A Balancing Act: Grief and Joy

Posted by Scott Allenby


The last ten days feels like a blur. A week ago I wrote a blog titled Ship, Shipmate, Self as we worked to process loss in our community, and while my intention is not to run an entire blog series on grief, it is important to continue the dialogue that too often gets swept under the rug following a tragedy like this.


Among the thousands of comments, emails, resources, phone calls, and personal conversations that have flooded our communications team, one podcast stood out as incredibly relevant to the emotions we are experiencing right now. “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” is a podcast hosted by Nora McInerny, author of the best selling book It’s Ok to Laugh (Crying Is Ok Too), in which she discusses tragedy in her own life, and how she has sought to be honest about her emotions in its wake.

Each of Nora’s podcasts gets to the heart of the sadness, grief, and awkwardness that surrounds our broken humanness. As her podcast description notes, “You know how every day someone asks ‘how are you?’ And even if you’re totally dying inside, you just say ‘fine,’ so everyone can go about their day? This show is the opposite of that.” Take time to listen to a few episodes of this podcast when you feel like you are ready.


Today, the sun is shining and the crispness to the air reminds me more of September than mid-July; the humidity, stuffiness, and low clouds from the past week blown out by a stiff northwest wind overnight. It’s the type of day that usually brings my ill-equipped internal thermostat unparalleled joy. And yet it feels too soon to allow the heaviness of the past week to blow over, too soon to enjoy life to its fullest.


Nora McInerny discusses this internal struggle with the role grief should play in her life in the first episode of her podcast. “Grief is my constant companion. And I don’t totally hate it, either. It’s the bruise I get to push. A pain that reminds me what I had, and lost, is real. It’s the price I pay for loving deeply, for letting myself be loved. Happiness, love, is so much easier to demonstrate than grief. So much easier to see. And something about that made me really uncomfortable. I feared my own judgement. If I was happy, I must not be sad anymore. If I’m not sad anymore, I must not have loved him.”


Perhaps one of the most complex emotions we are capable of experiencing as humans is this simultaneous feeling of grief and joy. Rarely do we allow ourselves to experience both in their fullness, feeling as though when our basin is filled with grief, there is no room for joy. And yet, it is so important to be able to live as an individual, and as a community, with our brokenness without compromising our capacity for wholeness. I think this is the struggle we all feel right now. How do we honor someone’s life? How much are we supposed to mourn before we can allow joy to enter our life again? Are we lingering appropriately in each stage of grief?


The answer is frustratingly simple: there’s no playbook, no instruction manual for grief. Just us wrestling with our emotions, and reaching out to others to process those feelings. Simply knowing we are not alone, that we have friends, mentors, counselors, family to reach out to, and that we are not ‘wrong’ for how we are feeling, regardless of the emotions we are experiencing, helps us more fully understand that we will never entirely leave grief behind. We will make room for it, accept it as part of our story, without letting it define us.

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Each time we experience loss we come to realize the love we have to give is not finite. As any parent knows, when you have a second child, you do not love your first any less. When you get to know your new advisees, you do not love those who graduated last year any less. Our capacity to love miraculously grows as we invite others into our lives. When we lose someone, we must remind ourselves their impact on our lives is not compromised the moment we allow ourselves to experience joy again, whenever that may be.

Click here for support and counseling resources.


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