Holding both… grief and joy. (An Update from Angie)

Posted by on Jun 9, 2014 in Updates | 19 Comments

Holding both… grief and joy.

A couple months ago, I spent a week at a healing trauma center.  I arrived on a beautiful property with cabins, horses, blue sky, and silence, except for my heart beating out of my chest, full of anxiety.  When I arrived they took all forms of technology.  I was left with nothing to distract myself or numb the pain.  I had only my thoughts, my journal, a broken heart, and to feel what was inside of me.  Therefore, I felt like I was constantly on the verge of bawling, vomiting, or collapsing in despair…unless I chose to absorb what I felt.

While Will was sick, that’s what I did.  I absorbed all of my emotions so I could function.  I’m still scared to feel what’s there, what has been growing deeper and deeper inside of me.  It’s too much.  So, too often, I still absorb. Sometimes, I can’t live in this world without Will and actually feel what that’s like, but I don’t have the option of living here with him anymore.

The first few days at the center were incredibly painful and difficult, but as we moved deeper into the trauma, I felt more content in my sadness and grief.  The group of people I was with were wonderful.  We were all hurting people who found comfort with each other.  Anyone of us could laugh or cry…either was okay and neither denied the existence of the other.

A turning point for me was at lunch one day.  As conversation turned to what happened to Will and me, I began spouting off facts with no emotion attached.  A man broke down crying and I quickly apologized.  My apology was for my words contributing to someone feeling uncomfortable or feeling their own fear and sadness.  I didn’t want to be the cause of that and felt that I was.  He asked me why I was apologizing.  In that moment, I realized I have been so fearful of crying, of feeling, in front of others.  Fearful that I might be the cause of anyone feeling even a hint of what I feel inside.  But, with his tears, I was given permission to feel and I began to sob.  He held me and we both cried.  The deep connection of pain and togetherness in our humanity was truly beautiful.

Recently, for the first time in almost a year, I have been able to hold both my extreme grief and joy.  That is what I hope for, maybe all I really hope for myself.

About a month ago, I started teaching ESL to adult refugees and immigrants in Nashville.  My class has about 15 students, mostly from African and Middle Eastern countries.  All I really know about my students are their names and home country.  I don’t know their stories. I don’t know the reasons for being in Nashville or what each one has gone through, or seen, or what was left behind.  Sometimes I cry just thinking about it.  When I think about the pain I feel constantly in losing William, it breaks my heart to think of others experiencing depths of loss.  I think about our lives, how our story changed so quickly, the layers upon layers of loss, and it makes me think of others who lived in pain before I even knew of it’s depths, or those who are entering into it as I type.  The human connection in suffering is deep, yet there seems to be a strange beauty that I’m seeing and experiencing there.  It’s a painful beauty and one I would never wish for anyone to arrive at in this way, yet I feel that it exists in these depths of entering in with each other.  I remember writing about how the depths of suffering Will and I were experiencing were so much deeper than we had ever experienced before, yet so was the depth of love.  Both the depths of love and suffering continue to deepen for me, as I continue to see myself and others a little clearer in this world we live in.

My heart continues to break each day as I wake up alone and each night as I go to bed alone…every time I have a question and want to ask William…every time I have a thought or idea and want to share it with him and hear his thoughts in return…every time I come across a fun dance video or hear a song I love…every time the weather is warm and I think about going for a walk or every time it rains and I think about cuddling and watching a movie…every time I go to the store and want to pick up a tasty treat for him…every time I start to dream, but don’t have him to dream with me…every time a thought in my mind takes shape and I want to tell him…every time I come home and wish I could hear about his day, what new idea he came up with or what was on his mind.  These are a few of the things that break my heart each day and I wonder… what are other people feeling that no one knows…are other hearts breaking each day?

When I stand in front of my class, I think about how much I would love to share this with William.  I want to go home and tell him all about it.  I think about how my students don’t know anything about my story and I don’t know anything about theirs.  Yet, we sit in the classroom together, all of us with a story…our lives, and we laugh together and learn together.  We are overwhelmed and frustrated by the language barrier together and then we have breakthroughs together.  We are all human beings and we share in our humanity and the emotions that we all feel.  We share it together.  That is where I found the ability to hold my joy again, as I hold my grief.  My grief is a part of me.  I feel no shame in holding it or pressure to stop (or at least I hope to not feel shame or pressure).  Even as a Christian, as someone who is believing that this life isn’t all there is, hoping and believing that there is a God who saves us, I am a person with a range of emotions, who has lost greatly and feels that loss deeply every day.  But, I am not alone.  That I know.  Our emotions and the range of them are not limited to gender or race or sexual orientation/identity or ethnicity or religion.  Even with language barriers there is commonality and connection in our emotions.  We all have them and can experience the beauty in sharing them together, in sharing our lives and stories with each other.

