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  • Writer's pictureDrew Dotson

A joyful heart

When I sit down to write something grief related, I occasionally feel a twinge of worry. I’m concerned that by continuing to document my experience people will assume that I’m stuck in a place of sadness. They’ll think that my grief is all-consuming, even debilitating. And though grief is quick to answer “Here!” during roll call, it’s not an unwelcomed attendee.

Instead, grief has become my sidekick.

I’m ultimately running the show, but grief is by my side, emboldening me to live my best life.

My relationship with grief has been a tumultuous one. At times, anticipatory grief nearly left me incapacitated. Because I was given what amounted to an expiration date early on, courtesy of my cystic fibrosis diagnosis, it was hard to take action because my thoughts regularly circled back to “What’s the point?” Other times I was so riddled with fear and anxiety because I was afraid of newness — of being vulnerable in any way, shape, or form.

Still other times, my grief manifested as survivor guilt. As I grieved the deaths of my peers with cystic fibrosis, I was overwhelmed by pressure. I believed I had to prove my worthiness day after day — that I was on an endless quest to demonstrate that I deserved to live. Rather than channeling my grief into purpose or passion, it was often what rendered me stuck.

This complicated relationship with grief encouraged me to set out on an exploratory journey. I wanted to make sense of life and death. I was on a mission to understand how to live when encumbered by thoughts of death. As it turned out, I wasn’t the first person with this bright idea.

During my grief studies, I found a common theme. Here is my paraphrased version.

To appreciate the beauty of life, you must accept that it will end.

By acknowledging my own mortality, I slowly located and unlocked the door to joy. It’s as though grief and joy are two ends of the same spectrum. In order to truly experience joy, you must also experience sadness.

After Ramón died, I read Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. After a lifetime of trying to dissect the meaning of life and death, Gibran put into words what I struggled to say. I’ve included an image of his passage “On Joy and Sorrow.”

I want to highlight a specific line — one that shifts my perspective on grief.

The deeper the sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

I immediately think of sculpting a bowl (which is clearly not my area of expertise because I first wrote “potterying” rather than sculpting). The deeper you make your bowl, the more room there is for goodness — for decadent ice cream, sorbet with gummy bears on top, or even bedtime cereal.

As I approach Ramón’s two-year deathiversary, I know that my sorrow isn’t for naught. Rather, it makes me capable of experiencing greater joy.

My bowl will only become deeper. And that means more room for ice cream.

1 Comment

Jul 01, 2022

I definitely think potterying should be a word.

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