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  • Writer's pictureAnna Byrne

A mishmash week of joy and grief

This week, amid the happy feelings and sense of achievement around the completion of the audiobook, my heart has also shared its space with grief. The grief is manifold.

My beloved Uncle Jim died in Toronto on Sunday. He loved baseball and his grandchildren and touched many lives during his time in education. His death was peaceful, at home with his family next to him. It is the end of an era for the Daly side of my family, and the beginning of a new one, without Uncle Jim. So, there has been the sadness of beginning to say goodbye, and of not being present with my extended relatives for the ritual of attending his funeral and sending him onto his next journey.

And then there has been the mixed-up grief over the Ukraine and our own failings as the human race, failings that continue to inflict so much pain and suffering. That grief seems to be a mishmash of sorrow, anger, and despondency. It roils in my stomach and in my soul.

Despite the different nature and circumstances of this grief, I don’t feel a gulf between my own family’s sorrow and that of Ukraine (and the multitude of sufferings on this planet). The specifics are different, but at the most fundamental level, I believe that all are my brothers and sisters.

So, sometimes it feels disjointed to be celebrating the book, and sometimes I wonder how much it matters in the grand scheme of life.

What my time with cancer taught me was about more than the pain of having cancer. Being seriously ill helped me to touch beyond my own story to the universal suffering that is a part of the human condition and which manifests in so many ways. In part, I learned this by watching my family and friends suffer mightily alongside me, though I was the one who actually hosted the diseased cells. I also learned that grief and joy are not mutually exclusive. Watch any child who has had a significant loss. Fierce outbursts of emotion give over to playtime. I know that my family in Toronto will be laughing almost as much as they cry this weekend.

Joy does not belittle grief, but joins arms with it. Joy and grief stand side-by-side, together providing the inner footing that allows us to witness and to confront the suffering of others without turning away. My own work is to keep an open space within me for both. And to hold my own candle of joy, small as it might be, into the abyss of darkness and to know that it matters.

On this earth, there is only “One Life, One Death, and One Suffering” and we’re all a part of it.

(quote by Fr. Richard Rohr)

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