Is it OK to Feel Joy During the Grief Process?

The journey after the death of a loved one is emotionally draining and physically exhausting, particularly in the early stages of grief (which I see as minimally, two years).  It is also easy to feel some guilt because of the moments of joy we do experience during early grief.  We may question whether it is ok to experience joy because of the thought that we are dishonoring our deceased loved ones.

Those moments of joy will present themselves whether we want them to or not.  When they do, embrace them for however long they last.  You may find that those moments of joy give you welcome respite from the pain of loss. Experience joy without the weight of guilt.  We are not equipped to experience the intense pain of loss 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

About two weeks after my daughter Jeannine died, I went to see Bela Fleck and the Flecktones at the Turning Stone Casino with some good friends.  I had seen them perform several times before; they play with a passion and level of musicianship that is simply unparalleled.

However, I did not have the desire to go to this concert, and probably would not have, if my friends weren’t there.  Once I got there, it was all good. For two hours, the energy, joy and playful spirit that channeled through their music gave me a temporary respite from my pain and put a smile on my face.

I would encourage you to expend the effort in early grief to do things that give you some joy.  You may find that not only will it give you temporary relief from your pain, but also that eventually you may develop a renewed sense of purpose.  Our grief journeys are individualized; the time that it takes for us to discover this renewed sense of purpose is also individualized.  Whenever it happens constitutes a turning point in our journeys after loss.

I also believe that my decision to actively work through the pain of grief has transcended to unconditional love and joy for others who have experienced the death of a child, and to others who have comforted me with their love and support.

I hope that the pain of loss has the same results for you as it has had for me.  I also hope that the pain of loss spills over into unconditional love for you.  I believe that individuals who have experienced the death of a child or other catastrophic loss have done remarkably well given the hand of cards that they have been dealt.

What I have come to discover is that life is this wondrous mix of love, joy, pain, and challenges.  Our ability to be totally present in those joyful moments, give and accept love, and learn from the pain and challenges, will determine the quality of our life after loss.

“When you change the way you see the world, you change the world.”- Warren McDonald

Dave Roberts 2011

David Roberts

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David J. Roberts, LMSW, became a parent who experienced the death of a child, when his daughter Jeannine died of cancer on 3/1/03 at the age of 18. He is a retired addiction professional and an adjunct professor in the psychology department at Utica College in Utica, New York. Dave is a featured speaker, workshop facilitator and coach for Aspire Place, LLC (www.aspireplace.com) He is also the chapter leader for The Compassionate Friends of the Mohawk Valley. Mr. Roberts has been a presenter at the Southern Humanities Council Conference in both 2017 and 2018. Dave has been a past workshop facilitator for The Compassionate Friends. He has also been a past workshop facilitator and keynote speaker for The Bereaved Parents of the USA. Mr. Roberts has contributed articles to the Huffington Post blog, The Grief Toolbox, Recovering the Self Journal and Medium. One of Dave's articles, My Daughter is Never Far Away, can also be found in Open to Hope: Inspirational Stories of Healing and Loss. Excerpts from Dave's article for The Open to Hope Foundation, called The Broken Places were featured in the 2012 Paraclete Press DVD video, Grieving the Sudden Death of a Loved One. He has appeared on numerous radio and internet broadcasts and Open to Hope Television. Dave was also part of a panel in 2016 for the BBC Podcast, World Have Your Say, with other grief experts, discussing the death of Carrie Fisher. Dave’s website: www.bootsyandangel.com is devoted to providing support and resources for individuals experiencing loss.

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  • Deb Kosmer says:

    You have written another excellent article Dave. I always said after my son died that it was only the laughter and the tears that kept me sane( though some might ? that).

  • Dave Roberts says:

    Thanks Deb for your feedback and insights, as always.

  • Mary Jane Hurley Brant says:

    Dave,

    A lovely and honest sharing of your feelings on the death of your beloved child, Jeannine. It’s hard to know what to do in the immediate aftermath of our monumental loss, the sandstorm which blinds us to just about anything.

    Friends can help so much here so thanks for reminding us all. We need our friends to point us, comfort us with food, hugs, babysitting our other kids, anything.

    If we don’t want any immediate help we can say, call me in a week and offer that again, could you?

    Peace, Dave,
    MJ

  • Dave Roberts says:

    Thanks MJ as always for your validation and support. And yes if we don’t want immediate help, we can say call me in a week and offer that again. We may not be ready to accept support at the moment that is offered, for a variety of reasons, but may be more ready to accept it at another point in our journey

  • Kim Wencl says:

    Great article Dave and so true. I’ll never forget attending a TCF meeting and a newly grieved father shared that he caught himself smiling for no reason and then he remembered his son was dead and he scolded himself saying, “how can I smile – my son is dead.” It was so sad and it felt like a double tragedy. I gave myself permission very early on to laugh, to love and feel joy again (amidst the sadness). Whenever I would question my emotions (or lack thereof) I would say to myself, “what would my daughter want?” That would always give me the answer — and it wasn’t to live in the sadness but walk through it and out into JOY again.

  • Dave Roberts says:

    Thanks Kim . I think experiencing joy also allows us to focus on the present and when that happens , our children make their presence known to us, which strengthens our bond with them.

  • Bill Campbell says:

    Great insight Dave. Having had the pleasure of meeting you I can tell it comes from your heart.

  • Dave Roberts says:

    Thank you Bill for your great feedback and validation. I hope we can see each other again soon.