For me, the balance between grief and joy has been one of the biggest challenges. After losing our daughter Ellie last July, I’ve found myself constantly wondering the answer to these questions:
HOW in the world do I manage to move forward grieving the loss of my baby girl AND find joy in continuing to raise my son?
HOW do I grieve losing the hopes and dreams I had for one child while still continuing to celebrate the hopes and dreams achieved by another child?
What does that balance even look like? And why am I having to answer this in the first place?
As members of this unattractive club, we know too well that losing a child presents us with some of the most difficult decisions one should ever have to make in a lifetime. Many times, those decisions are made prior to losing our child; but what aren’t highlighted or recognized as often are the difficult decisions we have to make even after our child is gone. The questions we have to ask ourselves in order to continue the journey forward. (By the way, we don’t give ourselves enough credit for making these decisions that no one ever wants to make… I certainly am guilty of this. So give yourself a little grace right now if you haven’t already. You deserve it, more than anyone I can think of.)
When we think of making difficult decisions after the loss of a child, we often think of having to decide things for funeral arrangements, memorials and headstones. As difficult and heart-wrenching as these things are, I found that my most difficult decisions presented themselves after everyone came and went. After my family and friends showed up to support me and after their lives continued on while mine came to a screeching halt.
I was faced with decisions every single day.
The first one being the decision to get up out of bed after it was all over. There were so many days that every fiber of my being was physically hurting and the thought of getting out of bed pained me to my core. I wanted to stay right there in my dark bedroom and pretend like none of it had ever happened. I wanted to wake up from the nightmare I was living and see my baby girl’s bassinet by my bedside instead of rolling over and seeing the imprints on the carpet where it used to sit.
But my son… my sweet boy. He needed me. He needed me to get out of bed and be his mommy. Because that’s who I had always been to him and no situation or circumstance could change that.
So, I got out of bed for him.
As hard as it was and as much as I wanted to shut out the world, I needed my sweet boy just as much as he needed me. His hugs were healing and his sweet little voice was the glue that began to piece my heart back together, one moment at a time.
I had to remind myself that amidst the excruciating pain my husband and I were experiencing, that it was perfectly OK to feel joy at times. It was necessary to feel joy at times. I would sometimes begin to feel myself embracing joy that someone or something brought me and then feel guilty… I was supposed to be a grieving mother. Grieving mothers are certainly not happy or joyful. That, my friends, is an ugly lie.
If you take one thing away from this post, let it be this.
Despite what societal norms tell us, grief and joy were meant to coexist. There is room for BOTH of these emotions as we travel along our healing journey. It is imperative that we find, hold onto and save forever those moments of joy. It’s during our darkest hours that we find the light in these things.
For me, those moments of joy were my son’s laugh or the wonder in his eyes when he learned something new; my husband smiling at something that reminded him of our daughter, or having a meaningful conversation with a trusted friend; our loved ones continuing to say our daughter’s name and recognize her for who she was because her short life mattered.
So please, allow yourself to feel what you feel. Don’t feel guilty for feeling any certain way. Remind yourself that grief and joy are meant to coexist. Understand that it’s all an act of balance; it’s all about figuring out how to find the middle ground and embrace both grief and joy simultaneously. And it doesn’t happen overnight, so be gentle with yourself. Don’t shut out feelings that you want to feel but you don’t think society would accept it.
This is YOUR grief journey. So many of us are walking it with you, but your journey is unique to YOU and what’s inside your heart.