Grief Accompanied by Joy

Letter from Meg Shonsey

Photo by Jonathan Zerger

Photo by Jonathan Zerger

Dearest sisters in Christ,

While the world tells us grief and joy cannot go together, within our beautiful Catholic faith, joy can come from grief, but one can also be joyful amidst great grief. I had never seen how until I experienced the ten most dramatic days of my young life.

Fall of my senior year in college was supposed to be great. I was finally listening to the Lord's desires for my life: changing my major, adding a minor, but still graduating in May. I was happy. My five roommates and surrounding friends and I were all striving to lead each other closer to the Lord every day. That being said, my major change had afforded me the opportunity to be a pioneer in a domestic exchange program my Catholic university in North Dakota had with a secular campus in Arizona. I was scared. I did not want to leave my friends who had become family and professors who had become mentors, but I was sure it was what I was supposed to do. The Catholic Studies program at my college in North Dakota had given me so much in terms of spirituality and finding a firm foundation for my faith, that I knew I could not keep that within anymore, but give the great gift to students on a secular college campus.

So I slowly began to prepare my heart to leave my beautiful prairie home for the complete unknown. Unknown as to what the next semester would bring, unknown in post-graduate life, unknown about what to do beyond the next step. Oh, how I was grateful I couldn't see more, otherwise I would not have begun.

My grandmother's health had been failing since Thanksgiving, but her death December 8th still took me by surprise. Her peaceful passing brought deep sorrow to my already fragile heart. She had been quickly passing all day Saturday, and I knew she was not going to make it through the night, but knew I needed to keep myself busy until I got the news. I spent the whole day in the student center, doing homework and people-watching. At 5:55 Saturday night, as I was wrapping up homework to have supper with a friend, I got the call that she had passed. Everything around me stopped as I stared at my phone. I raced down to the hall to avoid crying in the middle of the student center, but it was useless. My friend came and took me straight to the chapel, then let me in on a secret. We left supper, headed back to my apartment, and  as I stepped into my apartment, seeing my cactus shower curtain hanging up on the wall to decorate my apartment to signify my move to Arizona, and my living room filled with the encouraging smiles of my dearest friends, I smiled for the first time in days. Arizona iced tea and snacks lined a table, along cards to write my encouraging words. Little cacti and other cute decoration covered the wall. Our Christmas lights provided a soft glow over the faces of my beautiful friends. Grief at the passing of my grandmother, then joy at being loved so deeply by those around me.

Between classes and crying in bathroom stalls, I rearranged finals and papers to be able to be with family as we grieved and prayed for the repose of her soul. The funeral was simply and respectful, and honored my grandmother perfectly. The priest talked about the beauty of a faithful woman of God, everything that she had taught me to be. The quick trip home ended with my oldest brother's college graduation. Grief, then joy.

Driving back up to campus after her funeral, I wondered if I was making the right decision leaving everything I know and love. My grandmother's courageous spirit encouraged me, and comforted me in my decision, but I still wondered. My mind and emotions were in survival mode though. Grieving took a backseat as finals, papers, and goodbyes overwhelmed my fragile state. My community loved and cared for me as I simply survived.

I finished, but barely. I failed my first test. I said goodbye to dear friends who supported and loved me heart, in the good and the ugly. I cried often. As I was packing up my room, I again began to wonder if I was making the right decision. After everything I had been through over the past ten days, why would I leave everything behind and go? Maybe because it was not about me. My community would still support me, love me, and pray for me, as I would them, while apart. Grief, then joy.

My grandmother had deep faith that she thankfully passed on to me, her namesake. My great grief is accompanied by joy when I realize she is on her way to union with God. My grief is turned to joy when I realize that I too, can help others begin to find union with Christ on this side of heaven. It won't be perfect, but that's ok. The last ten days of my fall semester were some of the worst, but I've never felt closer to the Lord. I have never been so drawn into the master of is birth leading to His eventual death.

Packing up for my last night in my apartment  I saw the thin stretch of the orange and pink sunset disappear from the sky, leaving the world dark and cold for another night, I knew He was there. He is there all around us, bringing joy in the midst of our deepest pain. He comforts us in despair and unknown, and gives us a lamp to guide our next step. The love of the Lord overflows in my heart, dear sisters. The Lord has gifted me joy to accompany my grief, and has taught my young self that there is nothing I can do but give the joy the Lord gives me to others. The Lord helped me rise up and learn how to joyfully grieve, and He can help you too.

Meg Shonsey

Handwritten quote from the writer

Handwritten quote from the writer

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Meg Shonsey Portrait

About the Writer: Meg Shonsey

Meg is a History and Catholic Studies major about to graduate and take on the real world by the deep grace of God. She loves long runs, dark coffee, and deep laughs with friends. Meg sees the love of God through her friends and the beauty of God’s created world around her. She loves adoration, the rosary, and chatting with friends over a good cup of coffee.

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