Being Grateful for the Peaceful Coexistence of Joy and Pain

“It’s a gift to exist, and with existence comes suffering. There’s no escaping that, but if you are grateful for your life, then you must be grateful for all of it.” ~Stephen Colbert

Life is not a war; you do not conquer it, nor do you overcome it. You simply accept that suffering is an inevitable and necessary rite of passage on our paths throughout life.

No one is immune to pain; it is only dished out at different levels, and our own internal experience is incomparable. We share similar human experiences—that is the tie that binds us all together—but we cannot compare one’s suffering to the next because we are all individuals.

We exist in a world filled with duality—light and darkness, good and bad, right and wrong as well as joy and suffering. One cannot survive without the other, so to embrace both wholly and have gratitude for their existence is essential to move forward beyond our hard times to a place of peace.

The darkness will always be there, but to what degree we allow it to exist is up to us. We decide if it defines us, we decide if it controls our emotions, and we decide whether we peacefully cohabitate with it.

For years I felt that I had been given an unfair shake in life. I watched and held together the people I love the most when they were broken in pieces on the floor. I gently picked them up and held them together until they healed, often sacrificing myself in the process.

Some of my life’s challenges have resolved themselves completely, but some struggles will last a lifetime.

My youngest son was diagnosed with autism at three and a half years old. I am incredibly grateful for his existence. I wouldn’t be who I am without him. The lifelong advocacy, care, and responsibility make you an especially hardy breed of mother.

I struggled with tremendous guilt for so long when feeling burdened by his diagnosis and the impact it had on our family. Many parents of special needs kids suffer burnout, marriage failures, and depression at a much higher rate than other parents. It has been a constant fight for his education and social services, which created the warrior in me, but the right to exist in a world that doesn’t appreciate diversity shattered my heart.

I struggled for so long trying to be less resentful and more positive. As much as possible, I fought to keep at bay the deep depression and PTSD I carried silently on my shoulders for years. I kept it hidden, as I never wanted my innocent son to sense my sadness that life wasn’t what I had expected and over how unfair it was to him and to our family.

One morning, I stumbled upon Anderson Cooper’s podcast. Stephen Colbert was a guest, and Cooper discussed the lasting impact the death of Cooper’s father and brother had had on him at a young age. Cooper went on to ask Colbert about something he had previously said:

“It’s a gift to exist, and with existence comes suffering. There’s no escaping that, but if you are grateful for your life, then you must be grateful for all of it.”

As the interview progressed, Cooper started to cry, as this conversation resonated with him deeply. I replayed this conversation many times over and cried even more. It was very apparent that it had moved Cooper emotionally and gave light to a subject that had daunted him (and me) for many years.

How do we come to be at peace with both the hardships in life, especially when they are continuous, and the better times?

The interaction between these two men was profound, and it inspired me to embrace my pain as a gift.

It’s an anointment and a difficult, precious task we must all embrace wholeheartedly. Life becomes far more peaceful when we find a way to be grateful for both the hard moments and the joy in our lives.

To exist is to live in both realities, and there’s something to be gained from both, so we need to honor and respect both equally. One cannot exist without the other. We would never know love if we never experienced grief; they are intrinsically intertwined.

It was a significant moment for me when I realized this; and it unravelled years of trying to compartmentalize my darker emotions away from my family and the world.

Seeing my pain as a gift enabled me to fully embrace it. It wasn’t about suppressing my emotions or pretending the hard things don’t hurt; it was about allowing them to hurt with a new sense of perspective—recognizing that pain serves a purpose, and it means I’m alive.

I started to realize that I did not have to feel guilty for being overwhelmed some days. That it’s okay to cry and there is no shame in feeling defeated because acknowledging the hard times is just as important as celebrating the triumphs.

I felt the strength to push past those heavy emotions because of the good in my life. The moments when my son laughs, smiles, or hugs me are so incredibly uplifting. Those times would not feel so sweet if not for the days when I feel physically depleted and mentally lost.

I’ve also learned to appreciate the many gifts his diagnosis has given me. I would not be the person I am today without suffering to create this unstoppable warrior, leader, mother, and human rights activist that is driven by purpose.

It has made me an incredibly strong person mentally, as we have overcome so many obstacles as a family. I’ve learned to always forge forward and never go back; that life is many problems that just need solving.

Nowadays, I don’t have to hide my struggles but embrace them and accept them as a part of the grand scheme of life. Recognizing my pain allowed me to release it instead of burying it in a dark, inaccessible place only to grow by the day.

The greatest gift I bestowed on myself was realizing that I needed to look at life through a different lens by challenging my current beliefs system. My known coping mechanism, tucking heavy emotions neatly away in the back of my mind, wasn’t working. I was slowly coming apart, and I needed to redirect.

Listening to the conversation between Colbert and Cooper was the catalyst for change inside me. And with that came rebirth. I started to slowly open up about my struggles and connect with other parents, not as an advocate ready to tackle the next fight but as a person struggling in my daily life with a child with disabilities.

I felt more authentic in that I didn’t have to hide my grief; it was okay to not be this impenetrable positive fortress 24/7. I felt more connected to other parents in our shared pain, challenges, and celebrating our children’s achievements. Expressing all of it, not just the parts I wanted to project out to the world, helped me to live in my truth.

There is a particular sense of freedom in accepting that our hardships are necessary parts of our beautiful existence. Our pain strengthens us and, collectively, we are bonded by it. I am now at peace with all life has given me, and I am grateful for every moment.

About Jackie Honey

Jackie Honey is a humble servant of mindfulness sharing her life experiences. She started writing as way to cope with trauma. It blossomed into an artery of life for her. Her creative expression and passion are to share and listen. 

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