After a brief battle with cancer, my father-in-law passed away six years ago on my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s anniversary. I haven’t spoken with them about how hard it must have been the day he died and every anniversary since to have a day that is filled with joy and love and also deep grief. I think about it every April 27.
As I was reflecting this year, I thought about how many times we have simultaneous grief and joy. It is hard to discern when to be happy and when to be sad or how to be happy when we are sad.
Grieving doesn’t happen only in the event of death. You can grieve the loss of a job, relationship, home, health, safety or expectations resulting in many feelings including sadness, anger, guilt, shock, and disbelief. It is natural to grieve. Grief is personal and we all walk through it differently.
Can you really simultaneously experience joy and grief? Here is one example. If you lose your job, you may be initially be worried about finances or embarrassed that you are unemployed or angry that you did not see it coming or sad because you will miss your co-workers, but on the same hand feel relieved that you no longer have the stress you were experiencing in your work or feel happy to spend some quality time with your children or realize you finally have the time and ability to find a job you actually love.
If we are grieving, we may be hesitant to savor any joy that comes our way. We feel guilty for feeling good because we erroneously believe that the only appropriate feeling to have is sadness. Grieving is important, but we cannot allow ourselves to get stuck in the depths of despair. When grieving, I encourage you to walk through every emotion and take the time to be sad, but don’t hesitate to search for the good or silver lining in your situation. We should not only experience joy but to look for it if it is not readily apparent. We must lean into the joy we find and let it flood our world and our hearts. It will change our mood, perceptions, and outlook.
Don’t get bogged down in heartbreak long-term. I am sad that my father-in-law died and that he is not here to watch his grandchildren grow up or to have a conversation with me over milkshakes, but I am so happy for the time we had with him and the sweet memories we have. I am not going to forget him. Healing doesn’t mean forgetting. Loving him now means moving forward, continuing to smile, continuing to laugh, and continuing to live. He would want that for us. He wouldn’t want his death to be an everlasting burden for us.
When we rise out of intense sadness to grasp the joy we find, our suffering will diminish. I will continue to have milkshakes in my father-in-law’s memory. I hope that my brother-in-law and sister-in-law can enjoy each of their anniversaries and celebrate their love on that day. My father-in-law would want nothing less.