A couple months ago, my brother took his life. Shortly before his death I had been asking myself the question of what it would mean to truly live my life with joy, in appreciation of the gift that it is. Before I answered the question though, my brother’s death and all the questions and emotions that went with it, took over. I plunged into grief.
Having previously lost my mother and youngest brother, it’s obvious that my primary response is to go into “fix it” mode and this time was no exception. I focused on helping my sister-in-law with my niece and nephew and resolving issues that had to be dealt with because of his death. Being with them and helping where I could was comforting to me and gave me something to focus on other than just my grief. I helped, of course, at the expense of my own activities, like writing, but it was where I wanted to be; perhaps I also needed an excuse to avoid writing when I could think of nothing but my brother’s untimely demise.
Beyond my fix-it mentality, however, I applied what I had been learning of what it means to love myself to my grief experience. Most prominently at the outset, I listened to that voice within me telling me what I needed rather than worrying about what others’ wanted. When my mother and youngest brother died, people would call or write to show their support and I felt like I had to answer the phone and talk or arrange a get together. I believed those people needed me to give them the opportunity to comfort me, whether or not it was what I wanted or needed. This time, I didn’t. I responded to texts with a thank you, but I need to be alone right now. I didn’t answer calls or call people back. My friends and family beautifully responded with messages saying I didn’t need to call them back, but they just wanted me to know they care. With one exception of a person I barely knew, no one pushed me to talk about it when I didn’t want to.
Early on, I spent most of my time with my sister-in-law and niece and nephew and talked to a few select friends when I needed to. I allowed myself to be sad and to be alone as much as I needed. It was, and continues to be, a delicate dance. I want to know people care, but then I want them to leave me alone until I tell them otherwise.
As time has passed, I’ve slowly allowed close friends to bring food and hang out with me in my garden and enjoy that love. I allowed a friend to come and take care of me at my home and allowed others to take care of me in theirs. I struggle with receiving and it feels incredibly selfish, but I am grateful for this generosity of love and for my newfound ability to trust in it.
I still grapple in painful ways with my brother’s death that I’m not ready to write about. While we had been best friends at an earlier time in our life, our relationship experienced many difficulties in the past ten years. It’s painful to accept that we will never grow to the point of full reconciliation. Nonetheless, I am regularly hit by memories of my brother that remind me of the best parts of him. Others have shared wonderful and humorous stories of him on his tribute page, at his memorials in Washington, D.C. and Minnesota, and in personal interactions. I find both true joy and sadness in those memories.
Chris’s death has challenged my quest to understand what it means to live a life of joy, but these remembrances have showed me that it can exist within my grief. I would not feel grief if we had not shared a deep love for one another. I never in our darkest moments doubted his love for me and I trusted he knew of mine for him. I’ve found joy in all the friends that have reached out to express their care for me or to share a fond memory of Chris. I’ve found peace and love in my new found ability to be alone and ask for what I need WHEN I need it and then to receive what friends are offering without worry that I need to give in return. I’ve found comfort helping my sister-in-law and niece and nephew. These moments are not what I had in mind when I asked the question about how to live my life with joy and I would give them back in exchange for my brother. Yet, I’m slowly realizing that perhaps that’s what living a life of joy is. I can’t control much of life, but I can accept what is and then find and appreciate the moments of joy within it, even within grief.
Where have you found joy during hard times?
Also published on Medium.