Instructions for life Week 5

August 1, 2021

Foreboding joy 

Ever since the death of my son, whenever I feel joy, it is quickly followed by fear. The unease spirals into worry that nudges my thoughts towards the darkness lurking around the corner. Years later I learned the term foreboding joy, described by Brene Brown, it is a dress rehearsal for tragedy; preparing for the worst even when things are at their best. And I know exactly when I first felt it. 

During the Christmas of 1992, I was aglow from the joy I had experienced with my family. The overwhelming happiness lingered for days. At the time, I believed I was savoring the moment, sharing my joy with everyone. But within weeks of proclaiming that joy, my 5-year-old son, Ryan died unexpectedly. As I grieved this painful loss, I recalled that moment and winced at my naivete. Cringing as if I had jinxed myself with joy.

Grieving a child is an ugly scene, one I hid from the world outside, and one I still grieve today. For so long I could not sleep, because when I closed my eyes, it was as if a switch turned everything on. Sobbing quietly until I drifted off to sleep, desperate to understand my pain.  I linger in the sorrow that only the grieving can understand. Any movement towards happiness felt riddled in mockery, the harsh feeling of survival.

Grief was endless, after the loss of Ryan, and I could not catch my breath. My father died suddenly, a few years later, then my brother a few years after that. Grief became the only thing I knew. Sadness lingered in every happy moment, as I waited for the other shoe to fall, and loss continued. Then my cousin died, my aunts and uncles. Grief accumulated faster than I could process it, until I was drowning in sadness, waves dragging me under like the sand from the shore.

I had to get up, pick myself up each time I was knocked down. I had to fight through the anguish, battle through the endless unknowns of grieving. Not just shock, denial, or anger. But also, the stages people don’t talk about like guilt, the opinions of others and coalesced with all of that, there are the stories we tell ourselves. The pity we see in others, and the frustration of why me never stops ringing in my head.

And I still catch myself hesitant of joy, fearful that expressing a sliver of my happiness will be followed by pain. I was barely 28 years old when my son died and I had to do a lot of growing up, quickly. I had to learn the most difficult lessons we all will one day learn. I needed to stop focusing on my pain and recognize all our lives are filled with joy and pain, some have more of one than the other, but it does not mean they are connected. And so, I am always trying to find happiness, share memories. and keep searching for joy…







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Instructions for Life

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