As an adult I am often amazed by the workings of the mind of a child in grief. And not just my own kids, but others who I’ve had the honour to know. They are often unassumingly insightful. Taking the most difficult concept to express and breaking it down. Making that shift from processing internal grief to expressing external mourning without even realising it.
“Mommy it is hard to be happy and sad at the same time”
These words of wisdom, from a precious little boy who is facing his second Christmas without his Dad, sum up what I have turned myself inside out trying to come to terms with over the years. The paradox of the journey. The coexistence of joy and sorrow. The feeling of suffering from a split personality, that is in my experience even more prevalent this time of year. A time when family and sharing and happiness are in the forefront, illuminating what we have lost.
Looking back on the first year or two I can barely remember now how I made it through Christmas. I was unable to handle both emotions at the same time. I had to push one aside to process the other. Often I could not bear to be around happy people, even if they were those that loved me, because in the presence of happiness I most profoundly missed what I could not have. It was, as our young friend observed, simply too hard to feel both at once.
Coming up on my eighth Christmas “post” I find that I have learned how to juggle this perplexing combination. And like so many other experiences the edges have softened and perspectives have shifted.
In the beginning any glimpses of joy I was able to find watching the girls on Christmas morning were quickly edged out by the knife of sorrow in my heart that their Dad was not there to see it. That Santa had to bring the gifts that Daddy would have. That Santa had to write to them and explain how proud Daddy was of all their accomplishments.
Over time I have learned to embrace and honour both feelings equally. Never more poignantly than recently when my daughters were finally ready to take part in Bereaved Families of Ontario holiday Tree of Bright Stars service. Something they had not done since the first year. As I watched them walk arm in arm to place his star upon the tree I was simultaneously wracked with a deep gut wrenching grief and lifted up by an overwhelming sense of profound love and serenity that I would describe as joy in its purest form. I began to smile through my tears, not as a means of keeping a brave face, but as an honest expression of the melding of the two spectrums of emotion within me.
It spoke to me of a truth that I now could hold onto my joy, while acknowledging the loss it brings to light, and recognising that the pain of that loss would not exist if not for the great love we all experienced.
Over the years I have written about the virtues of the Advent and how it speaks to me of the grieving process. From this has come our family’s candle lighting tradition that blends the two. Each season what I feel transcends to another level of understanding as the concepts resonate within my soul and reflect within my life. I fully anticipate that this process will continue to evolve, for of course we know that the journey of grief does not ever end but continues as part of who we are.
But this year, in this moment, I honour that my process from grief to mourning has brought me hope. That my courage to face and feel the most difficult of emotions has brought me peace. That embracing my memories has allowed me to integrate the painful and find joy. That opening my life to love has allowed me to acknowledge that we did love, that we were loved and that to remain with love is the greatest gift of all.
Whether it be your first year, your tenth, or beyond, as you navigate this season that requires you to find balance in so many emotions, may you all find your own meaning and comfort in the concepts of Hope Peace Joy and Love.