5 Ways to Discover Joy and Illuminate Life’s Path After Grief

5 Ways to Discover Joy and Illuminate Life’s Path After Grief


This post was contributed by Lindsey Henke, author of “When Skies Are Gray: A Grieving Mother’s Lullaby“.

After my daughter was stillborn, I felt broken by the unbearable weight of grief and thought I would never find joy in my life again. But over time, I learned that grief and joy can indeed coexist. Here are five tips that helped me lean into a joyful life after such a devastating loss.

5 Ways to Discover Joy and Illuminate Life’s Path After Grief

1. First, you must be sad.

The first days, weeks, and months after the loss of a loved one are painfully hard. Experiencing their death might be one of the most difficult things you go through in life, and it’s going to suck. There’s no way around that. The only way out of the deep agony of grief is through it.

This means that in order to discover joy, first, you must embrace your sorrow. All of the icky parts. The longing for your loved one that died. The ache of not having them here to hold. The indescribable sadness. Let all of it into your body and soul.

Lean into your tears, your pain, and your longing for the person you lost because this is your grief reminding you of how much you loved and still love the person who died. Once you can see that the pain of grief is deep because the love for this person was and still is deep, the healing begins, and moments of joy will follow.

2. Set boundaries and find your people.

We can more easily find joy even in life’s hardest times when we set boundaries by prioritizing our needs as the grieving person. This means giving yourself permission to set limits with those you allow to support you during your time of mourning.

Remember, your grief is unique to you, and not every friend, family member, or coworker has earned the right or is capable of hearing your vulnerable grief story. Only you get to decide who gets the privilege to witness your sadness. Setting boundaries might also mean saying no to things and people that don’t acknowledge your broken heart or allow space for you to speak about the person you are missing.

This is where finding other fellow bereaved friends is a must while mourning. These friends who “get grief” know intimately how powerful it is to be present for someone else’s pain and to hold space for them in their sorrow. Putting these boundaries into place around who you spend time with while grieving will help you live a more authentic life while mourning. And, living authentically opens you up to more spontaneous moments of joy alongside grief. 

When Skies Are Grey by Lindsey M. Henke

3. Look for beauty in the present moment.

I know, the present moment hurts terribly when you are grieving. Most of us who are mourning want to avoid the present moment more than anything because the present is where the pain is.

All those who grieve desperately want the past back, the time period when our loved one was here and with us. Or we want the future to be here, like yesterday, because we believe that in the future, our pain will be behind us. And just like leaning into grief, leaning into the present can hurt, but it’s also where unexpected moments of joy can be found.

One way of finding these moments in the present is to look for the beauty. It’s all around us. Maybe we can’t focus on the good right now because there is nothing that feels good in our lives, but I promise you, there is still beauty. Noticing one thing a day that you view as beautiful can help you find appreciation for the little joys in life again. You could even take a picture of that glimpse of beauty–a blooming flower, a piece of artwork, or that act of kindness you witnessed–to help you experience it a little longer so you can linger in the joy that appreciating beauty cultivates within you.

4. Lean into joy (when you are ready) with the power of the word “AND.”

It might feel strange and even wrong to laugh when your loved one no longer can. But it’s okay to give yourself permission to live life and experience joy, even in grief. The way to do this when you feel ready is to embrace the power of the word “and.”

Knowing that you can continue to cry, scream, be sad, angry, and grieving your loved one AND laugh, smile, be happy, and hopeful about life too, is what the power of holding two opposing truths together with the word “and” can do for you while mourning. Viewing the world through this lens of holding two opposite realities together with “and” allows for both grief and joy to coexist. 

5. Know there is no letting go or moving on.

When you move through grief and into experiencing moments of joy again in life, it’s common to feel guilty because you think you are leaving your loved one who died in the past. But because love never dies, our connection never ends with those we have loved and lost. We don’t have to “move on” or “let go” of our loved ones who died in order to experience joy in our lives while grieving. We actually can experience more joy when we allow ourselves to carry their memory and the love we still have for them with us into our future.

Yes, the person who died is forever gone from this earth, but they aren’t forever gone from your heart. If you give yourself permission to hold onto your memories and your love for them as you move into the future without your person, it becomes easier to let joy back into your life too. Because the memory of your loved one lives on in your heart as you embrace joy.

By Lindsey Henke

Lindsey Henke

Lindsey Henke is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist specializing in the grief that accompanies life transitions. She founded Pregnancy After Loss Support (PALS), a nonprofit for parents pregnant after a previous perinatal loss or infant death. Her writing has been featured TODAY, Pregnancy and Newborn magazine, Huffington Post and New York Times.

Follow Lindsey on social media: Facebook: @LindseyMHenke | Instagram: @LindseyMHenke | Pregnancy After Loss Support Instagram: @pregnancyafterlosssupport