The other evening, we received news that someone close had only a few days to live. It wasn’t unexpected. In some respects, it was a relief. The time, it seemed, had come. Yet it still hurt.
Grief always hurts.
We hugged, tearful. We remembered how lovely they were, they had been to us, and we smiled. I’ve often found that tears of grief seem to give permission for truer smiles, for tears of joy. The joy of having known someone precious.
Before this, I was pretty numb. Overwhelmed by something coming up in work, I was stuffing it inside me, hoping (though it never has before) it would dissolve by itself in there, and generally being detached from myself and everyone around me.
I couldn’t be this anymore. I had to feel.
After the hug, and the laughs, I went outside and heard my son, who I’d put to bed half an hour earlier, knocking at his bedroom window. I looked up at him, he gave me a big, wide smile, the truest smile of love and excitement. I smiled back, gestured that I loved him, and pointed to go back to bed.
That smile brought joy too, but it also unleashed the real grief I’d been numbing. The grief of how life was - or was it me? - seeming to squash out of me all that was important, being there for my children, all I hoped to be, all life could be. And how I did not know how to stop it. Even how I was seemingly inescapably letting it happen. Again.
It seems I couldn’t have the joy without the grief here either.
Perhaps this is always true. We just can’t have one without the other.
But, that smiling, that adoring face in the window did not know the man he looked up to. He did not know how much I felt I was letting him down and numbing myself towards him. In some divine grace, he simply didn’t care. He just enthusiastically offered me the chance to feel again, to be connected again, to belong again, to live again - with all the sorrow and celebrations of living.
Perhaps life is full of these moments of invitation. Perhaps we numb ourselves to the night, but in doing, numb ourselves to the light. Maybe we fear joy because we anticipate the grief - and so numb ourselves to it all. But maybe the world just doesn’t care. Maybe it keeps enthusiastically, freely, offering us the chance to feel, be connected and live again. With the grief and the joy.