For now, it is enough to know that joy exists, that I have felt it and that it will come again. Que Minh Luu
Although California had been on fire for weeks, I was caught off guard the day Jimmy’s sunny corner room went dark at 4:00 pm. I wandered downstairs confused. Had the sun set early while I was busy working? Or had the days gotten shorter without my noticing? I found my husband Dan and my daughter Molly staring out the kitchen window at the burnt orange doomsday skies. The sound of Buster hurtling down the stairs behind me broke their trance. We huddled together, our face lit by the glow of our cell phones, searching for news about the wildfires, the air quality, the possibility of going outside.
With the air quality ranging from unhealthy to hazardous, I quickly discovered how much of my Zen attitude came from my daily treks with Buster. Only after they were denied to me did I realize the way those walks have kept me creative and functioning when so much of the world felt as if it was splintering apart. Being in motion, distracted by a podcast on writing or grief, free of the need to talk to anyone or accomplish anything but keeping my feet moving had grounded me in ways I hadn’t noticed or understood.
Forced to stay indoors all day, I lost my energy, concentration and focus. I spent hours clicking aimlessly from my Twitter feed to Facebook to Google News. Despite being saddened, even horrified, by what I found there, like a car crash on the highway, I felt powerless to help or look away.
For so long after Jimmy and Mom died, I fought the routine of every day life, packing my calendar full of meetings, meals and obligations to be sure I didn’t have much time home alone. I’ve never been great at just being, and the idea of sitting with my grief, however briefly, was terrifying.
Writing about loss, both then and now, is what drew me back to solitude. Crafting words around the Jimmy size hole in my life. Looking through photos of him as a little boy and writing about the memories of those happy times. Remembering his ready smile, the way his belly laugh burst out of him, the joy he found in the simplest pleasures – a well-loved movie or sitcom, a victory by his favorite sports team, a good joke, time with friends. Squarely facing the magnitude of the loss broke me open and allowed me to start processing it. Instead of being cowed by my sorrow, I learned it would ebb as well as flow, allowing me to catch my breath and recover.
Over time, I learned to find my way back into my body. To nourish myself in preparation for whatever lay ahead. To know that the blue skies and clean air would return, whether I raged about the harmful air or waited patiently inside.
Sitting with the gray, the lost, the broken teaches you to find the beauty that remains. To trust that the light will return, no matter how big the storm. To know the joy is always there, even on the hardest days. That I can long for my son and my mother and remember the richness of our days together. That one unproductive day or afternoon doesn’t mean the next one will be. That completing one small task, one next thing could be the key to rediscovering my fire and my motivation. That there’s no point in fighting that which you cannot control or change but there’s power in accepting it, knowing that so often this, too, shall pass. That sorrow might bend me but it won’t break me. That the more I lose and the more I grieve, the more joy I can hold. Joy and grief are rarely far apart, especially right now. So often they dance together like beams of afternoon sunlight through a broken window, reminding us of the beauty of ordinary days.