Joy and Sorrow

Nora McInerny has made it her career to talk about death and loss.  She certainly has reason to: in 2014, in the space of two months, she lost her second pregnancy, her father, and her husband.  

According to Nora, when most people hear her story, they respond with some version of, “Uh, I just can’t imagine.”  But her response to them is, I think you can.  And I think you should.  Because though the particular events may be different for you, we will all experience grief.  We will lose loved ones.  We will experience loss.  We will be pushed to our limits in one way or another.

Nora is very aware of the line that exists between those who are grief stricken and those who are grief adjacent.  Often, our inclination is to push grief into a corner where, if it has to be seen, at least it won’t be heard.  However, it’s misguided to think that those who have experienced a terrible loss will move on from that grief.  Rather, if they grieve in a healthy way, what they will do instead is move forward with it.  

Once it’s your grief, Nora says, you get that what you’re feeling and experiencing isn’t a moment in time but rather something that will last.  You can understand the nuances that exist with grief: that there are memories of our loved ones that will always make us laugh, as well as memories that will always make us sad.  That grief doesn’t exist in a vacuum but rather alongside all these other emotions.

I don’t know about you, but I think this is something we all need to hear these days.  Because almost all of us are experiencing grief and loss as well.  There are things in each of our lives right now that we can’t fix.  And there is a mixture of emotions that most of us likely feel on any given day.  

The loss isn’t only the loss of people we love, or the number of lives and jobs that have been lost as a result of the pandemic.  There’s the loss that has come from cancelled activities and gatherings.  In addition to all of that, a lot of us have also experienced fractured relationships as a result of differing views regarding our political climate or how to handle the pandemic.  

There is a sense of grief that can result from realizing that people you are close to hold a worldview different from your own, especially when those differences are met with an inability to accept one another’s viewpoints.  When it comes to the pandemic, it’s tiring to be someone who carefully follows the recommended guidelines when not everyone else does.  

But there is a whole lot of grief that is not being dealt with in healthy ways, and that can lead to making things worse.  Instead of trying to push it down or only being kind to people who agree with us, what we need to do instead is allow ourselves to feel our grief and frustration and even anger all the way through so that we will no longer be held hostage to it and can find some peace instead.

With this in mind, I was reminded of something a friend recently shared with me.  She reminded me that joy and sorrow are sister emotions.  That the two live in the same house and are often inextricably linked.  

She shared about how the day her mother died was the same day one of her grandchildren was born and how something she read during that time invited her to take a walk with her sorrow, really taking the time to feel it all the way through rather than try to push it away.  Then the next day, she took a walk with her joy, allowing herself to fully experience that rather than rush through it either.

If we put all our energy into trying to say positive and spirited this time of year, we might be missing part of what we actually need…time to sit with our grief, time to feel our feelings through, time to give voice to how we are actually feeling.  

I’d be the first one to acknowledge that finding time to do this isn’t always easy, especially if you have other humans to take care of with a mixture of feelings all their own.  But giving ourselves the time and permission to do just that can be incredibly powerful, and And giving voice to all that is stirring inside is also really important if we want an authentic relationship with God.

So today, wherever you are, I invite you to not shut out our grief or loss or the pain you have experienced, but to instead allow yourself to feel deeply both the joy and the sorrow, to perhaps even take a walk with each of them.  I invite you to turn all that you are feeling over to God, to allow God into every crevice of your being, so that you can be set free from whatever is holding you down.  

When we are able to do so, it is then that we can truly move from a place of hopelessness to one of hope, not because our circumstances necessarily change, but because of the promise that God is here and that God is at work.