“Joy is the most vulnerable of all human emotions. We are terrified to feel joy. We are so afraid that if we let ourselves feel joy, something will come along and rip it away from us and we will get sucker-punched by pain and trauma and loss.” — Brene Brown, The Call to Courage, Netflix Original
The day my father-in-law died by suicide, I woke up feeling hopeful. It had been a long time since my soul felt anything more than broken and empty. I welcomed the hope with cautiously optimistic and gently open hands.
That morning, I put the song “joy.” by for KING & COUNTRY on as I settled into my office. I listened to it once and then again and then on repeat for most of the morning.
Oh, hear my prayer tonight; I’m singing to the sky.
The months prior to that day in mid-September had been fraught with difficulty. We endured the slow decline of my husband’s grandmother as the insidious, icy fingers of Alzheimer’s raked through her memory, stealing her from us a little more each day. As if that wasn’t enough, other losses piled up, one on another, culminating in a desperate moment in late-August. Many nights, I found myself praying just to survive another long night.
Give me strength to raise my voice; let me testify.
Feeling silenced by people who should have helped me face the darkness, I found myself vacillating between giving up and giving it my all. Some days, I just didn’t know how to take one more step, how to find my voice, how to ask for help, how to choose anything but the imminent darkness. Some days I powered through out of sheer will, a determination to love my people with all of my being. And then I woke up on September 13th with something different in my heart.
Oh, hear my prayer tonight, ’cause this is do or die.
I didn’t know as the sun came up that morning that I was at the threshold of do or die. I just knew that something felt different. I felt faced with a choice.
The time has come to make a choice…
I listened to the song over and over again, eventually posting on my Instagram stories. I wanted to choose joy even in my own personal darkness. Even if we didn’t know what would happen with Mamaw, I wanted to choose joy in the uncertainty. Even if my heart was broken over the loss of contact with my daughter, I wanted to choose joy in that brokenness.
And I choose joy.
Some would say that my father-in-law’s death by suicide is proof that God isn’t real or, at the very least, doesn’t care about us as individuals. And that evening, as I held my husband in my arms, gutted in a way that I had not previously experience and never want to again, I might have agreed.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of night
Surviving the death of a loved one as a survivor of multiple suicide attempts is tricky. Being the rock for your spouse and your children while silently dealing with your own demons brought up by such a close proximity to suicide is an entirely different beast.
I beat myself up in private for weeks and months on end that I could have hurt my family in this way. Every day, I would look in the mirror and think, “I hate you.” I had no one to talk to as I went through the darkest of these thoughts. I didn’t want to burden my husband. Friends didn’t quite know what to do or say. I didn’t even want to be brutally honest with my therapist out of fear of being locked away. Again.
And so, I fought the demons alone.
And I prayed. A lot.
The first time the beginning notes of “joy.” started and I didn’t immediately change the song happened just shy of one year after my father-in-law died by suicide. I started singing along in the car, right up to the chorus, and then it hit me.
I burst into tears.
Oh, with You by my side, I’m stepping into the light.
I remember the first time we laughed after he died. It felt wrong. Singing along and feeling joy nearly a year later felt just as wrong… for a moment. With tears pouring down my face, I sang-screamed the rest of the song.
I choose joy.
Every day I am faced with the conscious decision to choose joy. Some days feel incredibly hard. The everyday noise of living in a political landscape that spews hate at absolutely everyone. The pressures of trying to be the mother that I want to be with the knowledge that I’ll never quite live up to my own expectations. Trying to be the best possible partner while understanding that I’m human and flawed. When the grief just keeps piling up. Sitting and staring at the blinking cursor, silenced by my fear, my frustration, my memories, poking at the soft spot in my heart, my soul.
Some days, the darkness does its darnedest to pull me down into its murky depths. I feel my feet slipping, feel the tug, and I just want to give in, let go.
But I think of my boys’ faces, the way their eyelashes curl up so I can catch a glimpse of the light in their eyes. I think of the way my husband’s laugh has returned, that real laugh, the one with the wheeze. I think of the way my friends have given me both space and challenged me to show up when it matters. I think of the way God has carried me through absolutely every single one of these moments.
And, I choose joy.
It’s the only way I can wake up and face a new day.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255.