The Joy of Grief // Trina O'Gorman

The Joy of Grief // Trina O'Gorman

I have learned, in the hours, days, and weeks after the death of my ex-husband and father of my two sons, that grief is a strange, strange thing, and not at all what I expected it to be. Like many people, I have long thought of grief the way that I was taught to think of grief, as something that happened in the five stages popularized by psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But it wasn’t until after I’d actually learned he wasn’t going to survive and after my sons and I said our goodbyes with the hum of the ventilator blending in with the sounds of weeping, that I waited for the denial to hit me. I was surprised when it didn’t. There was really nothing to deny. He was gone.

Each morning since, when I wake up, I have to remind myself that he is gone. I wake up with the awareness that things are different now, and have to jar my own memory and remind myself just how they are different and just how different they are, which are two different paths of thinking. I have to, each day, choose which I will take. But that’s not denial. I never deny that he is dead. I know that he is dead. I just haven’t quite settled into the newness of it and what it will mean for us.

And bargaining? What would the bargain be? Would it be to bring him back and to take me instead? That would require me to suspend belief in the physical world and to believe that such a thing would even be possible, but I know it is not. And I wouldn’t wish it anyway. I wouldn’t wish what happened to him on anyone, including myself. And besides, my children need me. And so, the whole idea of bargaining and denial are not figuring into what I am experiencing, and I doubt they will. But there is a lot going on in both my heart and my head, in my sons’ hearts and heads, and in the place and space created by our collective head and heart. Writing in my traveler’s notebook grounds me. It allows me to process the things that I am feeling in my head and heart, and to try to map out this unchartered grief journey so I can try to make sense of it.

Dozens of cards have come into the house. Each with a solemn message, but a beautiful and thoughtful message. People are thinking of us during this difficult time and sharing in our sorrow., and I am so very grateful for our community of family and friends. But I grapple with some of the other emotions that I feel. There is most certainly sorrow. There is a sorrow that we will never see him again. There is the sorrow that his children will grow up without his earthly presence. There is the sorrow that his life was suddenly cut so tragically short. There is a shock in that too. There is sorrow in all of those things. But, as the days go on, that sorrow doesn’t produce tears like it did in the early days, though maybe it will again. What it does stir in me is a desire for understanding and rationale.

In addition to the sorrow and pain, there is this positive energy, this joy that is not mentioned in any of the stages of grief that I know, which I have not come across in anything that I have read, and is not mentioned in any of the cards or sentiments we’ve received. I don't know if that makes me a strange or if we just haven’t been taught to pay attention to that feeling. The feeling that has produced this positive energy in the three of us here in this house. The feeling that helps us to laugh. The feeling that inspires us to be grateful. The feeling that nudges us to plan things and to plan them quickly. The feeling that reminds us that times a-wasting.

When I went outside this morning, I was acutely aware of the raindrops hitting my face. I love rain, but I loved it even more today. I walked in for longer than I would normally stay outside walking the dog. I turned my face to the sky so it would get even wetter. I laughed and nearly skipped. And when I came back inside and sat to write, I contemplated deeply. Why was this happening? Why was I so happy in the face of such tragedy? I wrote a letter to Death and in doing so came to this realization, death can cause us to be profoundly aware of life, of just how fragile it is, but also of how precious it is. Things we took for granted become miracles and things we put off become urgent. Each morning becomes a possibility. Each time we open our eyes is a gift.

While there is, for certain, profound sadness in grieving death, there is also the joy that comes from a renewed appreciation for life.
Written by: 
Trina O'Gorman


  • Mary N Bucklew: September 07, 2018
    Author image

    While I am not in the throes of grief at the moment, I have tasted it and lived through it often enough. This section of your post really resonated with me, and I shared it on FB, with attribution to you. Thank you for this moment of pure clarity.

    “I wrote a letter to Death and in doing so came to this realization, death can cause us to be profoundly aware of life, of just how fragile it is, but also of how precious it is. Things we took for granted become miracles and things we put off become urgent. Each morning becomes a possibility. Each time we open our eyes is a gift.”

  • Gretchen: July 28, 2018
    Author image

    How unbelievably beautiful this is- in your utter sorrow and sadness is gratitude for what you shared as a family, joy in the small moments now and hope for your tomorrows. What a gift – God bless and thank you ❤️

  • Susan McDonald: July 28, 2018
    Author image

    This was so inspiring. It has inspired hope in me, not in the face of death at this time but in some other time of the future. I wish I had read something like this when my mother died and I was only 17. I think I could have handle living life much better. Thank you

  • Carolyn Clarke: July 28, 2018
    Author image

    First, my condolences. I have gone through the experience of losing an ex-husband and I agree that the experience is not simple. We had no children, so I never had that complication. Even though we hadn’t been together in a very long time, I still felt sad at his untimely death. The circumstances were unfortunate but not totally unexpected. I also agree that joy is not the expected response to death and that it is not usually coupled with grief, but to be perfectly honest, I think the joy comes from the relief that it’s not you that died. I remember feeling sadness at his death, but also relief because in my personal case, if I had stayed with him, I’m not sure that I would have survived. So all grief is complicated, even if one does not always admit.

  • Michele cloghesy: July 28, 2018
    Author image

    My husband of 25 years died long before his time leaving me and 2 children. I too felt an incredible sense of preciousness of life and urgency to grasp the day. You said it beautifully. Don’t miss a moment.

Leave a comment

All blog comments are checked prior to publishing