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    leafy twig in the rain

    Joy in the Mourning

    Stephanie Bennett

    February 26, 2020

    What is joy but that tiny flickering flame that lights up the human soul?  It’s something so inexplicable, so hard to describe – yet, as they say, we know it when we see it. Sometimes it appears on the face of a child when she watches a butterfly land on a daisy. Or it sits somewhere deep in our bones when the cries of a long-awaited new babe bring us to tears after a strenuous labor. It’s a funny thing, joy. If we savor it and let ourselves truly feel it we might imagine that nothing could ever be as intensely present, but the fact is, the door of joy opens both ways. When we let the joy in we are hardly aware we have also entered a doorway that leads to the deepest pain one can know when that joy is taken away.

    Four of my friends have walked through the deaths of their only sons in the last few years. I’ve listened to their stories, sat with them to hold space for their sorrow, hugged them tightly, prayed for them, and long observed their ongoing grief. This year I joined them in the loss of my only son as he changed his residence from here to eternity. Although I have had compassion and sent cards or flowers, it took my own loss to understand the depth of grief that all these dear friends experienced. I want to run to them now, to apologize for being so cloddish, so awkward about their grief, so unsteady in my support as they waged the ongoing battle of resuming their lives.

    yellow bird sitting on a leafy twig in the rain

    Photograph by Ray Hennessy (public domain)

    The Psalmist writes that “joy comes in the morning,” but sometimes the morning is a long time in coming. In the meantime, the mourning continues, and it is so deep and hard to look at that the natural thing is to run away from it, tamp it down, and somehow move far away from the dark swamp of loss to find some even footing. But friends, if you have lost a loved one who still leaves a gaping hole in your heart, it’s best not to run away from your feelings. Feel them. Really feel them. No matter how painful, let the tears flow. Tears bring healing when words can’t touch the pain.

    Occasionally, lately, a little bit of joy has been leaking back into my days. It may be just a speck of joy, but it carries the hope of more. Writing about him helps. Talking about him helps. Hugging helps. From time to time I even find myself laughing with a friend and forgetting for a second how much I miss my boy. I’m looking in earnest for the Psalmist’s promise and trusting that these tiny flickers of joy in the mourning will light the way for all of us toward healing.

    Contributed By Stephanie Bennett

    Stephanie Bennett, PhD, is fellow for student engagement and professor of communication and media ecology at Palm Beach Atlantic University. She is author of several books, including The Poet’s Treasure (Wild Flower Press, 2016), a work of fiction about the future of community.