There is still hope inside me that I will wake up one day and William will be next to me, even knowing that will never happen…that the pain I feel daily will end, not because I have moved on from it, but because it’s actually over.  When I look at my students or anyone I meet, I wonder about their stories, their lives.  What pains have they suffered?  What hopes did they have that will never come to be?  Do they feel alone?  Would they feel less alone if someone listened to their story, if someone shared in their emotions, met them in those deep places?

Are we sharing in our humanity with each other?  The depths of it, the range of it?  Are we limiting what we allow others to feel around us?  Do we limit emotions to only the “positive” ones and quickly squash or redirect the painful and difficult ones, the ones that may make us feel uncomfortable or feel our own fears?  Does everything have to end with a positive spin or wrapped in pretty bow?  Or maybe what I need to ask myself…can others feel their happiness or joy around me, even as I hold my grief?  Can we, together, hold both simultaneously?  My therapist told me that the healthiest people are those that are just as close to crying in a moment as they are to laughing.  Our range of emotion is immense.  I feel fairly confident that I will lean towards grief and sadness for quite some time and I put no limits on it.  My grief doesn’t seem to ease, it just changes.  I may grieve for the rest of my life, and if I do…okay, but I also want to hold joy.  My deep love for William is why I sit in a place of sorrow and grief now.  I hold joy in our love for each other.  I hold grief in the loss.  If I don’t limit grief then I don’t want to limit joy either.

Grief in one hand.  Joy in the other.  Neither denying the other’s existence.

19 Comments

  1. neal goone
    June 24, 2014

    Hi Angie,
    You probably don’t remember me, but our paths crossed for the briefest of moments at the clinic in AZ. You were arriving as we were days away from departing. I just learned of Will’s passing …ironically my wjfe Jodi passed away within a week of Will on July 20th.

    I wish I could tell you how much better I am…and that the grief and painful memories of illness and seeing your loved one suffer have subsided. But unfortunately as I read your letters I feel as if I could have penned them myself. It seems you’re finding some joy and purpose in your life…at least to give you inspiration to help others. I commend you for continuing to push and look for the silver linings.

    I’ve looked up Will and his music and hope you can continue to find inspiration and the love for music that he embraced. His message inspires me and I draw empathy from yours. At least thru our son – Marc – I look at Will’s journey in music as close parallel to Marc’s – independent artist – striving to get his message out and pursuing his dream and love with unbridled enthusiasm.

    I wish you the best and will continue to hope that time does help heel deep wounds.
    Best,
    Neal

    Reply
  2. Adisa
    June 17, 2014

    Hi Angie,

    I am encouraged by your words. Being a nurse working with patients who have cancer is hard. I am constantly juggling feelings of joy and grief. I think of you and Mr, Gray often and how supportive you were. You were always very quiet but your eyes always spoke to me. I could tell how he was doing by the look in your eyes. Over the few months I cared for him, I could recognize the fear in your eyes as well as the strength. Most of all I recognized the undying love the two of you had for each other. It is beautiful and special and anyone who spent any amount of time with the two of you could feel it. Keep loving, keep feeling joy and grief, and keep sharing, keep being you. May God continue to bless, keep and comfort you.

    Adisa

    Reply
  3. Annie
    June 15, 2014

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey with your friends, and also with strangers –like me. It touches me and gives me hope to see how you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Your willingness to share what this can look like, as hard and as incredibly painful as it is, is a deep encouragement: an act of courage, of having heart.

    Reply
  4. Karen Rudd
    June 12, 2014

    I heard this the following morning after reading your post and it ties in so well I had to share. It’s a song by Shane & Shane with a brief message within the song by John Piper – very powerful! I hope it blesses you as it did me.

    http://daily-doctrine.tumblr.com/post/88471208925/though-tonight-im-crying-out-let-this-cup-pass

    Reply
  5. anne preven
    June 10, 2014

    angie…this is so beautifully written and full of wisdom. i have been thinking of you often and wondering how you are. i am so pleased to hear you are teaching and taking the painful but totally positive steps necessary to process what has happened. lots of love,
    Anne

    Reply
  6. Libby
    June 10, 2014

    Hello Angie, your sister has become a dear friend of mine over the past year. Loved your thoughts here and wanted to encourage you that the idea of grief and joy coexisting is woven throughout the Bible. Here are some great gems:
    “And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud whey they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.” Ezra 3:11-13
    “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” Psalm 126:5-6
    “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross…” Hebrews 12:2
    Blessings to you, Angie, as you continue to navigate these days. — Libby

    Reply
  7. Marya
    June 10, 2014

    Angie, thank you for being so honest. This post was beautiful! You were in my prayers this morning so it was refreshing to read an update from you. You are amazing!

