top of page

Passages that make us think - Joy and Sorrow

In Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed wrote

"Accept that sorrow and strife are part of even a joyful life."

In The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, Mitch Albom wrote

"When Aurora told this to Frankie, he shook his head. All his life, he'd seen devotion and suffering go hand in hand."

In Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life, Dr. Colin Murray Parkes wrote

“The pain of grief is just as much part of life as the joy of love: it is perhaps the

price we pay for love, the cost of commitment.

The future frightens me. I've experienced sorrow. I've experienced suffering. I've experienced grief. But never great sorrow, great suffering or great grief.

What's the difference? I'm not sure. But I'm pretty certain I haven't been on the extreme end of the pain spectrum.


My father died when I was 35. By then, I had two children of my own. When my mother and older brother passed, I was a grandfather.

Not many days go by when I don't think about and miss my parents and brother. But - and is this wrong to write? - their deaths didn't devastate me. They died before me in the rightful cosmic order. So sorrow, suffering and grief haven't destroyed me

So far.

Most of us will, at some point, feel excruciating, soul-crushing anguish. When it's my turn, how will I react? Will I be able to go on?

When I assigned the book Ordinary People, I taught my students to focus on its most important lesson - that if we don't let ourselves feel sorrow, we won't be able to feel joy. And that most of us would prefer a life of highs and lows to life on a flat line. I mean, if you flatline_______________, you die.

I'm in the peaks and valleys camp. I allow myself to love deeply. But, as Dr. Parks warnes, the price of that love is pain in the form of grief. Or as Mitch wrote, devotion and suffering can't be disconnected.

But, if what Cheryl says is true - that you can experience sorrow and still have a joyful life - does that mean if you don't experience it, you can't? That there's no yang without a yin?

And if that's true, does it mean that if you experience only a little sadness, you only get to feel a little happiness? And if that's true, does it mean if you are fated to endure a 10 on the sad spectrum, the universe owes you a 10 on the happiness one?

I don't think it works that way. I'm thinking that it's more likely a 10 on the sad spectrum will shatter everything on the happy one.

That's why the future frightens me.

Your thoughts on preparing for great sorrow, great suffering and great grief??? (Especially if you've been there.)

bottom of page