It’s pretty uncommon these days to find someone who hasn’t heard of the concept of stages or phases of grieving. While I’m not a fan of the concept – because it makes it seem like grief is linear and a series of boxes we can check off as we move through it – I do feel it can be helpful to understand there are different ways we experience grief at different times.

Yes, at times I was angry about the death of my husband. At other times, I felt victimized by it, feeling stuck in not being able to see a way forward out of it. Certainly, over time, I learned to accept things about the loss but there is one stage no one prepared me for…the stage of experiencing joy again.

It is very easy for the voice of guilt and shame to crop up when one begins to feel joyful after a major loss. “How can you have joy in your life when the love of your life is no longer here?” is the question that came up for me. I came to realize:

  • My late husband would WANT me to be joyful again
  • Joy is an important landmark in the experience that tells me I have invested much time and effort in healing from grief and I am making progress
  • I can help more people with their grief when I am able to embrace and accept my own happiness instead of judging myself for being happy again
  • We can feel joy and pain. They are not mutually exclusive.

It may start with an unexpected smile or laughter. It may catch you by surprise. Your first reaction may be horror, shock, self-judgment, or it may be gratitude that you are able to embrace the duality of life – pain and joy. Allow yourself to embrace these moments – smiles, laughter, pleasure, joy. You are human and you are not just your pain, loss, sadness, and grief.

Most importantly, do not allow others to judge you for how you go through your grieving process. It is YOUR process and you have every right to feel and experience all things in your own way at the best time for you.

I was prepared to feel many things as I a widow…but no one prepared me to feel and accept joy into my life again. As I move further through the years from Gary’s passing, more and more jcreeps in, I no longer push it away, feel unworthy of it, or doubt the love I had for him because I can now be happy again. My joy and happiness are a measure of my resilience and my courage to rebuild my life, not a measure of how much I cared for him.

As you grow through your grief, I wish for you, too, to also – when you are ready – find and embrace joy again.

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