    Reply
  8. Karen Rudd
    June 10, 2014

    Thank you , Angie. In all honesty, after Will’s passing I avoided reading any updates because your pain was still so fresh. I, too, hold grief in one hand and joy in the other and so it was difficult to read at times because I felt helpless to help you and confront my own personal losses at the same time.

    I think about the story of the little boy who went to visit the elderly man next door after he had lost his wife. When he returned home his mother asked him what they talked about. He replied, “Nothing. I just helped him cry.” I love that story so much because sometimes we need someone to help us cry, even when no words are spoken, and to know we’re not alone.

    Thank you for sharing this gift with us.
    Please know we are crying with you.

    Reply
  9. David Malone
    June 10, 2014

    This is beautiful and essential. Thank you.

    Reply
  10. erin
    June 10, 2014

    Angie, this is beautiful. You are a powerful writer. Thank you for your honesty, for always being open about what you are feeling and thinking. I have thought and prayed for you often these past few months and will continue to do so.

    Reply
  11. Morgan
    June 10, 2014

    Angie, I’ve been following your blog via Kelli, and experienced my own loss relatively recently (which Kelli also helped me with). I am feeling the same things you are feeling, and found a passage from Khalil Gibran’s book The Prophet that expresses these sentiments well– it’s called On Joy and Sorrow. http://www.npr.org/programs/death/readings/spiritual/gibran.html

    You are not on this journey alone–I’ve not met you, but I think of you often. I admire your strength and honesty.

    Reply
  12. Chelsea
    June 10, 2014

    Hi Angie – I’m a friend of Autumn Ridenour and have been following your blog through email updates for quite some time. I’ve never commented before, but wanted to thank you for your post. It brought me much comfort today. I recently lost my son completely unexpectedly at the end of labor. Since then, I’ve been wading in deep grief of lost dreams. Even though our circumstances are very different, your words about holding both joy and grief at the same time are very true and very valuable. I appreciate your willingness to communicate that things don’t always tie up neatly. You’re displaying the hard work of grieving–it shows me the deep love you’ve felt.

    Reply
  13. Beans
    June 10, 2014

    We love you Angie.

    Cry, laugh, dance, get frustrated, hug, love, walk away, run, snicker, chuckle, sob, hurt, savor moments, eat raspberry swirl and bruschetta, sing in the shower, crack up at silly jokes in your own noggin … all of us are here for you to be YOU with. Will is so proud of you. We all are just honored that you’re still sharing your life with us and we’re all better for it. God loves us. He truly does.

    Love you sweet, real friend!
    Melissa, TJ and Aiden

    Reply
  14. Jason
    June 10, 2014

    Angie –

    I am so encouraged by your bravery and your openness. Thank you for sharing exactly where you are, exactly how you are. This is so hard, and you press on. Thanks for sharing.

    Jason

    Reply
  15. Elizabeth
    June 9, 2014

    Angie, this post was so beautiful. I love how you love others. Such a beautiful connection between joy and grief. Love you sweet friend.

    Reply
  16. Kristen
    June 9, 2014

    Angie, I love you so much! You are brave and honest, vulnerable and true. You are a beautiful soul. One that even in the sorrow, sadness and grief shines a light to others. Thank you for sharing your journey. I love you so very much.

    Reply
  17. Matt Inman
    June 9, 2014

    Love the whole thing but especially the last lines. Thanks for sharing, friend

    Reply
  18. John
    June 9, 2014

    Absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing Angie. You are a strong and courageous lady. You are living so well – I know its so hard. I love you.

    Reply
  19. renee
    June 9, 2014

    Angie,
    You are amazing. What you wrote makes perfect sense….or as perfectly as I can understand having never gone through the type of loss you have. But your writing in general is brilliant. So inspiring. You are gifted. My heart breaks for you. I can’t fathom that kind of pain. I want you to know that way back when, I sent a donation for Will’s last treatment. It wasn’t much. That’s not my point in telling you this. My point is I’ve NEVER felt so touched by such a beautiful love story as yours and Will’s. I thought about the two of you a lot….how hard it must’ve been for you to see the love of your life go through what he did. I’m SO glad to read that you are taking time for yourself now…in whatever way that looks like…to deal with what all YOU’VE been through. It is no less tramatic than what Will went through…just different. My thoughts still come back to you from time to time. It’s so good to read your updates. Keep being you. Your students are beyond blessed to be taught by someone with your heart!!

    Reply

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