Fall is in the air. As I walked the streets of my neighborhood today, the breeze was cold, and the leaves crunched beneath my feet. I felt an excitement about the new season and the change it brings, however there was a time when fall would trigger a deep sadness in me. As we pulled out our warm clothes, adjusted to the days getting shorter, Christmas lights started appearing, and the familiar festive songs playing, I would feel a shadow come over me. It took me years to discover why.
Over 25 years ago, Christmas music was playing through the halls, and beautiful lights filled the hospital rooms as I experienced my greatest loss. My baby boy was born with a rare genetic syndrome that would change life forever for my entire family. We were grateful that he was alive and grieving the loss of our boy’s “normal” life. I went through the motions of that holiday season wondering how joy and grief could exist so strong at the same time.
Only when I paused years later did I realize that I never grieved the son I lost that December 20th. You see, I couldn’t figure out how to let joy and grief walk together. I had my son. He was alive, so grief had to go. I tried for years to only be joyful, even as my heart longed permission to grieve as my son missed milestones and suffered physically and emotionally.
I now know that what I was experiencing was an “ambiguous loss”. In our culture we don’t give ourselves or others permission to grieve those losses that don’t involve death. We too often leave wounded hearts to choose joy and carry on. But when divorce, loss of a job, sickness, addictions, estranged children, aging parents happen, the loss needs to be recognized and we need permission to grieve. Even happy and normal events in life can bring enough change that there is loss. When a nest become empty, kids get married, or a good job change happens, we can feel the loss of identity or simply of the familiar. Only when we acknowledge the loss and embrace the grief can we learn to live with the loss and with joy.
I am passionate about giving others the freedom to grieve and to help them navigate life as joy and grief coexist in the defining losses of their lives.