I used to think the sorrow I felt from a loved one’s death was something to recover from. Especially in early grief, it felt pervasive and all-consuming; no way to live the rest of my life. It was sad and heavy and painful; it had to end.
Eventually I realized it’s impossible not to feel sorrow in loss, no matter how many years have passed. Even though the frequency and intensity changes, I continue to miss my family members and their absence from my life will always spark sorrow.
And so the question looms: what happened to joy?
Like many pairs in the natural world, sorrow and joy have both complementary and opposing characteristics and are not mutually exclusive. Think of day and night, summer and winter, inhales and exhales. Each rolls into the other, and sometimes it’s hard to distinguish where one begins and the other ends.
Sorrow and joy are likewise dual aspects of human emotion; two sides of the same coin, the yin and yang of love. These two aspects interact with one another, thereby creating a dynamic balance. Despite our sense that each replaces the other, joy and sorrow can’t exist independently. They are defined and measured in comparison to each other.
Sorrow and joy also change, grow, and retreat over time; when one surges, the other withdraws. When one aspect is at an extreme, it will eventually transform into some level of its opposing aspect.
Night Becomes Day; Day Turns to Night (from “Roll Into Dark” by Noam Katz)
It can be challenging to think of these seemingly contrary forces as complementary, interconnected, and interdependent. But they actually do give rise to one another and relate to each other, thereby balancing the whole of our experience. Neither sorrow nor joy is absolute or unchanging.
So when you are immersed in sorrow, try to remember that it isn’t static and joy hasn’t left completely. Like daytime during the night, it’s on the other side awaiting its cycle. It may not emerge as quickly or as brilliantly as you’d like, but there will be a resumption of joy relating to something in your life.
It’s up to each of us to hold the image of that balance in our hearts.
Wishing you health and peace at the holidays and everyday,
PS - I was honored last week to be included as a resource for a Chicago Tribune article on holiday grief. You can read the article here.
PPS - Read another great article on Guilt and Grief During the Holidays here.
Read The 4 Facets of Grief
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Essays on Grief Resilience