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Tears of joy and tears of sorrow are the pinnacle of our human experience.
I shared this statement in my Instagram stories on Sunday morning, accompanied by a photo of my husband. He was standing on a trail at sunrise, wearing a green hiking backpack with our dearly departed seven-year-old son’s baseball cap clipped to the top, while gazing off into the distance at the snow-capped Collegiate Peaks lit up in pale pink alpenglow.
This deep thought, on meaningful life and how we choose to experience it, was inspired by the Final Four postgame interview with Duke’s iconic basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski—or “Coach K” as he’s widely known. Coach K, legendary and well-loved across the board by sports fans, had just completed his 42-year head coaching career with Duke University. His team was knocked out one game shy of the championship, by none other than their conference rival, the University of North Carolina. This statement from his courtside interview, tears in his eyes, stuck with me.
“For me, my entire time coaching, I always wanted at the end of the year, whatever the last game is, where you’re either crying for joy or you’re crying for sorrow, and if you are, then that means you put everything into it.”
As I am by no means a diehard Duke fan—rather, someone who appreciates the unfolding of an unexpected underdog run or heartwarming sports history story—following the 64-team tournament has become a fun spring tradition for my husband and I. The vulnerability expressed during the Final Four by one of the greatest coaches of all time was beyond inspiring. His choice of words reflects that crying does not make us strong or weak but is simply an expression of wholeheartedly living life.
A few months back, I touched on the topic of foreboding joy and how according to Dr. Brené Brown, most of us, specifically 95 percent of parents, experience this emotion. My husband and I do not.
I spoke of our ability to revel in the experience of pure, unabashed, amazing joy at every opportunity without consideration of holding back. Times of joyful tears were everyday occurrences—laughing to tears at our son, Leo’s, excitement over Cardi B or Doja Cat rap music, happy pangs in our hearts while taking in majestic views on camper-van, mountaintop family picnics in Rocky Mountain National Park, and the simplicity of walking through our neighborhood Christmas light displays, bringing Leo to awe-inspired grins and giggles.
He was effervescent joy in human form, a true Earth angel with sunshine and the brightest energy constantly emitted from his small body. Much has changed in my life since I wrote that piece—mainly Leo’s unexpected passing on January 14th.
My husband and I are going on month three of deep, sorrowful grieving. The way unconditionally loving parents do, when shouldered with the untimely and out-of-order death of their child. When he was born, we were told his life would be short, but his consistent health and well-being had us believing he’d be here for years longer.
The sorrow of our child’s untimely death has been mirrored by the level of joy we experienced with him. And, we’re here for it.
There has not been a day that I (we) haven’t cried on some level in the past three months, which feels innately natural. Primally human. While, yes, in general, it is obviously terrible, my perspective is shifting to see this experience as special, sacred, and even beautiful. Necessary. A true honor.
Just as when Leo was born, he has continued to teach and change us. Helping us evolve into who we are today. We’re learning from his absence—as, we believe, he now continues in guiding us from afar.
Collectively, allowing ourselves to surrender and experience life’s fleeting joyful moments possibly even prepares us for enduring the harsh, sorrowful, opposite-spectrum emotions. In my current personal situation, relentless and ravaging acute grief.
Through the grieving process, I’m receiving firsthand information on how grief is looked at as a problem that needs to be fixed or as an illness in our culture. Which is a darn shame.
While acknowledging our sorrows in any form, we’re able to acknowledge the great honor that often accompanies the origin—whether it’s the end of a game, loss of a loved one, or anything in between. Showing up, fully participating in opportunities of ecstatic joy or tenderness through lump-in-your-throat sorrow, is the epitome of what human life is all about.
“The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.” ~ Joanna Macy
The photo of my husband:
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