Is it really possible to hold grief and joy at the same time?
Yes, I do believe it is.
November is a precious month to me because of what happened two years ago. I learned to hold grief and joy, together in my heart, like a mother would hold two newborns in her arms. You cherish both, you learn from both…one does not have to win out over the other. But man, it’s so hard to hold them both.
Our oldest daughter got married two years ago at the beginning of November and it truly could not have been a more perfect day! After three days of torrential downpours (which in SoCal is always a shock!) Saturday dawned with a freshness in the air, a promise of the joy to come that day! The blue sky was dotted with fluffy white clouds, no sign of rain at all. Watching your child get married is a surreal thing. It brings you back to your own wedding day. I was keenly aware of this man who was marrying my daughter, I knew him before I knew him because I prayed for him for 24 years. I trusted that the Lord was watching over this man who would one day capture my daughter’s heart. What tremendous joy!! I get teary every time I think of this fantastic privilege to see a prayer come to life. It was a perfect day.
The weeks that followed however, I would not classify them in the “perfect” category. I think this is when I began to learn how to hold grief and joy in the same embrace.
The Friday after the wedding, my husband was struck with a terrible case of shingles…on…his…face! It was awful and painful and a bit terrifying. He was on medication and had many doctor and ophthalmologist appointments to make sure the virus didn’t affect his vision. It was so painful to watch him go through it all.
We had just come from such a high high and now experiencing a tremendous low.
On top of that, a few days before the shingles hit my honey’s darling face, I discovered why my neck had been hurting for a few weeks. I had somehow popped the top right back rib out of place. I would seriously rather give birth without drugs (because I have!) than feel the pain of having a rib put BACK into place several times before it finally stayed in place. Oh, the tears and the ugly-cry that happened in the chiropractor’s office for the first week or two of treatment! Thankfully it was where my now married daughter worked, so she was a bright spot in my day!
So, in the span of a few weeks, we’ve got…wedding…popped rib…shingles…we had enough riding on the emotional rollercoaster of life and were looking forward to things settling down.
At the end of November my father-in-law, Jim, passed away. It wasn’t completely unexpected but it’s still never easy. My husband and I were able to be there the night before and have our time with him and we knew that was a huge blessing.
As I sat at the funeral home with my mother-in-law and two of my sisters-in-law, my own mom called and said that I should make my way to my grandmother’s apartment as soon as I could. Again, not completely unexpected, but still came as a shock. Her goal was to make it to her great-granddaughter’s wedding and we’re so thankful she was able to!
As I drove the hour from Orange County to Burbank, I cried and pleaded with the Lord to give me one more day with my grandma. I knew our little family couldn’t handle two deaths on the same day.
God was so gracious and there was my sweet grandma Marie, fully dressed with her shoes on, resting comfortably in her lift chair. She was sleeping, but she had changed so much. My grief took over, and I bolted from the room. In the midst of my own mother’s grief, she comforted me in mine. I knew my amazing grandmother was so close to heaven and I didn’t know how I could deal with it all.
But let me tell you part of the secret of holding grief and joy together…it’s what my grandma said to me when I went back into her apartment.
I sat down next to her and held her hand. She opened up her eyes, that were still sparkling with all that grandma love, and said how happy she was to see me and patted the back of my hand. But she could see the grief in my eyes. Her next question, “How’s Jim?” She had closed her eyes after asking for a just a bit, long enough for me to try and pull myself together. When she opened her eyes and say the tears streaming down my face, she just said, “Oh honey, I’m so sorry. But we know where he is.”
This is how we hold grief and joy at the same time.
She knew was she was not far from seeing the Lord face to face, something she was joyous about, but she was still able to have a tender heart toward my sadness.
We cannot press down and suffocate the grief.
We have to face it.
We cry and we are sad. Maybe we are confused or mad.
Those feelings must both be experienced fully to come out of pain on the other side and be okay.
But in the grief, there was joy knowing that all the pain and suffering my father-in-law experienced was completely gone. He was wholly healed and I love to imagine my staunch Missionary Baptist father-in-law, dancing and singing praises in heaven to the King of Kings. That is joy!
I spent the rest of the day with my grandmother, and much of the family began to come in. We gathered around her chair and celebrated her. We told stories and every now and then, she would too. When she finally needed to rest in her own room, we were able to go in individually, and have some time with her. And I treasure the knowledge that she prayed for her children, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren every single day! What a legacy of faith!
Those moments too were held together by grief and joy.
None of us wanted to leave that night because we knew what was coming.
The next day, I arrived and checked in with my parents who’d gotten there a while before me. We thought we had a few more days. But as quickly as the hospice nurses arrived to do their assessment, days became moments. They rushed us in, my parents and I, and we had the honor of singing her into heaven.
Another moment held together with equal parts of grief and joy.
Yes, equal parts.
The next few weeks were a bit of blur as we had services for both my grandmother and my father-in-law. And all of that in the midst of preparing for Christmas. Family coming into town, hosting dinners and being together as much as we could. Even in all of this, the experiences are different for everyone. Our oldest daughter was a newlywed. Our middle daughter lives out of state. Our youngest daughter was navigating her Freshman year of college. My husband was still dealing with the effects of shingles. And I could now get dressed without wincing in extreme pain.
The physical and emotional pain. The grief and the joy.
They don’t always take turns.
Sometimes they arrive at the same time.
But here’s the best part, as I believe we are created in the image of God, He orchestrates our life and helps guide us through those times when we are required to hold grief and joy at the same time. He is in fact an expert at this.
That moment on the Cross, when His beloved Son took upon every single sin and all depravity of every human being that had been born and was still to be born, He had to look away. The grief that God the Father had to sit with is unimaginable to me. But He did it because of the magnitude of joy that was brought on by Jesus’ death and resurrection ~ the joy that we now had the free gift of reconciliation with our heavenly Father.
Here’s a passage from Matthew 27:45-54 ~ take some time and ponder this in your heart of how God the Father had to hold grief and joy at the same time…
45 “Now from the sixth hour (noon) there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour (3:00 p.m.). 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud [agonized] voice, [j]“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” 47 When some of the bystanders there heard it, they began saying, “This man is calling for [k]Elijah.” 48 Immediately one of them ran, and took a sponge, soaked it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. 49 But the rest said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him [from death].” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud [agonized] voice, and gave up His spirit [voluntarily, sovereignly dismissing and releasing His spirit from His body in submission to His Father’s plan]. 51 And [at once] the veil [of the Holy of Holies] of the temple was [l]torn in two from top to bottom; the earth shook and the rocks were split apart. 52 The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints (God’s people) who had fallen asleep [in death] were raised [to life]; 53 and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection, they entered the holy city (Jerusalem) and appeared to many people. 54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, they were terribly frightened and filled with awe, and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
The Lord has felt it all ~
With Him, we can do the same. We can experience grief and we can celebrate joy.
And we can do this at the same time.
We can hold grief and joy together.