Joy within sadness


After my husband left me, I could not bear to think about the past because thinking about it caused me so much grief. It was thinking about the previous happy times that filled me with so much sadness; those happy times of my children as babies and young children and their care-free days growing up in our forested river valley. My now-grown children could not understand why that was, why I looked back on happy times with sadness, why I would cry over something that was clearly dear to them. They would try and convince me that those happy memories should remain happy. I could not see them that way and I spent many many months in deep pain grieving my loss of happier times. One by one I grieved for them, then painstakingly put those memories aside, thinking of them as something that I had to put them behind me forever. I then went through a process of stashing away any reminder – photos and memorabilia – as I tried to get on with my life.

More recently, when I have been staying with and caring for my mother, I have had more contact with my siblings and we have shared reminiscing sessions together. Out have come all the family photos and, at those times, the stories would begin. We have sat for hours telling the stories of us as children and the happy times that we have shared. This was the same in my world of growing up. I have fond memories of such gatherings with aunts, uncles, cousins; the extended family getting together and sharing happy memories. In the sadness of my mother’s illness, we found this time of joy in the here and now, remembering the happy times of the past. In doing so we were creating joyful times in the present, interacting and being together remembering the happy childhoods that we had.

When I returned from one of my visits to my mother, I looked around when I entered my home. On the walls were pictures of places and momentos of various trips with my husband. Those experiential activities now meant nothing to me. In one of those rare moments of me acting on impulse, I took them all down. Then I spent the next day delving into my boxes of photographs, dashing into town to buy photo-frames, and putting up precious memories of my past all around my home.

I divided my walls in my entry, hallway, and living room into sections. In one section I put up photos of my children up to the ages of eighteen; and in another section them as adults. I made a section for myself and siblings growing up and of their families, my niece and nephews, and grand-nieces. My grand-children were given a special place of their own. Lastly, I made a place for my parents in their youth and their parents and grandparents.

When my two youngest children came to visit a few days later they made a joke of mother going just a little bit overboard with photos everywhere that the eye could see. Yet they smiled with joy at my change of heart as they looked intently at the now-allowed happy times on view. They began talking about memories that were triggered and spoke about how much fun they had growing up. We have two favourite photos. One is a photo of my third son, who as a three-year-old had a love of carrots. The photo has him at my brother-in-law’s place pulling a huge carrot from the ground beaming with joy at his carrot and his great discovery that carrots came from the ground. His joy had been captured forever. Another favourite is a photo of the back view of the four children – aged three to eleven at the time – walking hand-in-hand down the ramp at the supermarket.

We sat down that evening and spent the night reminiscing about happy times.

In amongst anxious days at a crucial stage of the marital settlement, and with my background concern at my mother’s failing health; I found joy in remembering previous happy times and shared that joy with my two youngest children.




21 thoughts on “Joy within sadness

  1. What a wonderful gift to give your children Elizabeth.

    And… I had a weird visceral reaction to your opening statement — When my husband left me… I had this sense of powerlessness. Of feeling abandoned in that phrase and I wondered what would happen if it were reframed into something more neutral of him and his actions and powerless but more inclusive of where you are now in the journey — like — When my marriage ended.

    • How perceptive of you. I wrote a post recently on feelings, about how I have suppressed my feelings and now I am allowing myself to truly feel and to write about those feelings. So this is me going back and ‘feeling’.

      The first paragraph describes how I felt the first six months, after I was abandoned / left / marriage ended. I took myself back there and described how I felt at the time. As for my journey, it has been moving from the role of victim (he left me) to stoic resolution (my marriage ended) to enlightenment (my new beginning) to …???
      You may notice that in the last few paragraphs (when I discovered joy), I did not mention the ‘event’ at all, but rather lived fully in the present. I have stopped defining my life by that event and have moved on past both victim AND stoic survivor.
      (Or at least I am trying to get to that place).
      Hugs Louise for knowing me enough to pick up on that phrase and to be aware of the changes in me.

  2. Joy and sadness might be lot closer than we think. Isn’t it also like that with laughter and crying? Many comedians suffer from clearsighted despair and often sink into periods of great depression. This life is for the taking and you seem to be able to encourage others to follow their hearts and express joy even when tinged with sadness.

  3. I absolutely love the fact your times with cousins and memories helped to ease some of the sad moments of remembering the past times. I am proud of your children for trying to help you to focus on the joy, the happier memories, along with understanding how they could not be so ‘happy’ anymore. But, these precious moment are of your children’s growth, development and you are there in them, too, Elizabeth. I am excited to picture your newly decorated walls and enjoying the Joy you now can observe them in a new and different light. It is interesting how our lenses change over time… I know this is just part of the steps of your recovering from this horrible desecration of your marriage. I don’t say or won’t say, you won’t be sad again, but I have a lot of hope for you, Elizabeth!! Hugs, Robin

  4. Great joy on my part to read this and see how you have moved on so far. The phrase “my husband left me” remains a fact, but the pain grows less and less as your viewpoint changes, believe me. And I sometimes think my husband did me a great favour when he went – I needed liberating!

  5. I can so relate to this post! I kept a family pic up after my divorce because I stressed to my children that the end of my marriage did not mean the end of our family. And yet, it it time to take that pic down. I need a suitable replacement. But I’ve started. A frame that used to hold a pic of my spouse and me now holds a wonderful pic of my boys from a few years ago. Joy every time I look at it. I’ll think of you and your joy when I feel that–and feel happy for both of us.

  6. Your post is a great expression of one of the most painful things about heartbreak : How it seems to rob you of the joy you shared, how every happy moment seems to lose its colours… Fade into insignificance. I look forward to feeling the joy there truly was in them again one day – when I’m further down my healing path.

  7. Dear Elizabeth, to find joy even in the midst of pain takes special strength and speaks volumes of the person you are. Hugs, Sharon p.s. I can’t wait to have grandchildren one day and fill up my walls with their photos! 🙂 X

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