A few weeks ago, an Uber driver argued with me about my son Zachary’s death. Specifically, he argued with me about the potential for joy in life after the loss of a child. (I recently wrote about the experience for PALS – Pregnancy After Loss Support – Magazine. The article is called “Choose What Defines You.”) For days after that interaction, I vented and grumbled about the ignorance and insensitivity of that driver. I wrote it out, releasing the frustration. Even though writing typically helps me let go of those things which make me feel stuck, still the conversation in that man’s vehicle lingered with me weeks later.
Just yesterday I asked myself:
Why is this bothering me so much?
I took some time for soul searching.
The answer that bubbled up from deep in my heart has rocked me.
I do believe and feel that my experience with Zachary was joyful. I would not have said that at the time of my loss, but I can say it now that years have passed and I can look back through a different vantage point. Time has eased away so many of the harsh, raw, and angry emotions. I continue to feel the helplessness to save my child, but I also feel honored to have carried Zach and to know him even briefly. I feel his life has transformed me as a woman, mother, artist, and writer… as a human being. That is something for which I cannot thank my son enough.
Through Zachary, I have learned many hard lessons. I have realized that we all die, but that LOVE can never be taken from us. The great depth of pain opens the space for joy to emerged on the other side of the heartbreak and grief. What brings me the most joy of all? It is the fact that I can still feel Zachary with me.
Yes, I said joy.
Some days I do not understand it myself. The Uber driver thinks I’m crazy. I don’t care. I do feel joy in this life after loss. It has emerged out of the realization that both sadness and happiness – and all emotions in between – can coexist within one person at one time. This didn’t make sense for me when I began my grief journey. I grew up with an extreme mentality. It could only be one or the other. Therefore, it surprised me that – in the midst of my sorrow – joy emerged, reviving and renewing my life.
I do not have all the answers. If you are still feeling stuck in grief, joy may be the last thing you can imagine feeling. That’s okay. I’ve been there. Sometimes I still go back there. Grief is not linier. It’s a wild rollercoaster. When I look back at the last six-and-a-half years of my life since I said hello and goodbye to my first son, I think: “My child is a gift. Life, all of it – even death – is a gift.”
I really do believe the cliché that says that life is what you make of it. What I did not tell that Uber driver is that I have chosen to see the joy in what I have endured. It could have killed me. It could have destroyed everything else I hold dear. All of that was my choice. Instead, I have chosen to find the will to go on and to learn to live and laugh all over again. It has not been easy. The tears still come. Yet, the silver lining for me is this paradoxical joy. I realized that I cannot control what happens to me – no matter how hard I try – and therefore, what I do have control over is my response.
I control my joy.
In a weird way, I am thankful for that gruff Uber driver. He made me think. He challenged me. Even though he said all the wrong things, he did engage in the conversation. That is more than many people these days are willing to do. He helped me realize what a heartbreaking yet heartwarming journey it has been since Zachary died. He reminded me that I still do control my joy.