About a week ago I was chatting with a co-worker about the upcoming holiday (Thanksgiving, for those who have been sleeping lately). This co-worker had shared earlier in the day that this time of year is really hard for her family because her dad died 17 years ago on Thanksgiving weekend, and his birthday was at the end of November. She also mentioned that it was her grandparents 65th wedding anniversary, but that they haven't celebrated it in 17 years because of the loss of their son.
It wasn't the first time I've been struck by this co-worker (who is just 21) and her legacy of sorrow. It is sometimes hard to tell if the grief clings to her or if she (and her family) cling to it. But this time, it really hit me. I challenged her to not dwell on what has been lost in life and to, instead, consider what has been gained. And I wasn't making that challenge to her alone.
Over the last several years, there has been a lot of loss in my life and around me. My cousin, Tyler, drowned at age 17. My grandmother died. One of my uncles died. This year alone, I've had a co-worker lose a daughter-in-law in a freak accident, another co-worker's husband died suddenly, and just today I heard of another co-worker's father-in-law who passed away. And of course, Will left us.
So as I've been reflecting on all this heartache and sorrow and loss, as I watch how people deal, there seems to be two main camps. Some, like my co-worker's grandparents (and her entire family) hold it. They let it color their every hour. It rules their thoughts, their actions, and in the end, their lives. Others learn to keep a more open hand. The grief is no less real, it's no less a constant companion, but they do not cater to it. They remember that life is meant to be lived, and we can't do that if we are wallowing and sinking into the mire of loss and heartache. So they live. They laugh. They keep going. And yes, there are moments when it hits them hard, afresh. And they might be out for the count for a day or a week or just a minute.
I don't want to be the sort who quits celebrating one joyful occasion just because something tragic happens around the same time. I hope Scott and Shelly never stop celebrating their marriage, because it is beautiful and worthy of celebration, even if their precious son departed from this world a day before that anniversary. I won't stop celebrating New Year's day as a fresh start even though my grandma passed away on that date. To stop celebrating is to let the darkness win. To give into despair.
So like the song says, you've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away, and know when to run. For me, that means I figure out when I need to grieve, but also when to stop and to celebrate. It reminds me to remember the good times, and not to hold the tears inside for too long.
And there will be time enough for counting when the dealin's done...