When Grief Comes on Good Days

On really bad days I always miss my father.

Since he died, that reality has never surprised me; the way moments of failure or depression rarely come without grief following close behind. It makes sense that when you feel alone or frustrated or worried, you’d profoundly feel the absence of someone you loved and was loved by. There’s something almost normal and right about it all.

But the thing I’ve realized as I’ve walked this road of grieving, is the sad irony that I often miss him even more on the really good days:

On the days when I have exciting news to share, and he is the one I rush to call—before remembering that I can’t.

On the days when my children do something funny or beautiful or amazing and I want to tell him the story.

On the days when his voice is the one I most want to hear say, “That’s great, I’m proud of you.”

This is quite possibly the worst thing about Grief: its utter rudeness, its complete disregard for your present bliss. It doesn’t care what goodness you are experiencing or how perfect the moment is. It shows up unannounced in the middle of your celebration and victory to remind you that you are still in the red; that no matter what great things you do or feel or receive, that loss remains and will remain.

This means that you are paradoxically the most vulnerable to deep despair when you have the greatest reason to be joyful. In the sweetest of moments, at the peak of jubilation you can often find yourself close to tears as you are sucker punched by how much you want the one you’ve lost to be present. You imagine what it would be to share this moment with them and you find yourself confused, as if your heart doesn’t know whether to soar or break—and it tries to do both simultaneously. The what is, is always assaulted by the what could have been.

Most of the time the joy of the day does win out, because you ultimately remember that your loved one really would be here if they could; that they’d be proud and happy, and so excited to get that call and hear that story and to tell you they were proud of you. They missed out on every moment you are grieving their absence in, and it likely wasn’t something they’d have chosen. And even though remembering that doesn’t fix everything, it is a place of solace. You know in the marrow of your soul that if they could, they’d be here cheering you on and celebrating alongside you and warmly embracing you.

My father lived for his family when he was here. Those calls and stories and updates were his joy too. Our good days were good days for him. This is how love works. I try to remember that, because that remembering is the closest thing to him actually being here. Recalling his love in the past does allow me to claim his love in the present, and it tempers the sadness.

Allow the memory of the one you’ve lost to be your companion in this day. May you who mourn be comforted: not only on the days when life is difficult and expected sorrow comes, but in those days when it is very, very good—and grief shows up unexpectedly. 

Be encouraged.



22 thoughts on “When Grief Comes on Good Days

  1. I totally understand. We all will (if we have not already) be in the very same “grief” shoes at some point in our lives.
    My mom passed away 3 years ago next month. She was the heart and soul of our family. She was truly unique and loved her family with more “might” than anyone I have ever known.
    I believe in the after-life. Heaven. If i did not it would be more than I can bear.

  2. In Judaism, life is valued above almost all else. The Talmud notes that all people are descended from a single person, thus taking a single life is like destroying an entire world, and saving a single life is like saving an entire world.

  3. Thank you for this, Brother John. My parents have been gone a long time: twenty-five years for my Dad and twenty for my Mom. And there is scarcely a day that passes that I do not find myself heading for the telephone to call one or the other of them to share some joy or concern I have, and when the reality hits me it’s like the day they died all over again.

    But I do not despair. The fact that I can feel the pain is proof of how much we loved each other.

  4. We were cleaning our basement yesterday, and I sorted through several boxes of my mom’s stuff. And I found myself moved to tears by knitting needles and balls of yarn. The memories were so good, but I cried anyway.

  5. Thank you for your words JP. They are a comfort; your understanding of this thing- grief.

    Grief is a constant companion; loss is the shadow of living. And the temptation for me is to avoid hurting by not risking loving. I believe you once said…. “what I am most surely bound to lose”. Those words have stuck with me for so long.

    The hardest truth I’ve had to learn is that the Good Father lends. And the hardest response? being grateful and not bitter. Grateful to Him for allowing me to be touched and affected but not possessing the beauty that belongs to Him. And wow… so often, I’ve tried to hold on tightly.

    Keep writing JP ?

  6. Agree with “anonymous” above- “You know in the marrow of your soul that if they could, they’d be here cheering you on and celebrating alongside you and warmly embracing you.”- rings hollow when your loved one died by suicide. So, you have complex emotions of anger, betrayal, horror, and anxiety just to name a few, on top of regular grief.

  7. Thank you once again for putting into words what most of us feel. My parents died a day apart in ’91 and I still grieve, I still have so much I wanted to say, it’s like you are stopped mid-stride and mid-sentence. I also know that they are withme, will always be with me which is perhaps the greatest comfort. I still talk to them everyday. I use it as a reminder to never leave the loving thoughts unsaid. Peace…………..

