As I was driving into work one morning this past winter, I realized something: I don’t take pictures of the sorrowful parts of my life. Instead, I only take pictures of happy moments. I think this must be true for everyone. Spend 5 minutes looking through Instagram, your digital camera archive, or a regular photo book and you’ll see almost all pictures of joyful moments.
I think this is true because we need photographs to remember the happy times. In general, these are not the moments that make us who we are. Happy moments are fleeting and usually leave us thirsty for more. Much like fast food, happiness satisfies the most basic and simplest of cravings.
Certainly there are some exceptions to this, but I think the reason we tend to take pictures of “happy” is because sorrowful or sad moments need no documentation. They are etched into our lives like a tattoo, never needing a video or photograph to summon their memory.
We are uniquely crafted and altered by the experiences of pain, hurts, longings, loss, joy, and gladness. Having sat with lots of individuals and couples, I’m convinced that the level of our maturity and health as humans is directly proportionate with our ability to grieve and find joy in the losses of life. If one cannot grieve, one cannot grow.
So, what is grief? It’s the process of letting go of what is, what was, what isn’t, and what will not come. Everyone has something in their lives that has not gone according to plan, and most of us do not have a medal, picture, or trophy to commemorate these events.
For some, this is a failed (or failing) marriage; for others, it’s the death of a loved one. Regardless of the loss, ultimately it’s the loss of hope in something desired. It could be that the loss of a dream is what has shaped you the most. The loss of trust, security, or relationships all summon the same feeling of being lost and not knowing where to turn.
Here’s the deal; grief doesn’t always mean heaviness, depression, or sadness. Usually what we refer to as “joyous moments” are the byproduct of something lost. For example, one of the biggest changes in my life happened when I became a father. Peterson (who is now 10) came into my life when I was 24 and I grieved the loss of my singular focus in my marriage. Now instead of it just being Stephanie (my wife) and I, we now had someone else to consider. I was glad to do this, but I had to say goodbye to my life as a self-serving person. The crazy thing is that this was also the most joyous event of my life. It is so difficult to hold both of these emotions together at the same time.
Dr. Seuss wisely says to not cry because it’s gone, but smile because it happened. Grief is crying because it’s gone and learning to smile because it happened. This doesn’t literally mean that we always shed tears, though often times we do when our old friend grief shows up. Regardless of where one is in life, grief and joy beckon. This is a difficult beckoning to heed, and often presents a challenge to our maturity.
One of my favorite inspirational quotes is “Be kind, for everyone you meet is facing a hard battle,” (Philo of Alexandra). This is the truth of life, that you and I are both mired in a great battle, fought to secure hope and, at the least, to remain present enough in our lives that we can give and receive grace and love to and from those around us.