Sadness to Joy: The Paradox of Grief, Part 2
In the previous blog post, I shared my story of loss. As a young girl, when my home life became unstable, I sought refuge at my grandmother's house and often stayed the night. She was everything to me. When I was in high school she was diagnosed with liver cancer and passed away within a few short months.
She still had decades to live. I bottled up my pain while others were grieving around me. I was numb. I sat with my family at her funeral and wondered why I couldn’t shed a single tear.
It was one of those traumas that left a very deep mark. Something died inside of me.
A Divine Connection
Scripture reveals a powerful truth about joy and sadness; they have a connection.
Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. (Ps. 126:5) Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (Ps. 30:5) For I will turn their mourning to joy, will comfort them, and make them rejoice rather than sorrow. ( Jer. 31:13)
In my case, after loosing my grandmother (Ga-Ga), I never allowed myself to cry, so I never reaped joy. My unresolved grief grew larger and larger as the years passed. I was unaware at the time, but the sadness did not leave; it was buried and slowly eroded my joy over time. I became numb and I lost myself.
I did not grieve until nearly a decade after Ga-Ga’s passing. I unexpectedly found her purse in my mother’s closet. It had remained untouched since the last time she used it. The purse still smelled like her. I made the heart-wrenching, yet life-changing decision to open it and pull out each item. I was surprised by the number of tears that poured out with each memory. I allowed the waves of sorrow to wash over me. The toothpicks, her red lipstick, her Juicy Fruit gum, the lollipops from the bank, her perfume, a prescription bottle, and grocery lists.
It was as if someone flipped the switch to On after having been off for so long. The switch being my emotions. Much to my surprise, I felt relief. I experienced God’s presence, comforting me like a warm blanket. It wasn’t too late after all. In fact, I was right on time. The intense pain of years of unresolved grief flooded back to me, and God used that moment to bring healing. The good news was, although my joy was missing for years, I have a redemptive and powerful God who was able to restore my joy and who now allows me to help others on their journey of grieving.
Now, in my mind’s eye, I can see Ga-Ga with her glasses hanging around her neck, her bright red lipstick, and her beautiful smile. There was such warmth to her. Her presence brought peace and assurance that everything was OK.
As I share this memory now, my heart still aches to recall it. Before Ga-Ga’s passing, I had never known anyone who had died, and it never occurred to me that suddenly my grandmother would no longer be a vital part of my everyday life. The greatest gift a person can give you is to show you are loved no matter what, you have a safe place you can call home, and you can be yourself without fear of judgment.
Ga-Ga modeled for me the heart of Jesus and what a relationship with him can be like. I do not have my Ga-Ga anymore, but I do have and will always have her memory and an experience of Jesus as my shelter, strong tower, and very present help in time of need (Ps. 46:1).
Grief Is Part of Your Story
Throughout my clinical career, I have learned a powerful and validating truth about grief after meeting with hundreds of clients who came to me presenting symptoms of depression and anxiety, a feeling of being stuck and finding no relief from medication. Because of my own struggles with grieving, rather than solely focusing on my clients’ specific symptoms of anxiety and depression, I now ask them to first share with me the story of their loss.
Loss is not solely about losing a person who passed away. Grief can be related to internal or emotional losses.
The loss might be of a spouse, a family member, a relationship, a career, a home, an unfulfilled dream of marriage or children or a heart's desire that never happened, or an ongoing relationship with a significant other who has left emotionally while still being physically present. Or a parent who is still alive, but estranged. One of the most difficult losses to grieve is for people who are still alive. Healing occurs when my clients feel they have permission to not expend any more emotional energy trying to figure out why they are still grieving or why they are not strong enough to move on. As I mentioned earlier, choosing to grieve in the first place is the most powerful step. Grief is cyclical, it's not a one time thing, and the pain can manifest itself in different ways that can bring confusion if you do not realize grief consists of multiple layers that involve healing. Grief is neither linear nor a black-and-white experience.
Grief is about giving yourself permission to experience the loss in the moment you feel it and not to rationalize it away, not to try to be strong or beat yourself up. “I should be over this by now.” “What’s wrong with me?” It has taken me quite some time to realize, softly and simply, those moments are not a time for self-diagnosis; there is nothing wrong with you.
The loss of my grandmother is part of my story to preserve and to embrace, not just a memory or event to hide in the past. It is part of who I am, and it always will be.
Happiness Is Situational, Joy Is Relational
Happiness is situational because it is dependent on our circumstances. Happiness is externally focused. Joy is an internal state of being that is not dependent on our circumstances. I define joy as a deep-seated place of abiding in our hearts and souls. Being joyful does not mean you are always happy; we can have joy during painful situations, such as loss. Happiness is fleeting, and joy flourishes not only when things are good but also in difficult times such as losing a loved one.
Joy is rooted in our relationship with God, who is bigger than our circumstances. The beautiful part about joy is that we do not have to bring it about in our strength. Joy is dependent on our relationship with God, and he is full of compassion and comfort. A prevalent Greek word for “joy” in the New Testament is chara. Chara means “joy, calm delight, or inner gladness.” The word is also connected to chairo, which means “to rejoice,” and charis, which means “grace.” True joy comes from our relationship with God and relying on his grace to help us overcome painful trials. We can express our grief and pour our hearts out to God when we experience pain.
Choosing joy means choosing to embrace grief. As stated in the Scripture passage at the beginning of this post, "those who sow in tears shall reap in joy." God promises to turn our mourning to joy and to comfort us. Mourning consists of feelings, and being comforted requires something we need comfort from, our pain.
Pain is an inevitable reality of loss, and joy is an inevitable reality of grief.
The Paradox of Grief
The paradox of grief is that it brings joy. It restores our hearts and brings healing to our souls. Grieving is necessary; it is good and cleansing. The lie we believe is that grief will leave us in despair, so we fear it rather than feel it and embrace it. Grief can feel unwelcome, unexpected, and inconvenient. Grief cannot be forced, it must be experienced. Your soul, body, and heart remembers your loss. When the memories surface and the strong emotions well up inside, I encourage you to make the choice to grieve and allow the waves of sadness to roll over you.
The intense pain associated with grief can either frighten you or free you. I invite you to surrender your fear, dread, and doubt and replace them with the hope that as you feel your way into grief, joy will come.
Your life is a masterpiece.
Grief is just one piece put in place precisely by God.
**The content for this blog post has been taken from chapter 4 (The Cuckoo of Loss) of Andrea’s book, The Cuckoo Syndrome: The Secret to Breaking Free from Unhealthy Relationships, Toxic Thinking, and Self-Sabotaging Behavior
The photo accompanying this article was sourced from istock and is in the public domain.