It’s been two-and-a-half years since my wife transitioned. I’m occasionally prompted to revisit journal writings and blogs from the time around her death. Not long ago, I encountered such a nudge. Sometimes I feel like an outsider reading my own journal posts—reliving an experience that seems so long ago and still remains surprisingly raw. I stumbled upon one entry that aligns perfectly with a recent conversation I had with a friend.
In late 2011, during our three-week stay in Palliative care, I found myself vacillating between feelings of pain—watching Ivy traverse the dying process, and joy—recalling the significant impact she had on my life. Remembering the Buddhist saying, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear, I was keenly aware that Ivy, and this event, were important teachers for me. Here’s a particular student lesson lifted from my journal at that time:
Pain and Joy = opposite sides of the same coin. Seeking a life of safety and security in order to protect ourselves from potential loss or pain also numbs and robs us of deep joy. Live with courage, curiosity, wonder, risk, abandon, and joy. Thoreau wrote, “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, to suck the marrow from the bones of life; to put to rout all that was not life, and not to come to the end of life, and discover that I had not lived.” Don’t seek the straight and secure road, rather the windy, twisty, scenic path.
That bold writing emerged only days before Ivy died. The pain that followed was excruciating, at times unbearable. Yet, a month after Ivy’s death, when asked by our minister, “knowing what you know now, would you have done anything different?” My answer was a quick, “No.” The immense pain of losing Ivy had not overshadowed the incalculable joy of knowing her. That’s one of the final lesson she left for me.
Common life teaching encourages people to mitigate risk and pain. It’s well meaning advice, often given by those who care deeply for you. This does not have to be your path. It’s not for the person looking to experience the depth and breadth of what life has to offer. Attempting to alleviate pain robs you of deep joy. In order to live fully engaged be willing to embrace both sides of the coin—pain and joy.
Leave your comments: What potential joy are you missing out on in order to limit your risk of pain?