Death is permanent. Hopelessness is temporary. (David Kessler, 2020)
When I heard David Kessler say this at a conference in Portland last month it really sunk in and chipped at the edges of my broken heart.
Within a few months of losing Marley and my dad, my family went to church. Surprisingly, and not surprisingly, the topic of the sermon was grief. We cringed and clung to the words equally. This was one of four times that we had been to church and we were trying it on for a good fit- would this be a way to help us cope? Find meaning? Learn to live? What we found was hope. The minister talked about how sadness takes over the heart when one is grieving and how among that sadness one may find moments of joy. Ah! This meant something. It was permission to laugh at our funny and beloved son without an incredible sense of guilt and regret for feeling something other than excruciating pain. We believed what she was saying, we felt moments of joy and we needed to know that both sadness and joy could coexist and she offered us the language to describe our feelings.
We adopted this language. In our family we wish each other ‘moments of joy’ instead of ‘have a good day’. We check-in with each other with wonder and ask ‘any moments of joy today’? It was a magic pill for communication that was suddenly authentic and meaningful.
So, while in grief or supporting someone through their grief think about what it would mean to have the permission to experience moments of joy. Or tell the person you’re supporting that you’ll hold their hope for them until a moment of joy returns and they feel the unfamiliar sense of hope once again. When your grief stings and pangs at the souls depth, hope is hard to find. Hope can conjure feelings of guilt or betrayal as one wonders, “How can I have hope when my daughter has died?”. Be the one who offers to hold the hope. Be the one who shows that death ends life but it doesn’t end love, relationships or hope.
I believe we were there that day for a reason. I know I needed to hear about moments of joy and life-long sadness living in the same heart. This perspective has soothed me when I feel hopeless and soothed me when I feel guilty for laughing really hard or not crying for a few days. Learning how to allow myself to hold both emotions was imperative in integrating my grief. Like our son said “Grief is like a superpower. It comes with great responsibility and you have to handle it the right way”.