I was sitting at the traffic light a block from my house waiting to make a left turn when Sheryl Crow’s song Summer Day came on. A rush went through me as I began to move my shoulders and snap my fingers to the beat, swaying and singing along in that dorky way I sometimes do when I’m driving and an especially upbeat song comes on, and I thought, “I’ve gotten my joy back.”
It’s been a long, hard road to joy since Nina’s death. I’ve spent more time heavy than I have light. My glass is more half empty than it is full. Many days have been entirely dark. Even now, almost a year later, I find myself suddenly gasping for breath, my eyes filling with tears, as they did last week in an exercise class, because I’ve thought her name or remembered that I did a yoga class in the room next door on the day I learned she was gone.
I don’t know if you ever fully recover from the loss of a child, even one whose laughter and cries you were never lucky enough to hear.
But joy seeps through in spite of your sorrow, in small spurts, especially if you have another, living child. Even in the days following Nina’s death, Aidan would lie in my lap and play with my hair and I would catch a glimpse of what happiness would feel like again someday. Sometimes he made me laugh, often he made me smile. This in the darkest period of my life.
As that period grows farther and fainter from the present, so the moments of joy grow more frequent, more persistent, more palpable. One day I did a yoga class and found true pleasure in poses I mastered that I hadn’t been able to for many months, and I felt a long-forgotten love for myself and my body as it reached and stretched in ways that felt primal and necessary. I did arm balances and twists and almost wept as I remembered what my body could do and how strong and flexible it had once been and could again be.
Aidan and I are in Los Angeles now, and wistfulness washes over me as I visit the neighborhood where we lived when I was happiest. Today we went to the beachside playground where we played almost every day when we lived in Venice. I remembered those days walking the succulent and palm-lined street with him in his stroller, my flip-flopped feet strong and sturdy as each step landed on the hot pavement that led us to the sand. I loved the pastel cottages and the sun-kissed, beaming faces of my neighbors. I loved watching waves crash as I pushed my son in a swing or smiled at him taking the slide on his tummy, as he did till he was almost two. And most of all I loved my beautiful husband, such a gentle, attentive, natural father, and my new son, who taught me what real joy was, making me realize the pleasure I’d felt until then was damp in comparison to the gush of joy that constantly washed over me since his birth, even as I lost sleep and stressed over parenting concerns.
Harlan was very worried about money in those days. The economy tanked and jobs were hard to come by, but I said to anyone who would listen, “We have the perfect life!” It drove Harlan crazy, because he was worried about being able to provide for his family.
But joy is a powerful force and the joy I felt in those days made me believe that we would find work and make lots of money if only we had faith.
Joy is essential and I feel lucky to be experiencing it again, even in small spurts. When my son throws his arms around my neck the way he does and says, “I love you, Mommy! I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you!” When my husband texts me to say, “I love you guys. Wish I could be with you out there.” When I lie in bed listening to my son snoring softly in his. When the sun hovers over the Pacific as I’m speeding down the highway listening to My Sweet Lord, the song that was playing when my sweet baby made his way out of my body and into my life.
That day back in Cambridge, I turned off of Mass Ave and parked in front of my house. When I turned off the car, Aidan said, “I want to hear that,” so I turned on the ignition and we listened to the rest of the song. “Summer day, as I recall, you came in to my life and you gave me hope and love. I just want to be what you want me to. Summer day that changed it all, you came into my life and you made me fall in love. Baby, I just want to be with you.”
I wondered if Sheryl Crow had written the song for her son. I turned around in my seat and smiled at my own son grinning back at me. When the song ended, I undid the straps on his car seat. He threw his arms around my neck. I squeezed him and felt the same surge of love I do every single time. I put him down and followed him as he scrambled up the steps to our house.
What is your greatest joy? What are the joys that sustain you when life gets you down? Please share your stories, share your joys, or just write any old comment below… and you could win a prize!
What’s the prize?
I’m giving away a copy of my friend Caitlin Shetterly’s book Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home. In this moving and timely memoir—a story that echoes my own and that will resonate with so many readers—Caitlin and her husband Dan move from Maine to California to seek great fortune, only to be slammed by the faltering economy and forced to pack up their belongings and haul them back again to Caitlin’s mom’s house in Maine. Their confidence and their marriage took a serious beating. But along the way, they learned what mattered most: home, family, simple pleasures like walking the dog at dusk and sharing a home-cooked meal, each other, and the beautiful son they had when Caitlin unexpectedly got pregnant, the beautiful son who provided them with moments of deep joy, even when life seemed to be throwing fireballs at them nonstop for months on end.