Joy and Sadness

I have not been blogging for several months now. Our family has been away from home for many weeks throughout the winter and spring, supporting Sarah, Fred’s mother, who has advanced brain cancer. Now that spring has slipped into summer, I have finished a few client projects and am returning to writing.

The wise and funny Jen Louden recently wrote some beautiful pieces that captured the difficulties and beauties of living in liminal space. She reminded me that we can keep creating in the midst of uncertainty. Read Jen’s posts here:

How to live when everything is up in the air

How to take care of yourself when everything is up in the air

This week, as we luxuriated in the pool on a hot Texas night, beautiful, thoughtful Brandie Sellers talked with me about her own writing journey through one of the online classes offered by Patti Digh. (Brandie and I met at Patti’s Life is a Verb Camp in 2014.) Part of our discussion centered on the possibility of joy coexisting with sadness and difficulty.

This, to me, was one of the key messages in the marvelous movie from Pixar, Inside Out. [Spoilers ahead, so skip ahead to the next paragraph if you would rather not know more about the movie’s storyline.] Joy flits around Riley’s head, trying to maximize joy in all of Riley’s experiences. It’s clear that Joy is the dominant emotion, pushing aside Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. When Joy realizes that Sadness is touching Riley’s core memories, thereby tingeing them with sadness, she tries to isolate Sadness to safeguard those memories. By the end of Inside Out, though, Joy has learned that she had overlooked aspects of some memories that involved other emotions. She accepts that Riley needs Sadness (and all the other emotions), not just pure Joy. Riley realizes that she doesn’t need to feel pressure to be the happy girl her parents praise, because they also sit with her and offer comfort when she is sad.

Ruby had been anxiously awaiting the release of this movie for months, ever since we saw the first trailer. It opened the door for some interesting conversations about emotions, particularly since we are navigating though a deeply difficult time, caring for Sarah, being far from home for weeks at a time, having our work and school and gym routines disrupted, losing the natural rhythms that keep us healthy and happy, and being far away from friends and familiar places. We are all deeply homesick. We also all agreed that spending time in Texas was the right thing to do.

When we left the movie theater after seeing Inside Out, we returned to sit with Sarah for the second time that day. She had had another fall and slept a great deal for several days afterward. Once in while, she would open her eyes and initiate a conversation before nodding off again. Since that day, Sarah has had some good days and been more alert, but is often frustrated by being unable to remember names, particular words, visitors, and recent events. We have shared the imagery used in the movie to talk about memories getting lost, and how that is part of the disease process with glioblastoma multiforme.

Today, we spent part of our morning engaged in conversation about whether or not to reschedule our cancelled flight home for early next week. We worked through some feelings and scenarios and decided to again extend our stay, even though it is hard on all of us, even though we don’t know what the best decision is at present. We signed Ruby up for day camp next week and talked about work and household tasks and supports we can create for ourselves and each other. And in the middle of our difficult conversation, Fred inadvertently, and then purposely, made us all laugh. Because joy and sadness can, indeed, coexist.

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