Navigating Grief as Life Moves Forward: Choosing joy

 

It’s overwhelming some days, actually. I have this indescribable guilt for being happy.

When a loved one dies, they don’t hand you a “Grieving for Dummies” book and wish you luck. There are no set rules or even guidelines on how to grieve, how long you should grieve, or what grieving looks like.

They say everyone grieves differently, in their own ways and for their own amount of time. I’ve caught myself numerous times comparing my grief journey to others’ grief journeys.

I’m the widow. I was his wife, his best friend, shouldn’t I be the one grieving the most and the longest? If so, then why am I so happy?

Truth is, I started my grief journey long before May 30, 2015.

Grieving is our response to a loss. Any loss, not just death.

My late husband, Kenny, was diagnosed on his 18th birthday with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a bone cancer most prevalent in children and young adults. He fought his battle for over 11 years and went to Heaven, still fighting, on May 30, 2015.

During the last years of Kenny’s fight, we gave up a lot in exchange for more years of his life. Some tangible, and some not. He lost hair, a leg, and half a lung. With each loss, we grieved. I grieved. I was slowly losing bits and pieces of my husband – one surgery at a time, one round of chemotherapy at a time, one clinical trial at a time.

The one thing we didn’t lose was our love for each other.

Danielle and Kenny pose at the Oklahoma City Memorial 5k Race in April 2015. Danielle pushed her husband in his wheelchair to the finish line. (Photo provided by Danielle Comer)

 

Even though Kenny was the one coping with the physicality of his new way of living, I seemed to struggle just as much with his new disabilities. In the beginning, I had a hard time accepting the fact that my big, manly husband was not going to be able to do the same things other husbands would do for the wives. There was no carrying me across the threshold, no holding hands while walking down the street, no going for a run together, no placing my hand on his leg at dinner, no more wrapping his legs around me. We often take these small, everyday treasures for granted.

During the first couple years of our marriage, I held a lot of resentment in my heart, and it came out in the ugliest forms. Although I had verbally accepted this new life change for us, it was a façade because internally I was struggling. I hated that I would never have these things again, and I envied anyone who still did. When I heard someone complain about insignificant things, anger built up inside me.

I let this anger and resentment consume me at times, and it affected our marriage in ways I’m not proud of. In fact, it’s difficult to finally admit. I eventually learned that I needed to get over my own resentment and practice what I was preaching – enjoy the small, everyday treasures with your loved one.

Once I started appreciating the small things, life magically became much sweeter. All the struggles, worries, concerns minimized, and the blessings bloomed.

This is not to say we never worried or struggled again. With every new scan, we felt like we were faced with another life-changing decision.

We could’ve easily focused on all the losses and all the things not going in our favor, but we knew that focusing on the things we couldn’t control only created more misery in our already challenging life.  We chose to focus on the positives, on the little things that truly mattered.

We enjoyed more impromptu dates, took more walks, watched T.V. on the couch (guilt-free), and slept in a little longer. We soaked up every minute we had together.

If you only focus on the negative things in life, that’s all you’re going to see, and ultimately get. When you turn that focus back on the positives and the things that bring you joy, then you will create the tiniest shift in your life that will bring about the greatest rewards.

I believe this is why my grief journey has been one filled with more happiness than sadness.

Throughout our journey, I experienced anticipatory grief. I had the time and space to grieve in anticipation of Kenny’s death. This isn’t to say I don’t still have hard days without my husband or days I wish Kenny was here.

I believe I have a choice every day either to dwell on the past and the things that happened to me or to make the most of the small joys throughout my day and be grateful.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
When you’re grateful and rejoice in that, happiness and joy will follow.
Every day you have a choice. You can choose to be sad and dwell on things that cannot and will not change.  Or you can choose to be happy and create good things. Go and create good bonus days!

 

Danielle Comer lives on the Oregon Coast where she is a city planner and blogs about discovering hope and courage through loss at www.portrayalofhope.com.  During her free time, Danielle enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast with her dog, Tank, discovering new coffee shops, and capturing life’s moments with her second set of eyes – her camera.  You can find Danielle on Instagram and Facebook.

 

Have you missed the other articles in our Navigating Grief as Life Moves Forward series? Check them out here:

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

Choosing Joy – a guest post about a spouse choosing joy even on a long cancer journey

 When a Grandparent Dies – a guest post about how one mom is navigating her own grief and grief with her kids 

Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma arise

Would you like a copy of my FREE resource for “Grieving with Kids“? I’m passionate about meeting people in their grief and sharing a message of hope. Let’s connect!

About Dorina Gilmore

4 Comments

  • Zelma Hayes says:

    Such an uplifting message! You have already gone through so much in your sweet life. I’m sure your husband is rejoicing and thinking he will see you again someday🙏🏼🙏🏼

  • Becky says:

    Your story is inspirational and gives hope to others. Recently my husband was diagnosed with an incredibly rare disease. So rare that in the case of the world only about 70 families have been known to have it. Usually it doesn’t strike until people are in their 40’s or later but through a totally unrelated brain scan when John was in his late 20’s they found the calcium deposits in his brain. A few years later it was confirmed. He has Fehr’s Disease. Our children have a likely chance of getting it too since it’s genetic. His father was also recently diagnosed (he’s 58) and over a couple years he had to stop working and he is in incredible pain almost 100% of the time. It’s hard to watch. There is no cure. There is little to no help at this time.

    At times we almost wish he had cancer (I’m sorry to say that to you) because at least other people have it, there is a network, there is hope, people know what it is, there are treatment options. Instead he has something nobody has ever heard of and he may die next year and he may live a long life with major disabilities. He can’t get life insurance of course and as a stay at home mom with no income of my own, well that kinda sucks sometimes.

    We are in the military and it give us hope because it provides health and life insurance for now. But the hard thing is we can’t tell the military about his disease because we could get released and lose these benefits. It feels like a dirty secret that I’m not allowed to tell anyone. So much so, this is the first time I’ve told this story to anyone besides family. I feel silly to grieve at something that may never progress past this stage but sometimes we do. There is so much uncertainty. How do you prepare for the unknown. Anyway, thanks for listening. For being the first person I’ve shared this with. Your story really does give others hope and is a reminder to also love deeply and focus on the simple wonderful things with the person you love. Thank you.

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