Grief and Joy

My on-line dictionary says that grief can mean anything from deep sorrow, especially in the event of someone’s death, to a minor trouble or annoyance. All I know is that every grief is different. It is as personal as your relationship to the being who died or left. It depends on whether the death was sudden or expected due to age or illness. Babies die in utero. Children I have worked with have died due to complications of their diagnoses. My sister died in a car accident in her 20’s. I lost all 4 grand-parents in the course of 18 months. There is no such thing as a “better” way to die, a right time for it to occur, or a harder or easier grief. All grief is different. The only grief I can write about is mine. This grief, now.

Joy is defined as a feeling of great pleasure or happiness. Every joy is different as well. There is joy on your wedding day, joy as you watch your children be born and then grow, and the joy that just wells up for no good reason. I imagine there are as many ways to experience joy as there are of experiencing grief. The only joy I can write about is mine.

I’ve been advised, and know from experience, that time will help with the pain of grief. “Time heals all wounds”, English proverb. “A year and a day” is the official Irish period of mourning. When did my time officially start, and when will it end? Why does joy continue to percolate to the surface? Shouldn’t I be sad all the time?

I have grieved for almost 17 months. I grieved at the shock of diagnosis, I grieved at a prognosis of a terminal condition, I grieved for each cognitive loss along the way, many of which only I could detect. I grieved when the hope of treatment faded, I grieved when we called hospice, I grieved when Jim’s deficits became visible to the rest of the world. I grieved when his body went out the door. So, it has been longer than a year and a day. Can I be done now? 🙂

There was also just a huge amount to do during this time. Get a minor degree in oncology and pharmacology. Research and schedule treatment. Re-prioritize my life. Help to organize not 1, not 2, but 3 parties of the century. Learn about, and access, social and financial services. Keep working, keep supporting our kids, keep everyone informed. Translate life as it was passing into an understandable format that Jim, with rapidly advancing dementia, could understand. I did it. Can I be done now? 🙂

Yet, I am glad that Jim did not die on the operating table. There has been so much joy. There has been joy in the support of friends and family, joy in that Jim felt well enough to carry out almost everything on his bucket list, joy in our kids adjusting with their sense of humor intact. Joy in being able to care for Jim and allowing him to die at home with the help of hospice. Joy in finally being free of that burden of care. I am done now! 🙂

Our society dictates that I should be sad now. I am, but after 14 months of endurance practice, I cannot just collapse into a puddle of tears. The grief, responsibility, and joy continue. The maw left by Jim’s absence threatens to swallow me whole sometimes. There is a responsibility to rebuild my life without a road map.  There is still so much beauty in this thing we call life.


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5 Responses to Grief and Joy

  1. jamie nekich says:

    So tender it brings tears. I haven’t lost a spouse to death .. but I totally feel that feeling of (re)building life without a road map. Like an empty canvas . . . where to start. I’m in awe of where you’ve been over these past months; doing it all and then some. Thanks for continuing the story publicly.

  2. jj says:

    This is a journey I devoutly wish you were not on…but I will gladly continue it with you.

  3. michael says:

    . . . so very well said Kathie. Part of the beauty is in discovery.

  4. Poppa Cotta says:

    Ah. There’s the tears. I wondered where they went.

  5. sufidav says:

    From the sounds of it, your joy is going to be even more inspirational than your grief has been… thanks for sharing the journey so intimately and so articulately. I love you for the laughter and the courage to give it a voice in the face of so many challenges. Looking forward to more of your posts (the dinner invitation still holds if you get over this way).

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