What seems like both yesterday and a very long time ago I used to think I'd never feel joy again. Moments of happiness, yes. A bit of peace, yes. But actual joy? I didn't think it possible. I actually don't think I would have ever considered the word "joy" until about a week ago when I saw it plainly there on my face.
We went and got maternity photos taken. Rich was my photographer with Ryan and I cherish those photos so much now. I think that was a big driving force propelling me to get them done again this time. It's nice to have those memories when you know you're not guaranteed anything. But I also wanted Rich to be in them this time. So we got together with our wedding photographer who was very happy and excited to do this with us.
It was a beautiful day, and I thought of Ryan a lot. I made a few wishes for his little brother. And I asked Ryan to keep watching over him. We felt like a little family on the north shores of Lake Huron. And my heart felt full.
But I remember having a hard time smiling. The photographer would ask me to look at her, or look away, or look at my belly. And it felt like the best I could do was spread my lips into a small grin or smirk. I was happy to be there, with my husband, my son's teddy bear, and my new little one growing inside me. But a real genuine smile felt a little forced. Really, to be there reminded me of Ryan, and it all felt a little bittersweet.
Then I got the photos back. And there, in not just one or two photos, but in quite a few, was a real, genuine, joyful smile on my face. And it took my breath away.
I can no longer say I don't feel joy because it's plainly there in my smile, my eyes, my body as I leaned again my husband, my rock. Or held a stuffed bear in my hands, my boy. Our family captured on the beach with laughter and joy. Actual joy.
In some of the photos I see other things too. A bit of the sadness. That sense of bittersweetness and longing. But in all of them love. And in some of them joy.
I've often seen it written that "just because I'm laughing or smiling doesn't mean I'm healed." And I don't know if us grieving parents say that because we're trying to convince others or ourselves. Are there really people out there that think a parent ever totally heals from the loss of their child? Or do we as loss parents just feel so uncomfortable with our own moments of happiness that we need to somehow bring our child into the moment to ease our guilt at feeling happy? I'm not sure if either of these are true. I think to grieve a child just means to forever balance the happy and the sad.
I really see this in the story of our family as captured by my maternity photos.
They're a mixture of longing and missing...
...and hope and joy.
And to me, that says everything. No, I may not be perfectly healed, and I don't think I'll ever be.
But there's a relief to know that joy is a possibility.
Even if I'm not always aware it's happening.
And I don't have to make excuses for it.