I sat on the back deck a few Sundays ago. It was chilly but the sun was still out at 5:30pm and my white cosmo was strong (we put white cranberry juice in and I highly recommend that little twist). My brothers made pizza and Vienna skipped around in her beach dress and boots. Give that girl some sunshine and she thinks it’s summer time. In that moment, I was happy. Content.
As I sipped, my drink started to taste a little bitter but I knew better. It was the bittersweet of the happy and sad. The should be and the thankful for. It was a perfectly simple moment. I am thankful for that. And, Joe should have been right there with us. For that moment. For the new season that’s beginning. The fresh start that each Spring seems to bring is happening once again and I couldn’t help but think of the ever-present duality of joy and grief and how guilt seems to also sneak a seat up to that table. In that moment, I was happy. Content. And guilt ridden.
Guilt isn’t a feeling I’ve talked about in my grief journey as much as some others but lately, it’s made it’s way to me. And I started to think about why.
I can’t place it exactly. Is it my own fear of moving forward in a life without Joe? My anger for having to experience the good things, and the bad for that matter, without the partner I chose to do it all with? Is it the damned if you do, damned if you don’t concept society projects on to young widows or others experiencing deep grief? Maybe it’s entering yet another season, another reminder that life is moving forward although my heart is still longing for the past. I think it’s also looking forward to the newness this season could bring. There is a guilt in feeling genuine happiness right alongside a heart break.
First and foremost, it is normal, natural, to feel a sense of guilt when experiencing moments of joy or happiness after losing a loved one. The sneaky part of our human mind tries to tell us that feeling moments of peace or a genuine contentment somehow means our grief is suddenly “less” or leaving us. It has us questioning if our love has somehow changed or faded. Grief loves a good mind trick and sometimes, it’s hard to talk ourselves out of it.
But the truth is, experiencing happiness does not diminish the love, the longing, the missing that we do for our person every. single. day. In fact, allowing yourself to feel joy can be a healthy and healing part of the grieving process. Grieving is a constant work to balance honoring the memories of your loved one, but also to continue living your life and finding moments of happiness, a life you can look forward to.
Despite my knowing this, I still find that guilt sets in. As my third spring season without Joe begins, I find myself wanting the warmer weather, welcoming the opportunity for the spring cleaning of not just the material things but letting go of the emotional things that no longer serve me and continuing this journey of discovering this new chapter of me. And yet, there is a part of me that doesn’t want to look forward to it. That’s the angry, guilty part of my grief. There is a part of me that is still mad that I have to keep doing this and now, mad that I embrace the changing of my seasons. It’s not logical. Grief rarely ever is. But neither is so much of our life, I suppose. Love, relationships, loss - our responses to that are not fueled by rational thoughts but emotion filled ones.
This is a glimpse into the story of my experience. And as we all know, grief and all it encompasses is so unique to everyone. I know that guilt in grief can present for many different reasons. Maybe you’re here because you’ve felt it, too. The guilt. For not doing enough, for not saying enough. You think back to the signs you think you missed or the flags you could have caught to somehow fix it all. Maybe you feel guilty for the could haves, should haves and would haves. Maybe it’s the guilt for the smiles and the days that feel a little lighter. For finding some joy in this new life you never chose but the only one you have to live.
(or maybe you’re her because you’re one of the amazing people who continue to read my words and you’re the real MVP for that!)
Guilt and Spring don’t typically go together. Neither, by society's definitions, do joy and grief, yet here we are. Finding happiness after loss can feel bittersweet, but it's a part of the healing process. As I enter a new season, I'm reminded of the duality of joy and grief, and the guilt that can come with it. But I'm learning to embrace both and find balance. Joy and grief are two sides of the same coin, and they have the power to transform us.
If you’re wondering what in fact does go together, it’s cosmos and pizza. You’re welcome.