Walking Our Faith: Grief and joy can coexist in the same moment

Suzanne Anderson
Walking Our Faith
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson

Two important things happened this week. My mother, Adeline, celebrated her 93rd birthday, and my Newfoundland dog, Buddy, died early Monday morning.

I made reservations to fly to Florida for Mom’s birthday months ago. But at the end of June, I faced facts and realizing there was no way I would endanger Mom’s life during this pandemic. I canceled my flight.

I haven’t seen Mom since March, and I miss her dearly because, at her age, every visit is a precious gift.

Buddy was diagnosed with lymphoma a month ago. He was placed on steroids, and this helped him feel better. I had hoped to have many more months with him. I had only adopted him a year before — at age 6 and before his diagnosis — and I looked forward to three more years to enjoy his larger-than-life personality.

But on Sunday, he rapidly deteriorated, and by Monday morning, he was gone. I called Summit Animal Control on Monday morning to make the arrangements for his cremation so that I would receive his ashes. The kind woman on the other end listed my other Newfoundland dogs that also have been cremated there.

It seemed like a long list: George, Charlie, Max, Henry. All dogs I had adopted when they were adults or seniors, and now Buddy will join them.

Someday, when I have a home of my own here in Breckenridge, I will place each container containing their ashes in a hole and plant a tree over each dog.

Although none of Mom’s children were able to be with her on her birthday because of the pandemic, we each celebrated her birthday. I had groceries delivered in the morning. Her favorite things were there: ice-cold pickled herring in wine sauce, little lamb chops that she enjoys for breakfast, beef liver that she’ll fry with onions for dinner, delicate chocolate croissants to enjoy with a cup of coffee in the afternoon. All items she would never buy for herself. And finally, a beautifully decorated chocolate birthday cake.

My brother John and his wife, Heidi, sent a large bouquet of tulips, and my brother David sent roses. Later in the afternoon, three neighbors brought a bottle of champagne and stood 6 feet apart around the dining room table and toasted Mom’s birthday and had a piece of cake.

Just before she went to bed that evening, Mom called to say it had been the best birthday she had had in years.

Life feels upside down right now. And sometimes an unexpected sadness can feel like one more thing on top of many other things.

But there are also unexpected moments of joy where all good things come together to create something better than we could’ve imagined or planned on our own. 

I think we need to grasp these moments of unexpected joy and let them be a balm to sustain us when sadness comes. Knowing how much Mom enjoyed her birthday, especially as she has remained in quarantine since March, makes the physical distance between us a little easier to bear.

Likewise, in times of sorrow, we need to allow ourselves to fully experience our grief in whatever way feels best for us. I remember the joy Buddy’s presence in my life brought me, and that loving memory gently tempers the sadness of his passing.

I believe we are learning that joy and sadness can coexist. And if we learn how to embrace them both, we will learn to see life with a wider horizon and greater depth. The palette of experience and emotions from which we view our neighbors and the wider world will take on greater beauty and appreciation and compassion.

This is God’s gift to us. Not that we should live a pain-free existence, but by living through pain we have a greater gratefulness for joy and greater empathy for the experience of others. This common knowledge is how we become better people.

After I turned out my bedside lamp last night, I listened to a nighttime prayer in the dark, as I do every night. This lovely prayer of Saint Francis de Sales spoke deeply to my heart and the dichotomy of holding joy and grief in the same moment. It was a sweet consolation to both. I hope it will be for you, as well.

Prayer of Saint Francis de Sales

Do not look forward in fear to the changes in life;
rather, look to them with full hope that as they arise,
God, whose very own you are, will lead you safely through all things;
and when you cannot stand it, God will carry you in His arms.

Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same understanding Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and every day.

He will either shield you from suffering or will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson’s column “Walking Our Faith” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Anderson is the author of 10 novels and nonfiction books on faith. She has lived in Breckenridge since 2016. Contact her at

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