The Communal Dance of Joy and Mourning

I saw it out of the corner of my eye, one second too late. Not soon enough to stop it from happening. Riley excitedly grabbed the “Big Sister” book off the library shelf – the same big sister book that we had bought her in the fall, that we had her open at her birthday party to announce to our families that we were pregnant; the same book that we used in our photography session to take our announcement picture that we were going to post publicly in January.

She ran with the book over to a cozy little reading nook, that just happened to be occupied by one very pregnant lady and two women holding tiny little newborns in their arms.

It was like a knife through my heart.

I happen to have several friends who are pregnant right now, most of them due right around the time that I was. One of my best friends just got married. I have a nephew due to be born in September. All around me there is joy and life, while inside of me is the empty casket that held the death of my second child only a few months ago.

It’s no accident that “rejoice with those who rejoice” is right next to “weep with those who weep,” smack dab in the same exact verse of scripture (Romans 12:15). These two things often happen simultaneously in our communities and in Christian community, we are called to enter into both of them together. Even when they are happening at the same time.

The Greek word for “rejoice” in this passage means to be exceedingly glad; the Greek word for “weep” used here literally means to mourn for the dead; to enter into the pain that is associated with grief.

And that is exactly where I am finding myself.

It’s not an easy thing. Seeing women who are pregnant is a very stark visual reminder of my son’s death. But it is also a stark visual of life and joy.

As crazy as it sounds, rejoicing and weeping are meant to be together. I shouldn’t be afraid of the tears that threaten to fall when I see the joy of a healthy child growing, because those tears show the value of my son’s life. And those who are in the season of rejoicing shouldn’t be afraid of my tears either. The tears don’t mean anything about them personally. And they don’t mean anything about me personally. They mean that death was never supposed to be a part of the equation and people are not designed to handle the sting of it. They mean that the person who was lost was invaluable and there is now a hole in the world and our lives because of his absence.

Nor should I be afraid to smile and rejoice with those who rejoice. Rejoicing does not mean that my son’s loss is forgotten, something that I am very fearful of. If anything, it actually validates the pain of losing him. When we see the picture of joy – what is supposed to be, we are also forced to remember the loss and why it was significant.

When I see a friend who is somewhere around 20 weeks pregnant, I see where Salem should be right now. When I see a mom holding a newborn, I see what Salem is supposed to be this summer. When I am at a wedding, I see what Salem should have the opportunity to experience.

But that is not a bad thing to see. Why do we try to run from pain? Every thing I see that makes me sad and reminds me of Salem, it whispers of his life and significance. It says that he was truly valuable and worth mourning. It says that he was and is deeply loved.

Likewise, those who are in seasons of rejoicing should not be afraid to enter into the mourning of those around them. It doesn’t subtract from their joy, but should actually add to it.

Mourning is made validated when you are reminded of what is actually lost. And rejoicing is made richer when you realize what you have, that could be lost.

This is the sacred dance that we are called into as Christians. Yes, it is painful. But running from the pain is only hurting us more.

If we just indulge in our rejoicing without willingness to weep with those who are mourning, then we aren’t going to experience our rejoicing in as rich of a way as we could. And if we pull away in our mourning without willingness to rejoice with those who are rejoicing, then we will just become bitter and resentful.

I’ve been the one who is in a season of rejoicing before while other friends were mourning. Now it’s my turn to be on the other end of Roman’s 12:15, only to realize that I should have been there (with others who are there) all along. Here is something I’ve learned:

It’s a great disservice to those of us who are mourning when we are treated like we should just get over it and move on, or we are encouraged to find some sort of “good” purpose in all of this. It is an impediment to us being able to enter fully into community and rejoice with those who rejoice when people expect us to be the hero of our own story; to pull ourselves up, move on, and be inspirational with “all of the ways God is working through this!” It makes those of us who are mourning feel like our pain isn’t validated, our loss isn’t significant, and that the life of the one lost wasn’t valuable. Yes, God can and will work good things, even out of tragedies. But my sanctification is certainly NOT more valuable than Salem’s life. How are we supposed to rejoice with others if those things are true?

There are many days when I don’t want to see a single person, other than my family. I don’t want to mourn by myself, but I also don’t want to mourn inwardly while everything else around me seems normal and happy. I am sometimes afraid to talk about anything good that God is doing in my life, for fear that people will grasp onto it as a reason for my son’s death – as if any of it is more valuable then he was.

But when those who are rejoicing are also willing to mourn with us and validate our loss? Oh, it is such a beautiful gift. In the same way that it is a beautiful gift to those who rejoice, when one who is mourning also rejoices with them.

I was surprised by what a gift it was for me to rejoice with two friends this week who are expecting their first child. The reason that it was such a gift was not because it erased my pain; no, in some ways it made my pain more prevalent, brought it front and center. But it was the way that these two incredible women mourned with me while I rejoiced with them. With compassion on their faces and listening ears, they ministered to me by mourning with me even though they are in a time of rejoicing. And hopefully I was able to minister to them by being excited with them and listening to the ways they are changing and things they are contemplating during their pregnancies. To be able to talk about falling into a pile of unfolded laundry in tears of pain over my son in the same conversation as talking about their birthing plans and pregnancy cravings was a rare and beautiful thing.

My situation may bring tears into their smiles, and theirs smiles into my tears; but that is true friendship. That is life in rich community. That is rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn.

A few weeks ago at my friend’s wedding, I was standing at the back of the room when another friend from our church walked up to me. She is also in a season of loss. Without hesitation, we wrapped our arms around each other. And we wept. We held each other for a long time, and then we turned together and looked at all of our friends – laughing and dancing. And we smiled.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” –Romans 12:15