Is There Good in Grief?

Is there such a thing as good grief?

A beloved friend of mine died February 22 from a sudden illness. There were no goodbyes, bedside gathering of girlfriends, tearful requests to look after her children or final moments holding her hand. It happened so quickly; it was too late for any of that. Once I got the news, there was nothing for me to do but cancel everything (including my trip to the annual Parenting Publications of America (PPA) awards banquet), gather up my family and head west for the memorial in California.

I was caught off guard by the grief that followed; uncontainable, intermittent and overwhelming emotion turned my routine upside down. How can a mother be taken away from her children so young, a friend gone so soon? When does the sadness subside? The questions without answers flooded my brain.

Grief is a stranger to me. I know about print deadlines and presentations, motherhood and multi-tasking… but grief? I have very little experience in that field.

Charlie Brown, of the comic strip Peanuts, coined the phrase “Good grief!” years ago. But I am hard-pressed to find the good in grief. Grief is draining; it is debilitating. It seems so…well, hopeless and sad. Yet, poets and prophets throughout the ages have written about suffering and how born out of sorrow is the possibility for joy.

Joy? It’s hard to believe. But, I looked for it.

I found it in the most unlikely places, in the stories of how she touched so many lives, in reunions with old friends, and in seeing her two young children – a son and a daughter, the spittin’ image of her mother. I was awakened to the simple joys in my own life again like watching my son sleep, talking to a friend for hours and spending quiet time with my husband. I also found joy in sharing my story with you, our readers, who have so often shared stories with me.

I found joy, but I did not lose grief.

Planning this magazine months ago, I included a story about children and grief. I never knew it would be so relevant and accurate. In Los Angeles, I experienced firsthand how children, ages 3 and 6, deal with loss. They spent time laughing and playing, and then were quiet and withdrawn. When the grown-ups around them were questioning life, those children were simply living it. Naturally they would stop and seek the comfort of their father occasionally, who was always there with a loving hug. But they kept pressing on. And so must we learn from them.

It is odd how grief slams into you with a painful force and then slowly fades away. As days roll by, I still hold on to the sadness, my lingering emotion a fragile connection to my departed friend. I know moving on is the answer.

Maybe the good in grief is in the word goodbye…