joy unattainable and frustrating. Maybe life-long joy is part of the undercurrent of things – moments, stitched together, along with an orientation of heart – to find beauty, connection, joy right alongside anything else that’s happening, whether that’s familiar pain, a new shitstorm, or the basic routine of daily life.
Maybe joy is a work in progress, rather than a static destination that can be usurped by the changing world around you. I love that you chose the word joy, rather than happiness. I think joy is accessible even when life is not happy. I’m not entirely sure I can define the difference – it just feels like there is one.
A counter-mantra to explore might be something like: joy and pain coexist. I can find pockets of joy even when life is hard.
Experiment with that mantra. Something that encourages you to move past the black or white, if this, then that worldview. Let us know what you find.
Don: I agree with this. Sometimes I just need to hear it back. Thank you again.
Michelle L.: “I think joy is accessible even when life is not happy.” This distinction resonates for me. I would not describe my life as “happy” any longer, but there are the tiny “pockets” of joy that you mention in the counter-mantra … “Joy and pain coexist. I can find pockets of joy even when life is hard.” Helpful thoughts here … thank you!
Emma P.: Pockets of joy.
All of this resonates with me.
Both and, not either or.
AND… It’s hard when the big “contributor to joy and well-being” no longer walks the earth.
Want to get involved with conversations about any and all things grief-related, and get to see videos, comics, and animations before anyone else? Patrons get the first look at everything we create AND get to vote on which topics get covered! And more! Join the Grief Revolution at patreon.com/megandevine/