  8. Thank you. Like others, I “get” it. My parents are both alive and our relationship is so…disconnected because of great differences in the important things (let’s just leave it at “they voted for 45” and I didn’t)…that they are polite strangers I talk to on the phone once in a while. In some ways, I guess to me, they’re already “dead”. I only mention this because for me, the person I want to call, the person I want to see? Is my mother’s mother, who was essentially MY mother. She is the one who taught me how to love everyone, regardless of any label. She is the one who showed me what a truly Christian life looked like–and frankly, she’d have been a great Pagan or Buddhist…her religion was not why she was so loving. She was so loving and happened to be Christian. She’s been dead for about 25 years now and sometimes, it still hits me as if it were yesterday. I miss her so much, and I miss that she is not a part of all that is going on now. I want to show her the beach I live near, and all the birds we have, and take her to the restaurants I think she’d like. I can’t, of course. But I do try (and I think mostly succeed) at emulating her: open arms and open ears, to hug and to listen to those who come to me and need that. Excuse me while I get a tissue…just writing this makes me tear up. When I am outside and a bird goes by, I think of her…maybe she is the bird, I don’t know. But her love is still very much alive in every person she met and in me…as if she had just hugged me but a moment ago. I love you, Grandmom. I’ll meet you at the Rainbow Bridge…

  9. I am coming to realize this. I red your email on grief recently, it really hit home and helped lot. I lost my mother 12/28/2016 we were best friends. I find I miss her the most on days like this….

  10. Anonymous I can’t even imagine the pain from a loved one’s suicide. Kath GC – What a beautiful ode to your grandmother. How wonderful that you will always have those treasured memories in your heart.

    My parents both suffered from dementia so through those years I told myself I had already lost my parents before I actually lost them. Yet when they did pass I felt totally unprepared.

    It took a while for me to put aside those last years of their life and mourn for my real parents.
    I think of my Dad and I have so many questions I wish I could ask him. He had so many interesting stories that I should have written down. Now those questions will never be answered and parts of those stories have been lost because I cannot remember.

    I am never prepared when a memory of a lost loved one washes over me.

  11. Sometimes walking with a friend while they process their grief can be a heartache — I see her grieving and I want to take away the pain but I can’t– I stay with her, I listen, I comfort and hope she will come out the other side safely– it is all I can do.

    • I will say Thank you for that friend for standing beside her while she grieves. So many times people don’t know what to say so they stay away. Your presence is more important than the words. Keep walking with your friend. Bless you,

  12. Thank you for putting this out there.
    I lost my parents within 9 months of eachother, and as an only child you realize that suddenly there isn’t anyone you are the most important person in the world for. We were so close, always there for eachother and then from one day to the next completely alone.
    The other day there was a fire at my place and I stood outside, shaking. The police asked if there was anyone they could call for me…. There isn’t anymore. And that is the most distressing, heartwrenching feeling in the world. To be completely alone.

  13. John – I have had the same experience of grief smacking me upside the head on what I had thought was a good day. Or seeing something surprising or beautiful, or hearing something funny or shocking, and wanting to share it with someone then remembering they are no longer there to share with. Or my heart aching to hear a voice that is lost to me now. Losing a part of my family is so lonely. Thanks for sharing your journey. It helps so much to know this is not just completely isolating and personal, it’s also a human experience and others are walking through it too. Each wrapped in our own sorrow and memories, and our shared feelings, we walk together.

  14. Thank you, Pastor Pavlovitz.

    In a story I wrote, the protagonist was 22 and out and about in the world, post-college, when his Father dies suddenly. In the jumble of thoughts and emotions which tumbled through his mind when he gets the news, the one which burned through was if he, in their last phone conversation, remembered to tell his Father he loved him before hanging up.

    You never know when events might separate you. Take a few seconds out to remind yourself and them that you care. It might be more important to you both than you can possibly imagine in the brief moment which you share.

  15. Dear John, my friend Eve drew my attention to this posting.I know how she misses her sweet father , because I knew him. My father was the dearest ,sweetest, man that ever lived. He was loved and respected by every person that ever met him. He was an Army Colonel and a church deacon that taught Sunday School in Baptist churches most of his adult life.As a Gay man , most people believe that my father and I were so different that we had nothing in common. However, my father had a Gay brother, whom he loved. As a child they were both orphaned,so my father took care of his little brother in the foundling home,until he was adopted. My father was only fostered, and never was actually adopted. He had to escape one family that used him like a slave, and so a Baptist minister took him in so he could finish high school.When World War II broke out, he used the Army as a way to grow up into a real man. The GI bill gave him a college education, and he went from penniless orphan to devoted husband and government worker (USDA). In Kentucky , he was a fighter for civil rights for Blacks, because of his time spent as an orphan . He learned a big lesson , that he tried very hard to pass on to me. No matter who you are, or where you come from, you have been given God’s love and your job is to pass that love to everyone else.So, I am a Gay Christian that celebrates Black History month and remembers the time the KKK near burned a cross on my father’s lawn. He was a Baptist who celebrated Kennedy’s presidency,because he believed that Catholics were mistreated too.My father was everything you think of when you think of a TRUE American hero.When the trumpet played “Taps” at his cold winter funeral, I saw the mixed crowd of people that drove from all over the country to be there. He is always missed. When he caught me in bed with my high school lover, he closed the door quietly, and when I asked him if he was OK, he said”Lock the door ,next time, and let me tell your mother”. He was my hero.

  16. When my father died 23 years ago by suicide I was in deep shock, fog for about a year. Then I kind of got out of this state to start grieving. But…when it comes to suicide, except all of the emotions of grief similar to most, there is also feeling of guilt, regret. it took me about 20 years to finally find some peace. When my mom died of cancer three years ago, my world completely crashed. I always thought I was unbreakable, made from iron but…I broke into million pieces like tiny glass. I have changed and I’m different person that I used to be. The longer into grief, the more I realize is probably impossible to became myself from three years ago. And while I am grieving my moms death, I also started to grief again for my father. Now, I also grief for myself, for the person I used to be, the person I lost.

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