Well, I made it through another one. Holiday, that is.

Boy, that sounds cynical, doesn’t it? I really don’t mean for it to. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving with my older daughter and her brood plus several other family members – 14 of us in all. We ate way too much delicious food, played silly games, talked late into the night, and, on Saturday, took a drive out in the country to a farm so the grands could cut down a Christmas tree and talk to Santa. It was truly a joyous, busy time. Admittedly, my husband and I were happy to get home to our quiet house and large comfy bed last night. But, there was nothing unpleasant or dramatic to mar the time we all had together.

Except, there is always a splash of sorrow in my full cup of joy.

I’ve gotten pretty good at doing all the things grief counselors and fellow bereaved parents recommend: “pre-grieving,” giving myself a little alone time even on event-filled days, having an exit strategy if I feel myself getting emotional, allowing myself to say no to tasks or plans that I know are too stressful. I’ve learned lots of coping skills in the five-plus years since Rachel died.

Still, any time the family is all together I see a gap where she should be, no matter how crowded we are around the table. I’m pretty sure I always will.

So, what do I do with this bitter taste in my cup? This hollow space in my heart? Do I let them make me cynical? Do I dwell on what’s missing and how unfair it is? Do I avoid celebrations because I feel guilty that I am enjoying myself too much (whatever that means)?

Or, do I treasure joyful times with my family and friends and recognize that one of the lessons I have learned from deep grief is that I cannot take for granted this joy? Even if this lesson makes me sad?

The wise theologian and scholar Henri Nouwen said we should not try to avoid joy or sadness. They are intertwined. 

Joy and sorrow are never separated. When our hearts rejoice at a spectacular view, we may miss our friends who cannot see it, and when we are overwhelmed with grief, we may discover what true friendship is all about. Joy is hidden in sorrow and sorrow in joy. If we try to avoid sorrow at all costs, we may never taste joy, and if we are suspicious of ecstasy, agony can never reach us either. Joy and sorrow are the parents of our spiritual growth.

Henri Nouwen

I hope I can truthfully say that I would have continued to grow spiritually without having to lose my daughter. But, I wasn’t given that choice. I do have a choice to fully embrace life, with its sorrows and joys that are often mingled. So, I will celebrate holidays and family events from now on with a measure of sadness knowing it makes the joy taste that much sweeter in comparison.


One response to “Bittersweet”

  1. What a beautifully accurate line: “there is always a splash of sorrow in my cup full of joy.” I’m so thankful for the joy you were able to experience this season and for the space you allow yourself to be human and grieve. 💜


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