On Grief, the Shadow of Joy

I noticed this morning that I had labeled the front of my journal Summer 2016. I don’t write very regularly, so the notebook still isn’t filled, even at the end of Summer 2017. Curious about what I was thinking last year before I was sick, I reread the first page of the journal. I was surprised that the theme back then was grief, so I thought I would share it here. (For context, my younger son, who had emerged whole and healthy from years of addiction, was shortly to move out into an apartment with schoolmates when I wrote this. He was still only 18. My older son had moved out four years prior.)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

I’ll do this notebook a little differently, perhaps. Maybe more like a journal, a little freer in structure. I have been very rigid with the notebooks. Perhaps I should have gotten one with an unlined side. Oh well. This summer is for creative pursuits now. Some research and stuff too, but only one more meeting. I am in fact ambivalent about even writing here—I’ve been so immersed in just feeling, in observing, in connecting for the past week. Unfortunately that has meant an awful lot of grief. I’ve been feeling not just my own grief at this huge transition in my life, but all the grief of my past, my future, and of everyone else’s. The grief of the whole world. It’s all the same grief, this pain at loss, and it’s so very close to joy, to the exquisite, tender, fragile bliss at life and its terrible beauty—I guess because that beauty is so fragile we know the grief is following it fast, it’s just there in its shadow. And the greater the beauty the more vulnerable it seems, the more acute the pain. I looked at Nathan yesterday morning sitting across from me at the breakfast table, and he was so very beautiful in the full bloom of his health and youth—clear skin, rosy cheeks, clear eyes, red lips. He was grumpy and taciturn, but so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. One of my last breakfasts with him, the last of my days with him living with me, the last of my days of regular, daily motherhood. My heart aches with this big change.

I was struck at how intense my grief was then, and how closely connected to joy. The shadow of joy. Every major change brings the potential for grief at the loss of what was, so we have opportunities for grief all through life, not just at its end.

Last week my sister Lorraine came to me, having just said goodbye to her dear youngest daughter moving far across the continent. I know how she must have gazed on her daughter’s sweet face alight with that bright, pretty smile and the excitement of adventure. And how her heart must have ached with grief.

2010-03-11 06.22.52

Just the week before my son had gone still farther away, leaving for months across the ocean. This time I wasn’t sure I would ever see him again. That grief was the hardest yet. But then I remembered to think of him as a gift. For that is what we must do as mothers: we must grow our children and give them to the world. So that is one of my gifts, my beautiful, sunny boy who has gone off to share his gift of making others marvel and delight at what we thought was impossible, making our imaginations a little wider, a little wilder.

To live is to dance in and out of the shadow of joy.

About susanbriscoe

English teacher, writer
This entry was posted in On Dying and Living and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to On Grief, the Shadow of Joy

  1. Sarah says:

    Ack! Having seen Henri off on to the next phase, as he heads off to cegep and greener pastures, i so feel you. Also realize how my grief is only painful because i enjoy him so very much and have to remember to be grateful that i am not relieved that he is going. Two sides of the same coin. Thank you for the reminder. ❤️

    Liked by 3 people

  2. shelleycanada says:

    This so resonates Susan. When my Oliver was born and I became a mom I remember holding him and looking intently in his eyes. A feeling of heat actually came from my heart, there was so much joy. And then I remember realizing one day I would have to let go and say farewell. One went with the other. A covenant I made as a new mother. I agree, our children are gifts we must let go to the world. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I have watched three children launch themselves and thrive, marry and increase our family with six grandchildren. It is our job to let them live!Most amazing is your last sentence. It is so true.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I just keep saying it: thank you. xoxo

    Liked by 3 people

  5. This is beautifully done! And I think I know where you’re coming from. My two grown children recently returned to NH to spend a week with us at the lake. They left us many years ago for the west, California and Colorado. For a long time I could not accept that they were gone. But you are so right…they are gifts I grew and then gave away to the world.
    I had not seen my son for three years. So the happiness of that brief week still mingles with the grief that he’s now gone again.


  6. Pingback: Ask Me Anything #9: Fear | The Death Project

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