Will there be joy again? It was a question I asked myself as I watched my oldest daughter graduate from college six months after the death of her sister. I took stock of my emotions, I was “happy” for her, I was proud of her, but it came with ache I would never see my daughter Mikenna graduate from university. The last two Holidays came and went and I felt the same emotions, I was thankful to be with my family and sad that part of it will forever be missing. I came up with ways to endure Holidays and special occasions, I created new traditions and I made sure to make plans on days that I new would be hard. But where was JOY?
I remember just months after I lost my daughter one of my doctor friends asked if we could all go out, to cheer me up. My old group of work friends kept asking me for dates and times to go. It sounded horrible. It sounded like a lot of me trying to act like I was fine. The truth was I am a social creature, but being around a lot of people, at least during the first couple years drained me. I knew at the time I was asked that someday that invitation might sound nice, but at that time It was the last thing I wanted to do. Two and a half years went by and now I might like the occasional invite, though many of the invites have stopped coming. Then the world went into a pandemic. How rude!
It made me realize that we do move away from people that seem like drama, they have something always going on or they might be emotional, it’s our natural instinct to move away from them. How often before my daughter passed did I not call or text someone because I felt uncomfortable with what they had going on in their life? It’s funny how life experiences change your perspective. At one point in my life, I learned to avoid people that might drag me into any unhealthy relationships, but as I matured I learned that you can also have healthy boundaries with your friends and their drama. Most people have messy lives, and you can still have relationships without taking on everyone’s issues.
My core people are still around me, some live far or I only see them once in awhile, but the main people that supported me at work, at home or online are still around. They still ask me to get coffee, have a bonfire, go for a walk, or send a text here and there, even if I don’t take them up on it. That’s what you find when you go through something terrible, you find your people. I am luckier than most people I know online dealing with loss, I have a larger support group than most, even two years later, they still send a message here and there to make sure I have left my house beyond work once in awhile. If you are reading this, and you know someone like me or my family, keep reaching out. It might seem like it’s been a very long time and we should be “back to normal” but we aren’t, our social energy as I call it, has changed. We don’t think about calling or texting most days but we still need you in our lives! To us two years or four years seems like five minutes ago and we get lost as days float by without even knowing it.
The question still hung over my head? Will I ever feel pure JOY again? Have I felt any joy since the tragedy? I replayed the last couple of years in my mind. Maybe I had to redefine what Joy would be. A year after the tragedy I was given tickets for my oldest daughter and I to go to a comedy show. I felt so awkward going out. It was like I forgot how to be in public. Once the show started though, I found myself laughing hysterically I would consider that joy. Another time that comes to mind is the trip I took to Ireland with my oldest daughter for a graduation present. We still shed many tears knowing that we were in a place her sister would have loved, but we had moments of joy as we took castle crypt tours, tromped through farming fields to view the cliffs and visited local pubs in every town we came across.
Then last month I was invited to a 50th birthday party with just a few people I already carpool with to work. I wasn’t sure why they wanted a “kill joy” with them, but I decided to go. Only two very strong cocktails was all I needed to be ready for bed, but we were at the coast so I kept myself from dozing off. My friend was laying on the rocks and watching the meteor shower, so I joined her. Looking up and seeing the stars so clear was amazing and I would say, that was contentment. For whatever reason, that moment was void of anything but looking up at the shooting stars.
Two days ago, one of my closest friends asked if I wanted to make dinner with her and double the recipe, to be honest I almost bailed, but I ended up going anyway. We cooked and had a glass of wine and talked about both of our own trips to Ireland. I was there for just a couple of hours but it was enjoyable to laugh and be with someone I am comfortable with. Besides my “people” one of my other loves in my life are my kitties. It might be because my daughter that passed also loved them. I was never an animal person when I was younger, but now when my little fluff ball curls up in my lap, (Tonks who is supposed to be a warrior kitty), it makes my heart feel like it is getting a little hug. What I am realizing, is that I didn’t have a ton of experiences over the last couple years of pure JOY, but I did have them. I am redefining my definition of Joy.
For me, I am finding joy in laughter. In those moments you are laughing you are not focused on anything else. I also find my joy in discovery and travel. (Now if we weren’t in a pandemic that would be nice!) I find joy in effortless friendship, where I can be myself, where we can cook, craft, travel, play games or laugh. I find joy in the unconditional love of animals, the way my Puggle follows me everywhere and sleeps practically on top of me. If you have had tragedy, loss, or trauma, you will not experience happiness and joy the same way you had before, for instance I will never have all my girls here on Christmas morning and that kind of joy is now a fond memory unable to be had again. Find the little things that give you even a moment of contentment, no matter what it is. Identify these things so that you can redefine your JOY and put a little bit of it back into your life.