July 19, 2023

When Grief and Joy Collide

If you find yourself in a season where you’re supposed to be happy but your heart feels sad, this blog is for you.

The truth is seasons of joy and grief often overlap. This overlap can make it difficult to fully engage with either of those emotional processes, but it can also be a blessing by allowing you a long-term perspective in the midst of emotional overwhelm. Life will not only be joy – savor every moment of it that you find. Life will not always be sorrowful- your grief is a testament to the love you have for who/what is lost & joy will one day return.

When I find myself in the midst of this emotional overlap (which can feel more like tug of war), there are three things I’ve found that help me cope. I hope any or all of these help you, too.

1- Acknowledge the feelings you have.

It’s so very important to not ignore what’s really going on in your head and heart. It’s perfectly ok to have the feelings that you have, and it’s ok for those feelings to conflict with each other. When I find myself caught in this emotional paradox I find myself repeating a phrase I learned from my Birth & Bereavement Doula certification program:

Grief and Joy hold hands.

Life is rarely simple… or we don’t allow it to be as simple as it’s supposed to be. Somehow, repeating this phrase reminds me that I don’t have to “be” or feel one thing at a time. The worst thing we could do in our suffering is to deny its existence. I’m a firm believer that stuffing your emotions can only lead to more emotional or even physical problems down the road. As Shakespeare said:

“The truth will out!”

I don’t know about you but I would much rather focus on healing my hurt than have to figure out how to heal my health later on.

2- Talk it out.

Fight the temptation to isolate or to be “alone” in your thoughts & feelings. Of course I shared my thoughts and feelings of sorrow with my husband, but he was in the throws of that same loss as well. I found it really helpful to speak my thoughts and feelings out loud with friends who fit 3 different categories: a- friends who’ve been through similar loss, b- friends who knew the loved one I had lost & how close we were, & c- friends who knew the details and circumstances of my current season & the roles and expectations I carried.

3- Compartmentalize.

This is different than living in denial. Compartmentalizing is a temporary focus on one emotion at a time before returning to the other. I experienced a significant loss 3 days before my baby sister’s wedding. My heart was still grieving that death of my loved one, however there was no way I was going to let my grief and sorrow spill over to my sister’s celebration. I know that she would grieve with me and that her heart would be burdened not only for the loss if she knew about it, but also for how that loss had affected me.

So instead, during her wedding weekend I only allowed myself to dwell on positive thoughts of my loved one being pain free, no longer suffering & in the presence of Jesus whole and complete – no longer burdened by the affects of this fallen world. Those positive thoughts of my loss allowed me to more fully engage in the positive, celebratory emotions that I wanted to be genuinely present for during her rehearsal dinner, wedding, & reception.

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance.

Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4.

We are complex creatures, capable of experiencing a myriad of emotions all at once. But for me, when multiple emotions conflict so drastically with each other, I find it helpful to let my emotions take turns.

Until the day comes when there are no more tears, pain or heartache, I pray your joy be multiplied and that you never find yourself alone with your sorrow.

– Rebecca

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