Joy. It’s a funny thing.
I think most of us would agree that joy is one of those things we want to feel often and have more of in our lives. I’m right there with you.
However, as I’ve traveled along my journey, I’ve come to learn that true, pure, unadulterated joy is one of the most vulnerable emotions you can allow yourself to experience.
It’s been said time and time again that with love comes the chance of heartbreak, and for some of us, this possibility is what keeps us from allowing ourselves to really love and be loved. But what many people often don’t talk about is that the experience of joy is quite similar.
While I had heard this idea in a few places before, it took some real-life experience for the lesson to really crystallize for me.
This past Thursday, a difficult decision was made in my family: on Friday, we were going to put our 14-year old dog to sleep. I sobbed and cried and ran through multiple boxes of tissues, napkins, paper towels…whatever was closest to grab mid-outburst.
The outbursts came in waves, crashing over and over and over again. My head hurt, my eyes burned, I couldn’t breathe through my nose. My heart felt like it had been ripped apart into a million pieces, and my stomach felt queasy. A moment would come when I would finally calm down a bit, and then another wave would surge through me, and the cycle would start all over again.
I didn’t want this to be real. I mean, I know that death is an inevitable reality for all of us at some point, but no matter how much I understand that or how many times I witness it, it’s never really any easier to accept when the time comes.
At one point amidst the tears, I thought: I don’t think I ever want to get a dog again. (And anyone who knows me knows this is probably the first time those words have ever left my mouth.) While I knew this wasn’t the last time I would be faced with the reality of death in my lifetime, the thought of ever getting another dog felt like some sort of sick, masochistic exercise.
The thought of having a furry companion and experiencing that love and joy and connection, all the while knowing for a fact that this selfless, joyful, loving soul will only live for a fraction as long as I will. That by choosing to share our lives together, I would be basically signing up to feel this immense pain again at some point. Yeah, no thanks.
So Friday comes, and we’re all surrounding her with love, spending a lot of time with her, giving her one last hurrah filled with all of her favorite things that her little, old body could still do. (Mostly yummy food, hugs and kisses, and chillin’ outside, which I’ve decided is definitely my kind of ‘last hurrah’.)
And she was just beaming with joy. And so were we. Sure, there were tear-filled moments where we were afraid and unsure and sad, but there were also moments where we simply got to watch her experience all of the things she loves most. She was being silly, loving, cuddly, and cute – all the things that brought us joy for the last 14 years. Her joy and our joy, one and the same.
And after the time came that she moved on to her next destination, I decided I would most definitely get a dog again. Count me in. Because even though with great joy, we may experience deep pain or loss, it was worth every moment.
I wouldn’t trade in 14 years of joy to avoid my sadness. I wouldn’t choose to avoid my darker feelings if it meant I had to give back all the beautiful things she brought into my life.
Our emotions all come from the same place, so if I’m going to turn off the switch for one thing, I have to be willing to give up a full experience of all the others, and that’s just not an option for me at this point.
We all have our things that bring us joy, and in my life, being surrounded by animals are one of the greatest ways to feel that; I feel so lucky to experience life with them, and I’ve realized that I’m willing to experience the highest highs, even if that means I might be really sad at some point.
I don’t want to live my life avoiding any potential sources of pain at the cost of never fully feeling joy. And to fully feel joy, I can’t be looking over my shoulder every minute wondering when this joy will disappear, coming up with doomsday scenarios in my head of how it will all end, and making myself cry at the thought of something that isn’t even real.
All I can do is be present. The full experience of joy requires me to be present, because if I am, I’m not living in the past or future where all my mental stories happen, I’m simply here. In-joy-ing the moment at hand 🙂
And what about when the very person or experience or thing that brought you joy ends, disappears, moves on?
Yes, fully feeling joy is vulnerable AF. And it can be sucky when you’re faced with the reality that things don’t last forever.
It’s both healthy and important to grieve our losses, but when you’re ready, it’s also important to look right inside your heart and see that the joy never left you; it has always lived inside of you and is always there. It may feel more difficult to access at certain times, but it has not disappeared forever.
I know the same joy my pup brought out in me still lives within me. Our gift to one another was to elicit and share the joy that inherently existed in both of us.
When I kissed her in her last moments, I could still feel the same soul inside that I had always known, the one that brought me joy. After she was gone, I kissed the top of her head, and it was clear her spirit was no longer inside. While this may sound sad, it brought me great peace to remember that her body was simply an (adorable, furry) vessel through which the joy of her spirit was carried and that I can (and want to) continue to fully experience joy beyond the end of our physical time together.
I’ll miss petting her and giving her hugs and kisses, but I know that her joyous spirit lives within me and around me, and that there are so many other places I can be with that very same joy, no matter where we both are.
Our joy is not tied to any one person, animal, place, or thing, and we can be (and are) the creators of joy ourselves, so step right in and feel it fully.
Puppy Naptime 🙂
If you’re going through (or have gone through) something similar, I’m sending you love. You’ve got this. <3
As always, feel free to share this with anyone who may find it helpful, and I look forward to hearing how it helps you.
P.S. If you need some help with this (or other related topics) and are interested in possibly working together, click the ‘Contact’ link above, and let’s get talkin’!