Sonya Joy Mack has treated grief and illness for over fifteen years as a Physician Assistant in Family Medicine and Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. In the grief of her mother’s passing, Sonya became ignited with a passion to bring joy and purpose to women everywhere. She created The LIVE JOY LIFE, an organization that empowers women through community, mindset, and God, to live in the joy God intended. Her debut book, This Changes Everything: When Death No Longer Has the Final Say, is a true story of hope for those who grieve. Sonya lives in Des Moines, Iowa with her husband and two spunky daughters, where she continues to advocate for a treatment and cure for ALS, the disease that took her mother’s life.
Grief hurts —a to the bones, filtering through the marrow kind of pain. After losing someone you loved so deeply, life can never be the same. There is only life before their death and life after. There is no in-between.
Though your life feels permanently altered, there is hope for a brighter tomorrow that remains, at least in part, because of your ability to bring your loved one into a future they were taken from, by the power of your memories. Focusing on the best of memories instead of the details surrounding their passing can be life-changing for a grief survivor.
My mom was my safe place and I was her joy. Sonya Joy to be exact. A name she gave me because I was meant to “spread joy to the world.” They called me her mini-me. With the same permed, fire-red hair and short, fluffy build, it was easy to see why. As a child I would crawl up on her lap, a trend I continued even when my age and size made it unusual, and lean my ear to her chest to listen to her heartbeat. I’d imagine our future as I stared out the window of our small rural Iowa home, listening to her heart’s steady rhythm. She was my compass—my roadmap to life.
In 2010, five years after my mom was diagnosed with ALS, I put my ear to her chest to listen to her heartbeat. Only this time, it was for the last time. I was 29 years old. When someone you loved to the depth of your soul passes, it is incredibly scary. You don’t know how to live without them and often feel afraid you might forget the smallest of memories.
After my mother passed, in an effort to keep her near me, I spoke of her often. I shared her stories with anyone who would listen. When my children were born, I taught them all about her. We celebrated her birthday and fixed her favorite meals. We bring her with us on every vacation we take, wondering what kind of joyful expressions and experiences she would add to our experience.
When big, hard painful events happen, I imagined just how everything would be if she were still here. With each passing day, through my memories of her, I wrote her back into my story.
Just as my memories have brought me joy, so can yours. We can’t change the fact that our loved ones have passed, but we can imagine our loved ones, once again, in the best of times and feel them here with us in the future. No, it won’t bring them back physically, but gradually, it will help to heal the wound their death created.
“I pray you might make the choice, as I have, to look at the most challenging chapters of your life with new eyes. Don’t remain locked in heartache or grief. Take a step today to move beyond suffering into joy. Today is the day you rewrite your story.”
~Sonya Joy Mack, This Changes Everything: When Death No Longer Has the Final Say