By: Rose Carlson
I have cried so much this year
That I’ve almost drowned.
So, when you see me smile
Don’t think I’m no longer in the water—
Understand that my joy is a lifejacket.
~ Elisabet Velasquez
As I was perusing Instagram early one morning, the above quote showed up in my feed. I do not know who Elisabet Velasquez is, but that little poem resonated with my heart in a profound way. I thought about it for days. I thought about times in my own life when this applied, but I also thought about our bereaved parents and how they often feel as if they will never experience joy again after the death of their baby. It made me think about parents who, as they do begin to feel some joy in their life again, feel guilty, like they are betraying the love for their baby in some way.
I do know, though, that seeking out things that bring you comfort and joy when you are grieving can ease the pain of your broken heart. Is it easy to do? No. It most definitely is not; perhaps it will even feel a bit fake at first, like you are forcing it, not really feeling that deep-down-in-your-soul kind of joy.
You may wonder what the point is. You may wonder if you are better off not forcing joy upon yourself. But keep in mind that while you may not need a lifejacket when you are swimming in calm waters, you are grateful to be wearing one when you are struggling and feeling like you are drowning. I have found that the times I am struggling the most are the most important times to find pleasure in something, anything.
It can feel like Mission Impossible to find joy, beauty, and anything fun, especially when you are grieving so deeply. It can take time to get to the point where you even want to find some happy moments because your soul may be so bogged down that you can barely get out of your pajamas and drag yourself to work.
It can be difficult to look for joy and beauty when so many other things in your life seem to be suffering from neglect, when you feel as if you are drowning in grief and sadness.
Try to look at these despairing situations as times when a lifejacket can ease your struggling and keep you from going under. Inviting in things that can bring you a glimpse of joy can help keep you afloat.
You may not believe this, but what starts out feeling forced and fake will become genuine eventually. When you begin to feel true joy again, it will be sweeter because it has been so hard to come by. Does feeling some joy take away the sorrow you feel because of the great loss you have experienced? No. I wish I could say it does, but it does not. However, what that life jacket will do is make life less of a struggle. It will provide you with some moments of cheer during an otherwise bleak time.
“How can I find joy?” you may be wondering.
It is easier to put on a lifejacket when things are calm, so don’t wait until you are struggling to think about what you can do to bring some light and enjoyment to raise your spirits. On better days, make a list you can refer to on hard days.
Spend time with people who are good for your soul. Be picky. This is not the time to force yourself to be around those who bring you down. But friends and family who are good to you and for you? Embrace them. Cherish them. Surround yourself with them. Take in all the love and support they have to offer.
What can you do that will bring you joy without making you feel anxious or misunderstood? Perhaps you aren’t ready to attend a busy festival or concert, but maybe you can handle coffee or game night with a few close friends who don’t expect you to be back to your old self and are okay if you shed a few tears. Time spent with people you adore, and trust can go a long way to bringing a bit of joy to your life.
Plan a trip. Even if you aren’t ready for one right now, having something to look forward to in the coming months can help. Do you have a place that brings you peace? Whether it be a crowded city or a quiet beach, or a place entirely new to you, think about what will bring your peace and joy. If you enjoy road trips, plan a drive, perhaps through quiet backroads while listening to music you love. A trip does not have to mean a vacation; even a day trip to a restful place close to home can be a getaway for your soul.
If you have an activity you enjoy, make time for it; or find something new to you. If you enjoy baking, make bread, decorate cookies or cupcakes, or whatever else you might like. Or try your hand at a new hobby; it can help calm your heart and mind. You may enjoy yoga or hiking, boxing, or crocheting. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you find something to do that will challenge your mind and calm you.
Is there something you have been neglecting that bothers you? Have you been neglecting care of your body, your home? If so, make a plan to get back on track. Have you been purposely staying away from those you love? If so, see my first tip. When we know we have things unfinished looming over us, it can deplete our joy and make us feel even worse. Taking small steps toward resolving those things we have pushed aside can make even those small steps feel like big strides.
Finally, when you do start feeling glimpses of joy again, give yourself permission to really feel all of it without guilt. And if your loved ones say you must be okay now since you are smiling and seem happy again, remind them, and yourself, that it is possible to have moments of joy while still missing your baby and being sad he or she is not here with you.
Know that you are doing what you need to do to stay afloat. You may still be in the deep waters of grief but seeking out things you enjoy and feel comforted by will keep you from drowning. Joy can be your lifejacket, too.
About Rose Carlson
Rose is the Program Director at Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support. She came to Share in 2002 as a volunteer and eventually joined the staff in 2004. She has a BS in Psychology with a minor in Sociology. Her personal experience as a bereaved parent brings an invaluable perspective to her work. Rose manages the Share Memorial events, serves as an educator and is the Share Chapter coordinator.