Why It’s Normal To Experience Grief And Happiness Simultaneously

grief holding roses

Grief Kuel Category Expert: Lisa Michelle Zega

Welcome to January Kuel Life Sisters! You have made it through the holiday season.

Amidst all the holiday cheer we also experienced loss, which elicited a response. Grief is the normal reaction to loss and is felt as conflicting emotions in our body. It occurs when our normal or expected circumstance is disrupted or denied. We experience loss when things don’t go according to plan. 

“When left unmetabolized, it shows up again with fresh grief and results in increased suffering.”

Grief Went Unwitnessed And Unattended:

Much of our grief goes unwitnessed and unattended because of an either/or thinking paradigm. We are supposed to be happy and make good family memories for everyone.

So, we feel pressure to suppress our sadness when our daughter decides to celebrate with her boyfriend’s family. Or, when our son gets the hoped-for scholarship to a preferred college. It is a happy occasion. We reject our pain, thinking the good news takes away our loss. But this is not what happens.

Grief is cumulative and it does not simply disappear but must be processed. When left unmetabolized, it shows up again with fresh grief and results in increased suffering. So when our son leaves for college, the unprocessed sense of rejection we felt when our parents divorced comes back up. We don’t recognize that historical pain intensifies our current experience. 

Compounding The Grief Experience:

Life carries unprocessed loss like a train pulls rail cars. When fresh loss is encountered life screeches to a stop and all that is being transported is thrust to the front, compounding the grief experience. Judgment intensifies grief. It is common to critique your grieving experience, “I shouldn’t feel this bad”, “I should be happy”, “I should be over this by now”, but our judgment is not helpful. It actually impedes the healing process because our sorrow requires comfort to heal. We didn’t recognize that past pain was multiplying the pain of our kid going away to school so we criticized ourself for not being happy and rejoicing in his opportunity. Understanding that grief is compounded and multiplied by unmetabolized pain helps elicit compassion for ourselves and others. 

Emotions Conflict:

“When your emotions conflict, that is an indicator that grief is present.”

It’s important that space is made for the full range of our emotions and feelings. When our emotions conflict, that is an indicator that grief is present. Though society instills the idea that our experience is either/or – happy or sad, it is helpful to allow for both/and – happy and sad.

We get to be happy for our daughter’s relationship and sad that she is not coming home. We get to rejoice in our son’s college opportunity and be sad for our loss. The both/and experience is expansive and makes space for the complexity of human emotion so that our grief is witnessed, attended to, and healed. 

Recognize That You Experienced Loss:

Allowing ourself to recognize that we experienced loss over the holidays amidst our celebration is a step in honoring our grief and our humanity. When we become aware of our pain, we make space to heal.

Metabolized grief expands rather than diminishes our life, which permits and deepens our joy.

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Lisa Michelle Zega

About the Author:

Lisa Michelle Zega is a Life Coach for Midlife Women of faith who are starting over after the death of a spouse or a divorce and are struggling with sadness and self-doubt. She helps them metabolize grief to retain all the nutrients, learning and wisdom and release the waste, so they can begin again with joy and confidence. 

She was married to a pastor, divorced after 23 years of marriage and her boys stopped talking to her for nearly 6 years. Zega later buried a fiancé 5 months before their wedding day. She now lives with her handsome biker hubby, adorable Jack Russel and creative stepson outside of Los Angeles and enjoys a renewed relationship with her grown sons. 

She’s a devoted Minnesota Vikings fan, enjoys people, loves to hike, read, travel and embraces the fullness of life — the joy, sorrow and all the in between. You can find more about Lisa Michelle at Legityou.com or Lisamichelle.legityou on Instagram.