Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Grief Makes the Way for the Joy

L.L. Barkat doesn’t ask this exact question in God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us, but suggests something very much like it: Can we experience joy without experiencing grief? And if we cut off our capacity for experiencing grief, are we also curtailing our capacity for joy? That’s a thought she cites from poet David Whyte, author of books of poetry like House of Belonging and even business books like The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America. (L.L. and I both like Whyte’s poems and his writings on business.)

To consider grief and joy in the same context, I need to recall no more than the year 1987, one of those watershed years where so much happens that you come out on the other side of it changed forever. It was the year of three deaths and a birth.

On Saturday, March 7, I came home from running errands to find my wife in tears and our next-door neighbor sitting with her. Our then 7-year-old was outside playing. A call had come from New Orleans – my father had suffered a stroke and was unconscious in the hospital. It took two airline flights to get to Louisiana – two late planes, missed connections, finally getting to Baton Rouge and taking a taxi to New Orleans 75 miles away.

He did not recover from the stroke. It was massive. On Sunday, the family gathered at the hospital, talked with the doctors, and decided to remove him from the machines that were keeping his body functioning. He died early the next morning. He left behind a business that was a mess, unpaid bills, troubled relations with one of my brothers, a life insurance policy he had neglected to pay the last premium on, stacks of old traveler’s checks locked in a box under the bed – all kinds of strange and unexpected things. I was the executor of the estate, and made my first priority salvaging enough assets for my mother to live on until Social Security would start the following year.

There was too much to do and no time to grieve. The fact that he was gone would hit me with a huge wallop more than two years later.

Three months after my father’s death, the church where I was elder embarked upon a building program that was misguided and possibly disastrous. I tried to stand in the breach but was mowed down. People were upset with me – elder boards are supposed to vote unanimously. The action went forward and I resigned from the board, which caused another round of upset. Within a few short weeks, events proved me right. Fortunately the program was not far enough along to cause major financial damage, but it could have destroyed the church. It was small comfort to be proven right when relationships had been irrevocably shattered.

Three months after that, work blew up. I had been pouring heart and soul into work, and then a political move happened, an undeserved promotion was made, and an entire department disintegrated. It was a bitter lesson to learn about corporate life – performance, achievement, and results ultimately did not matter as much as being a favorite of a vice president. A job was open in another division – a job no one wanted because it dealt with issues and mess – that I applied for and got it. It looked like a crazy career move – to go from the high-flying division to an old traditional and rather dowdy one.

The year of three deaths – my father, my relationships at church and seemingly my career.

At the end of December came the joy – the birth of our second child, another boy. You can look at the photographs we have of that Christmas (my wife started labor on Christmas Day) and you can see the exhaustion and grief in our faces. It had been a hard year, but it was a year that was ending right, ending joyfully.

The tidal wave of grief that engulfed us that year actually allowed us, and me in particular, to experience the joy.


Sky Stories by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.


Cassandra Frear said...

Deep waters. That's what I sensed somehow from your writing. That you had lived, had fought hard battles, had gone long with your Lord into the fallen world.

So...I was right. You have much to share with us.

Kelly Langner Sauer said...

I forget this, Glynn. All I can see is the grief to be avoided at all costs. I need to remember the joy that comes in the morning...

Cassandra is right. You have much to share.

Maureen said...

It's still easy for the tears to come, and it's been almost 20 years.

Noguchi once said of his art, "I place my mark and do not hide." I think what he says is so apt when we were are able, finally, to open ourselves to the grief and accept the joy.

JC Dude said...

The journey to joy from grief is a painful one but one we don't travel alone. Father God is right there.
Thanks for sharing your heart.


Duane Scott said...

(Start cringing now.. But I need to say it.)

I don't remember any of my grandpas. They died when I was three. Visiting your blog and reading your writing reminds me that you have lived. There is wisdom for this boy within you. And that's why I visit.


But it's very grandpa-ish of you...and I like it.

Great post!

Kathleen Overby said...

Your heart intact and able to feel it all. That is why what you write, feels real. It moves us to feel with you and feel our own.

L.L. Barkat said...

Glynn, such tender memories. Thank you for sharing them so candidly.

katdish said...

No one wants painful experiences, but set against them, joyful ones are more deeply cherished. Thank you for sharing yours.

Rebecca Ramsey said...

What a tough period of life, and how beautiful that your son's birth came into that time.
I think about grief meeting joy every July 29. For many years it was both my mother's birthday and the day of her father's death. He died on her first birthday during World War II. Her happy day was always tinged with a bit of sadness, thoughts of what might have been. Then almost 18 years ago, my son (Mom's first grandson) was born on the very same day. She's said that it changed the day completely for her. It's certainly more joyous because of the grief she's experienced.

S. Etole said...

This reminds me of the Psalm that says those who sow in tears will reap in joy ... and there is great wealth in the overcoming.

Joy said...

Thank you for sharing this Glynn...

I am ever slowly learning this lesson- if I was honest I had to glance away from the post for a second in tears because you were writing way too close to my reality at the moment- a father in law who has had three strokes and left a business in shambles...

but I needed to hear you- need to apply this lesson at a heart level: The tidal wave of grief that engulfed us that year actually allowed us, and me in particular, to experience the joy.

You bless.

H. Gillham said...

Emily Dickinson says it best -

Water is taught by thirst;
Land, by the oceans passed;
Transport, by throe;
Peace, by its battles told;
Love, by memorial mould;
Birds, by the snow.

You can't have one without the other -- grief and joy, love and hate, life and death.....

Laura said...

Such a season, Glynn. I can't explain it--L.L. did a much finer job--but those deep seasons of loss that I have been through brought me closer. I could feel His breath.

Such a beautiful life you live, friend.

Charity Singleton said...

Glynn -- I just started this chapter last night -- just hours after having a conversation with a friend about the concept in western music of tension and release. This concept creates dissonance, almost cacophany, that is irresistable yet actually painful to the eardrum. We almost can't take it anymore, the anticipation builds, the pain increases, then the release, the joy. This musical concept is repeated over and over in life. You captured it very aptly here.

Sandra Heska King said...

Grief tenderizes, marinates. In time, joy can seep into the broken fibers. And in time we can impart the flavor of comfort.

You have a tender heart, a comforting and encouraging spirit.

Graceful said...

Oh Glynn, that was a terrible year. My heart goes out to you, even all these years later, reading this post.

I dread grief; I fear it. Probably most people do. Looking back at periods of terrible hardship in my own life, I'm not necessarily glad they happened, but I can see, in hindsight, how the experiences strengthened me and drew me closer to God.