Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. —Psalm 30:5
We have just celebrated Memorial Day, honoring those who have lost their lives while serving our country in the military and as first responders. Many families commemorate this day by placing wreaths or ornaments on the graves of their loved ones. Memorial Day is usually considered a solemn day of remembering. However, I believe that sadness does not go far enough when honoring the lives of our loved ones. I believe it’s possible to reclaim some of the joy we experienced in our relationships with the loved one we’ve lost in the days, months, and even years after the initial shock and grief.
You may be wondering, “What do grief and loss have to do with a blog about joy?” Let me get a bit personal as I explain. My younger brother, my remaining brother, died suddenly this past February. I live in Houston and he, with my other siblings, lived in Detroit, which means I did not see him often. But we talked on the phone and when he called, his hearty greeting of “What’s goin’ on wich ya” [this is not a misspelling—it was just his way] made me smile. I’m finding recently that I’m more able to allow this and other happy memories to surface through my grief.
What makes you smile when you think of the parent, sibling, child, or friend you have lost? Consider allowing the joy of those memories to live in the same space as the sadness and know they are both part of your relationship with that person. It’s not easy. But maybe we can create some rituals, memorials, and other ways of pausing from the ache of our loss. Perhaps we can practice remembering some of our joyful experiences in these precious relationships, creating a pathway for comfort and healing.
What I’m learning is that this is a process. In the process of getting to joy, I am reminded to:
Be patient with myself. Personally, I needed time to be silent. I did not want to talk about how he died or share how I was doing. I let family and friends know I needed some time and would talk when I could. You may need to talk to feel better. Do what allows you to cope. I believe that joy will come as surely as the morning. Just wait on it.
Make self-care a priority. After my brother’s death, I noticed I did not have an appetite. So I allowed myself to eat my favorite foods (watermelon, ginger snaps, tuna, sardines—don’t judge; they’re my comfort foods!) Because my meals weren’t balanced, I took a multivitamin and extra vitamin C, which boosted my immune system. I got more rest and allowed myself to slow down. Walking outdoors is one way I heal and restore while also getting exercise that helps me sleep. I also have a professional counselor for a safe space to express my feelings of “if only I __________.”
Follow my own path. Relationships are tricky. My relationship with my brother, though loving, was sometimes complicated. That made the grief complicated, but I reclaimed the happy memories. I pulled out his baby pictures and remembered how cute he was! I kept some of his funny voice mail messages. Each of us knows what memories have the most meaning. Trust your own feelings.
You can keep her clothing. Go ahead and wear his jewelry. You will know when to put away the wedding ring. Until then, wear it because of what it means to you. Create a special space for your child’s favorite toys to give them a place of honor. Remember, you can honor the relationship in a way that makes you happy. I invite you to share ways you keep memories of your loved one alive.
- Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive by Allison Gilbert gives us permission to have joyful memories. The introduction opens with: “This book is not about sadness and grieving. These pages are about happiness and remembering.” Gilbert offers suggestions for creating rituals and art using the loved ones memorabilia. She also provides “strategies for remembering.”
- Have the Talk of a Lifetime is a website “to help families have important conversations about the things that matter most to them.” Having “the talk” with a loved one helps us build important memories.
- The Miss Foundation supports families who have lost a child. You can download a Kindness Project Card that helps to give meaning to such a tragic loss.