“Joy is much bigger than happiness. While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances, joy is not.” – Desmond Tutu
I have had an inner struggle going on for quite some time now. How do I allow myself to live in joy when I have suffered the most blowing loss a parent can endure? Surely living in joy means that I am “over” the death of my son. If not to me, than to others. Shouldn’t I have to live with the pain of losing a child I carried for 9 months for the rest of my life? My answer is now no. A soft, yet resounding and solid no.
It has taken 4 and a half years of turmoil in my heart and brain, but I understand now. I understand that it is ok to go on with my life and live with joy in my heart AND in my brain.
I’ve worried so much about forgetting him. Not in the sense of not remembering he existed, but in losing the memories of how it felt to hug him, the smell of his bedroom, his blue eyes and how they sparkled. I want to remember EVERYTHING, and somehow, subconsciously, I apparently felt that if I could manage to live in joy I’d also lose the very essence of my little boy.
I now understand that it isn’t an either/or. I AM able to choose to live in joy AND retain the memories I so desperately cling to.
“So much of human suffering occurs within our own head and heart.” – Douglas Abrams
I am not alone in my thinking and inner turmoil between head and heart. I recently began reading The Book of Joy, which details a week of conversations between His Holiness, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Although I am currently still reading the introduction, I have been completely validated in my thinking about living in joy while suffering grief. Before writing the book, the author received thousands of questions on this very subject. How can we possibly live with joy in a world filled with so much suffering? Because I haven’t gotten too far into the book yet, I cannot tell you their answers, but I can tell you mine.
I CHOOSE JOY!
No, it’s not always that easy, especially on those special anniversaries, holidays, birthdays, etc. Those are the days when the waves of emotion threaten to crash over me and swallow me whole. But, even on those days, I’ve discovered that I still have a choice. I can choose to have a near hyperventilating, snot-filled, ugly cry OR I can choose to shed a few healthy tears, acknowledge my pain, and move on to the next activity in my day. I wasn’t able to control the raging storm of grief-filled emotion during the first couple of years, but it is becoming more and more do-able as the months and years pass.
What’s my secret? Simply A LOT of self-talk and a few deep breaths. That’s it. My big secret to controlling the storm and choosing joy. I tell myself (out loud usually) that I’m just not going to do it right now. I allowed myself to be utterly lost in the tragic sea of grief for a few years and I don’t like the feeling. Being that sad is tough. I WANT to be happy. I CHOOSE to be happy.
My brain just had to catch up with my heart’s desire. Or is it the other way around?
Some days the self-talk is easier than easier than others. The PTSD hits when it wants to. But, by repeating over and over to myself that “I am not going to do this right now, I WANT to be happy, I AM happy,” I can usually calm the rough sea of emotion and create tiny ripples that I can just walk through or step right over. Taking a few deep breaths and focusing on re-centering helps a lot, too! Knowing that I have the power to choose joy over grief is knowledge I am happy to have.
“We create most of our suffering, so it should be logical that we also have the ability to create more joy.” – Dalai Lama