The Guilt of Happiness in Grief

11 June 2021 / By Social Media


“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.

 -  Vicki Harrison


So much of our lives is spent wondering about what happens in death-anticipating it, fearing it, dreading it- for ourselves or our loved ones. Life, after all, is written in pencil. A death, to say the least, goes beyond just the death of the deceased. Undoubtedly, it takes a shift of the mountains to come to terms with it, and let it sink in. Its ever-lasting imprints on the loved ones shake the course of one’s life- more or less in a painful, sudden and unexpected way. What often goes unnoticed is that the feelings of loss, sadness, and loneliness experienced after any death is often magnified by feelings of guilt, shame, confusion, rejection, anger, and the effects of trauma. The process of bereavement, healing and recovery is a complex one, different in its magnitude and manifestation, and through it all, never, ever easy.

Often in the wake of something as intense an experience as this one, we look for small shimmers of light. A ray of hope to remind ourselves that what we're facing today is not the reality of a lifetime. Reading a book, feeling excited about going out on a coffee date, or simply planning a walk to the beach. Your feelings seem normal enough, until that part when there's an influx of guilt or regret. A sense of shame entailing you when you pick a moment of happiness in those trying times. You had enough hard days; but when you feel good, should you feel guilty about smiling? Or having fun?

Oftentimes, while grieving, feelings are layered with contradictions-you can be angry but also relieved, happy but also frustrated, sad but also grateful. Grief is an incredibly complex process that is not all about letting the turmoil consume you, but is also about acceptance, care and gratitude, and while at it,  about navigating through the complexity of it all. Contrary to Psychologist Kubler Ross’s theory, the experience of grief, healing and bereavement is neither linear nor segmented or unitary. The only pattern observed in it is a pattern of constant fluctuation, uncertainty and divergence. There are threads of happiness, however, which resurface at unexpected, but important moments, even if they are ephemeral or transitory. These moments often stem from acknowledging the immense worth life has, valuing the little bundles of positivity and hope, and appreciating one’s resilience in the face of tragedy or loss. If the purgatory of grief indeed coexists with the fluidity of emotions and thoughts, both light and dark, then why do we shy away from it? 

Perhaps, it’s the yearning for the loved ones we have lost, the survivor’s guilt, or just the connection we share with those no longer with us. The darkness can become inconspicuous on some days, overbearing on others. What is important to remember, however, is that those bittersweet moments- of joy, of hope, of acceptance, do not go in vain. The only cure to grief, after all, is to grieve, and the process to grieve includes anything and everything that accompanies you along the journey. There is no black or white, no right or wrong, no happy or sad; the process of healing and bereavement includes every little moment that has something to speak with you, something that makes you feel, something you hold on to, and something you let go.

It is not easy to delineate how a process so incredibly intense looks like. It reminds me of Musician Mike Shinoda’s album “Post Traumatic” which is a courageous and honest attempt towards it. It illustrates how this journey pans out- more or less in a realistic and raw way. Channeling  emotions and thoughts in an anthemic way- through songs and their accompanying visuals, this piece of record starts at a very dark place, reflecting on the chaos and denial attached to losing a loved one, and then proceeds to slowly permeate into different directions. While it includes the struggles, it also includes the triumphs. I would recommend listening to this album from the start till the very end, because listening to it has made me acknowledge that this journey is not devoid of the good days, and certainly not devoid of the feeling of being happy, rightfully so. Starting from lines that question “Am I a part of a vision made by somebody else?” to ending with “some days it doesn’t take much to bring me down, but I’m floating above it all” it reminds us all, that you are allowed to find joy again, to feel the delight, and to smile with glee, unapologetically and with all of your heart.   

To listen to Mike’s Shinoda’s album Post Traumatic, click here:

To find helpful websites for healing and support for grief and bereavement, click here: 

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