A Soul's Grief Memoir: In the Cleft Joy Comes in the Mourning
Navigating Through Painful Life Losses
Mystics have called the journey of suffering the “dark night of the soul,” the place where heart pain is so deep, raw and intolerable you begin to wonder if you will ever transcend from the pit of despair into a place where hope, light, love and faith exist again. Such was my reality after losing a husband, son and mother-in-law to cancer.
As one who has swum in the ocean of grief, experienced the bitter cold, the choppy seas, the unsuspecting storms, my heart’s desire is to help others navigate through their painful life losses. Grief needs to be leaned into, felt and mourned. It is counterintuitive for us to move toward pain, but it is necessary for the heart to beat a life rhythm again. Otherwise, our heart is frozen in a place of numbness, unable to experience a full range of emotions.
Entering into mourning is like thawing after frostbite. The pain can be so intense it feels abnormal. But there is nothing normal about grief. It has a life of its own, and it ebbs and flows to its chaotic and unpredictable rhythm. Grief is like a symphony, mixed with extreme intensity and quiet stillness, sounding off the emotional rhythms of our hearts.Some sounds are peaceful, still, meditative and quiet in their tones and tempo and other sounds extraordinarily powerful, painful, clashing like claps of thunder echoing into heaven, crying out for help, screaming for God’s attention.
During my intense grieving moments, other peoples’ stories gave me words to describe the ache that was indescribable. They gave me hope that a new day would dawn, and I would not be stuck in the black forever. Their stories inspired me to write my lament, which birthed my memoir, In the Cleft Joy Comes in the Mourning. Within its pages, readers will find pain and joy mingling together, dancing side by side. Even in the valley of sorrows, there is peace in knowing God, our families, and our communities overshadow us in love. It is this great love that gave me the courage to pen our story. Writing my grief journey meant I had to say yes to being vulnerable and transparent.Drawing deep on my courage, I began to pry open unspoken cries, longings, aches and disappointments. The layers of grief were almost impossible to put into words, and when I did find language, it felt inadequate to describe the depth and poignancy of my journey through the valley.
In any case, sharing my story was the beginning of healing. Grief stays stuck in our bodies unless it is shared, absorbed and described. We must put words to our struggle. Molly Fumia beautifully describes the grief pilgrimage: “Grief is a journey, often perilous and without clear direction, that must be taken. The experience of grieving cannot be ordered or categorized, hurried or controlled, pushed aside or ignored indefinitely. It is inevitable as breathing, as change, as love. It may be postponed, but it will not be denied.”
Grief is an expression of love, so when we dig into our depths to give language to our mourning, we are in fact tapping into the deepest places of love within ourselves. Sharing heals. What has been buried inside trauma layers is now in the open, in the light and out of the darkness.
When I think of all my family has been through, I marvel that we have made it through the storms that have raged against us. There is something extraordinarily beautiful about having endured and come out the other side, a depth that only the winter season can bring. Love has won. There is a deep peace in knowing that love is not just for the good days—love forges through the thick of life until there is a trust that goes deep into bedrock.No storm can uproot the person who has found meaning in suffering.
Day to day, I must contend with the unhealed parts of my grief. A pain so deep always has new layers to be discovered. I will never be healed, but will always be healing. Words cannot express the myriad of emotions since my family was annihilated by cancer. Grief still rolls in like a fog and threatens to take me out, but I know God will never leave me or forsake me. He will hold my hand during grief ambushes and see me through the night.Every day my heart grieves and every day I find joy. God touches me so I can press on to the good parts of my life still unfulfilled. He gives me courage so I can help others find their way through the valley of weeping. No matter how fierce the storm gets, God promises his “appearing is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hosea 6:3). His love never fails.
“The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief. But the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love.”–Hilary Stanton Zunin
Thank you, Dana, for sharing this powerful and heartfelt testimony to the power of love and faith to see you through the many phases and faces of unimaginable losses and grief. The hope you share in the midst of so many losses is truly awe-inspiring. The desire of your heart to help other has been fulfilled in this reader’s mind. I have no doubt your inspirational story will help many. You show how “love has won”.
I believe we are invited to share all of our dimensions—our messy, gritty, less than ideal bits along with our intimate moments of connection and beauty. In our transparency others find a safe harbour to rest and feel OK even when their lives are twisting and twirling out of control. If you’re messy and frazzled and hanging onto life by a thread then you and I have a lot in common.
I am Dana Goodman. I’m highly sensitive and most days I feel like life is overwhelming. Sometimes going to the store for milk feels like the last straw. Life is hard, unpredictable and sometimes very disappointing. But it is breathtakingly beautiful at the same time. Most days we live in this tension—beautiful and ugly mixing together like paint—pain and joy kissing each other.
I have a degree in education and in English Literature, as well as a Master’s Degree in Counselling. My clients, who have endured unthinkable life losses, teach me about endurance, perseverance, faith, strength and courage. They are my teachers, my role models, reminding me we are all overcomers.
My greatest joy was when my two boys Carter and Zach were born. My greatest heartache when my oldest, sensitive, full of love boy died at age 13 of an aggressive brain tumour. It was the darkest night I have ever experienced. My husband and mother-in-law also died of cancer. Pain has been relentless, yet somehow seeds of love have spread far and wide because of our story, which I have chronicled in my memoir, In the Cleft Joy Comes in the Mourning. I never would have imagined beauty would come from tragedy, but it’s happening like a tsunami of love seeds. Pain has a way of being a lighthouse for others to find their way back to the shores of hope.