How Is It Possible to Find Joy in Tragedy?

Girl on the lakeIs it possible to find joy in tragedy? How do you come to a place of peace when you’re told, “There’s nothing more we can do.”

On Tuesday I had lunch with my friend Sally. Last spring, at age 61, Sally was thin, attractive, athletic and active in a number of volunteer organizations. She was deeply in love with her husband, and she assumed she had at least 20 years of travel, adventure and productive community service ahead of her. Life was good until she started having difficulty writing and holding onto things without having them slip through her fingers.

On a bright, sunny April morning an MRI revealed a tumor in her brain. In the past twelve months Sally’s gone through surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. She’s lost a tremendous amount of vigor and energy along with most of her hair. She’s gained a significant amount of weight as a result of the steroid medication she’s had to take. Through it all she has maintained a positive attitude and a good sense of humor.

On Wednesday she got the results of her latest MRI, which revealed two new tumors in her brain. The only treatments available to her now are clinical trials.

My heart is breaking. I can’t make sense of why someone who is so full of life and has so much to give may end up having it all cut short. I am by nature an optimistic person, but I’ve been struggling to find something positive – some kind of joy in this situation.

After thinking about this for a few days, I reflected back on our drive to the restaurant. I realized that our entire conversation was focused on all of the things for which Sally is grateful. She talked about how loving and supportive her husband has been. She said how appreciative she is for friends who take her out to do something interesting almost every day. She took great pleasure in pointing out the flowering trees, bushes and the brightly colored clusters of tulips along the way. She wasn’t bemoaning the things she’d lost. She was finding joy in what remained.

When I first heard the results of Sally’s MRI, I felt sad, sorry and helpless. After having a few days to reflect on it, I still feel sad and sorry, but I don’t feel helpless. Sally enjoys chocolate and fresh cut flowers; and she loves a good story. I can bring little doses of joy into her life by providing these things on a regular basis.

After asking the question, “Is it possible to find joy in tragedy?”, I’ve come to the conclusion that even when we can’t fix, change or improve a person’s health, we can still do things that bring them comfort and pleasure. Knowing that I can make a difference, even if it’s a very small difference, and even if it’s only for a moment, still brings some joy to my heart.

I think the biggest tragedy might be getting so caught up in the complications and complexities of everyday life that we neglect to realize that we are all mortal. Our days on this earth are numbered. I believe when it all comes to an end, it won’t be the length of our life, the things we have accomplished or accumulated that will have given us the most pleasure. Instead, I think it will be the love we have shared with others and the awareness and appreciation of all of the simple, brief and wonderful moments of joy we have experienced along the way that will have made our lives worth living.