On Joy and Loss

On any given day, you will find me on a mission to discover and explore emotions. Why? Because it’s my job.

I, am a counselor. A trained ‘companion’, if you will, here to assist and accompany individuals on their journey of healing and discovery.

I’ve had the privilege of taking this journey with many over the years and was blessed to have had some such companions helping me on my journey of healing and discovering…me. (DISCLAIMER: That journey is still, in fact, a work in progress.)

And whether it’s been me on my journey or something said or implied by others on theirs, a question about feeling our emotions inevitably comes up. Usually, it sounds something like this:

“But do we need to feel all the emotions? Because some of them are really hard.”

It’s a reasonable question. After all, it’s difficult to embrace ‘difficult’ emotions.

On the surface life would be so much easier if we could just feel the ‘easier’ emotions: happiness, joy, contentment. But easier doesn’t always mean better. And easier certainly doesn’t mean fulfilling. In fact, if we’re willing to look deep enough, we’ll often (dare I say always?) find that the key to living fulfilled- to living well- is to allow the ‘difficult’ and the ‘easier’ to work together in our lives.

Sound confusing? Because at times it is. It can be difficult to imagine what this might look like in practice. If you’re anything like me, a deeper understanding is often easier with a real-life example. So let me offer a recent, slightly raw one from my own life.

This weekend was a roller coaster of emotions for my family, complete with all the feels.

Saturday was my cousin’s funeral.

While I’m sad that I didn’t know her very long, in the very short amount of time that I did, she impacted my life in the sweetest of ways.

The circumstances are long and detailed as to why I didn’t know this first cousin well. That story will need to wait for another time. But for now, I want to share a few things about what I saw in her, and the rest of the family, with regard to embracing the ‘difficult’ and the ‘easier’.

First, a little background. My cousin’s name is Cheryl, and that’s important to know because the name Cheryl means ‘Dear One’. Very quickly, that’s exactly what she became to me. In the span of a hug and a breath she somehow managed to make me feel loved, special, cared for and thought of…all in the midst of fighting stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

A little more than a week before she left this earth, in spite of her illness and pain, I learned she was excited about meeting me and made it clear she had been thinking about and planning for me and my future with our family. In the midst of her pain, with treatments exhausted, I watched this beautiful soul continue to live life; loving, laughing, and even working for as long as it was possible.

I had the privilege of a brief one on one visit with her that same day and again on the phone a little less than a week before she passed. In those encounters I was honored to get a glimpse of what the rest of the family has been privileged to experience all their lives; the warmth, love, joy, care and take-charge attitude of one incredible human being. And something else, I saw in Cheryl an amazing example of the willingness and richness of holding joy and loss closely together; refusing to let one overtake the other.

After her passing, we gathered for a dinner filled with laughter and tears, and on an uncharacteristically warm, January day, the visitation and funeral. There was sunlight beaming through stained glass windows at just the right moment; and bonfires complete with a shooting star (all credited of course, to Cheryl).

Over the course of two and a half days, the indelible mark she left on each person was clear. This ‘Dear One’ who held so many others dear, with her passing gave us a reason to feel loss and in celebrating her life, a beautiful reason to feel joy. All mingled together until at times seemed hard to know where one began and the next ended.

In my family, I witnessed the bravest acts of holding joy and loss closely together; refusing to sacrifice either emotion. For it would seem in the most counter-intuitive of ways that one does not diminish the other, but rather-each fully experienced and expressed, intensifies the other in the process. I saw fullness of life in our family through the ‘difficult’ moments and the ‘easier’ ones. I believe Cheryl would have been proud.

In my family I experienced one of the best examples I’ve seen in my lifetime of holding joy and loss in tension, with a fierce willingness to lean in and feel each to the fullest.

Of course, while the feelings of loss will ebb and flow, ultimately, joy wins. Not only because our ‘Dear One’ lives on in so many but because we know that now- she is pain free, dancing on streets of gold in the house of our Savior (and most likely, organizing all the events). One day, we will dance with her too.

We will miss you, Cheryl. Thank you for loving and sharing and caring; for showing us how to feel all the feels.

So, what about you? Are there seemingly conflicting emotions in your life right now? Are you attempting to selectively numb out the emotions that feel too ‘difficult’ hoping to only feel the ones that are ‘easier’? We don’t need to fear our emotions or be ruled by them, but we do need to explore them, deal with them and ultimately learn from them.

If you’re struggling today, know that our emotions are a gift from God, designed to help us experience life to full. He wants that for you. I want that for you.

If you need help in doing this, there are wonderful, compassionate trained 'companions' out there. If you don’t know where to turn for help in finding one, contact me through the email on this blog. I will do whatever I can to help you.