The Joy Effect

I cannot tell you how grief will look tomorrow, or even how it will look tonight as I go to sleep. All I can do is describe how it has been. And here’s something that has stood out to me: the times of my deepest joy in the last few weeks have brought simultaneously the deepest sorrow. Some of these instances have had to do directly with the loss of Chris. This has been happening since the beginning, and now that Chris is gone, the sorrow and beauty sear me at the same moment. When we stood in Chris’s hospital room the morning he died, I said to my brother-in-law, Charlie, “I’m gonna need you.” The implications were understood: I have four children without an earthly father present. Charlie replied, “I’m ready.”

The beauty in those two simple words. It overwhelms me still. There’s an ocean of grace and love behind them. But it’s the same ocean of my sorrow–the same water that engulfs me in an anguish too big to understand. It’s the same ocean.

More recently I’ve experienced this in a somewhat more inexplicable way, where the link to Chris isn’t so overt. I had a gathering for my birthday–just women–that was a thing of love, through and through. No stone was unturned in communicating care, beauty, truth, goodness. I didn’t anticipate the deluge of sadness in me during the gathering. The best way I could understand it at the time was that even such heights of love couldn’t touch the emptiness of losing Chris. But I think I have a slightly different understanding now.

Sunday we spent the night with my sister’s family, specifically so that I could watch The Greatest Showman (my niece’s favorite movie) for the first time. The joy of that film opened me. The space in my chest just expanded with air and lightness, the depths of my heart felt reached by joy. But I had to leave partway through to cry in the bathroom. I texted Chris’s phone, I miss you so much, babe. I sat on the toilet seat and looked at his pictures on my phone while the rest of the family waited for me to resume watching. When the movie was over I cried on the couch and tried to explain to my niece that, in fact, I really did love the movie.

Al and Charlie tried to articulate for me the link to Chris: the story is about enduring love. But no, that wasn’t why I was sad. And of course there will be times I will want to share things that I love with Chris, and that will bring a fresh anguish, but this was not one of those times. I’m pretty sure Chris would, at every level, hate The Greatest Showman. Nothing about the movie specifically made me long for Chris.

But what I see happening, perhaps, is that when my heart is opened up in joy–when something reaches in and gives air to those deep places–air and light and opening is given to everything those deep places hold. It’s the same ocean. To access the depths is to access it all, and right now the depths are holding so much.

As I wake up each day and do what is required of me, I don’t know what my grief will look like. The sorrow is there, and it will be plumbed one way or another. Sometimes it just wells up out of nowhere, of course, or in the context of talking and thinking about Chris. But sometimes, the deepest times, it has come alongside a true joy I am experiencing. Al said with tears, “What a kindness.”

172 thoughts on “The Joy Effect


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  23. Dee Crownover

    I do concur, that all I knew of Chris…he would’ve hated that movie…except, I think he would’ve said under his breath “I wonder how many times it took them to shoot that portion with Zendaya on the trapeze?”
    -Continued prayers of peace and blessing over your family through all the waves!
    love, Dee

  24. Rebecca Thompson

    Thank you for continuing to share, Sarah. Praying for you, the kids, and the rest of your family. These verses came to mind:

    “5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
    6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka (Misery or Weeping),
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.” -Ps 84:5-6 (NIV)

  25. Emily Blair

    This is so lovely, Sarah. Thank you for continuing to articulate your thoughts. You make so much sense…and I don’t just mean that I can understand what you’re saying, but that you are bringing me understanding for years of grief I never really put into words. Still praying for you all.

  26. Claire Childs

    Thank you for sharing with us, Sarah! I pray for you and Jesse and Ruthie and Andrew and Mary all the time, and it’s so good to be hearing from you. You are walking in light through the valley of the shadow. May you continue to feel our good Shepherd carrying you all!
    Claire Childs

  27. Judy Smith

    Sarah, I was so struck by your thoughts that feelings of joy and grief come from “the same ocean.” It was so profound. I was talking with my husband about it, and he shared this quote from The Return of the King by JRR Tolkien.

    And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.”

    God bless you, my sister, and may the Lord continue to hold you and comfort you each moment of each day. Thank you for sharing from the depths of your well. May your tears continue to be the very wine of blessedness.

  28. Hailey Kingsley

    I am grateful you have chosen to continue writing/sharing with us. Your word choice is so specific and I believe perfect, that there is a depth and a “with you” feeling that i am grateful for. It’s rich and special. Raw, beautiful, gutting. I laughed out loud when you talked about how you were pretty sure Chris “would hate” that movie (I called him and Matt “cinema snobs”, they were something else to listen to in those college days). Thank you for the gift you are giving to us as you share openly and eloquently of your experience of the deep and mysterious walk through grief and “what happens after”.

  29. Anita

    The same ocean indeed. Thank you for framing grief this way and for sharing it here. Love you so very much and praying for more joy for you—but also for comfort, as it necessarily means more sorrow.

  30. Betsy Rogers

    I remember every thing you write about. I will tell time will be healing and God will never leave you. God will get you to the other side but it is slow. Praying constantly for you and your sweet children .

  31. Cindy Kross

    Continue to lift you and your precious family up to Our Lord daily! May you be carried on the wings of prayer every moment of every day.

  32. Anonymous

    Yes. ….simply, yes, Sarah.
    Continuing to hold you and the kids, heart and soul, in love and prayer…and virtual hugs!


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