Using Joy to Navigate Grief
The late afternoon sun beamed down on us through the clouds of the incoming front as my husband bent down on his knee and asked me to marry him. I giggled. “Of course,” I said.
That happened eight years ago today on the roof of the historic Memphis Peabody Hotel. What’s a happy engagement story doing in a blog about losing parents? I think this story illustrates a coping model that I followed without knowing it.
It’s called the Dual Process Model of coping, or, of grief. Basically it means a way to successfully navigate grief is to cycle between confronting the loss and avoiding it.
I’m a big believer in taking grief in hand, making appointments with grief, not fleeing from tears. But I also recognize that our emotions must take a rest. To get through sorrow we need to also embrace joy, embrace the happy things that coincide with our pain.
For me, the parallel worlds were the death of my father and deteriorating health of my mother, and the excitement of finding love in the man who’d become my husband, Richard. We married three months after his proposal. My mother died less than four months later.
I was thrilled with being a newlywed at age 42 and plunged into creating meals for my husband and spending intimate moments with him. I also was filled with regret that I was at my home instead of by my mother’s side when she died. My world hadn’t been the same since my father died three years earlier, but my mother’s death forced me into a parentless life.
I still cycle through this model of embracing sorrow and embracing joy, though the lines are a bit blurred now, seven years after my mother’s death. I think it helped that I had a place to grieve – my parents’ house. I spilled my biggest tears there, cleaning out their home. And then at sunset I’d drive home to my husband, wipe my tears and jump into life with him.
But we don’t have to have a separate place to grieve to use this model of coping. Lord knows I cannot confine my grief to one place or to the appointments I make with it, but I can recognize that it’s okay to smile and to laugh, and then later to cry and mourn. Healthy grief contains joy, too. Give yourself permission for both in your life.
You may not have the joy of a marriage to provide rest from the sorrow over losing a parent, a sibling, a child or a friend, but who will take you as you are and listen to you? Or is there an activity, a charitable cause, a happy place that brings you rest? It’s okay to go there and to be happy, to be grateful, to embrace life.
Have you found yourself following the Dual Process Model? What will you do this week to embrace joy amid the sorrow?
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