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  • Writer's pictureShannon Wiggins

When Joy Feels Like Grief

Positive changes and transitions sometimes bring unexpected feelings. Sure, it’s easier to ignore the heavy emotions or guilt yourself about not being more thankful for the positive changes taking place in your life, however, that only creates anxiety and shame. Truth be told, grief and joy can share the same space without having a negative impact. It’s a reality that is hard to understand, navigate and communicate. Similar to the idea of a negative situation having a silver lining, both scenarios sound and feel counterintuitive. Both come with stressors and overwhelming emotions from the change. The contrast is a natural part of many major life transitions. Sometimes, joy feels like grief.

Newborn baby being held
Newborn baby

There is an 11-year difference between my two children! To say I was excited when I found out I was pregnant for the second time is an understatement. When I shared the news of my pregnancy with family and friends, it was met with joy. But for me, the news created anxiety and shame. It’s not that I wasn’t happy. It’s that I was emotionally overwhelmed. So, I attempted to plaster joy on my face and hide away my fears and gloom. I was embarrassed to acknowledge all of my feelings because pregnancy is such a “joyous” time in one’s life. I was scared of the unknowns and changes that would ensue. Rightfully so, it had been 11 years since my first crack at this “baby” stuff, and I was sad at the impending loss of freedoms and independence I had gained during that time. Now that my body and mind were older I worried about how me and my husband’s relationship would be affected and how I was going to handle the newborn phase again. My worries continued as I continued to tuck them away. Joy and grief coexisting.


Fast forward 3 years (to include a 20-year military retirement for my husband and moving into a new home, PHEW!), and my firstborn (now 14 years old) would soon be graduating from junior high! The move meant switching from one school district to another, including leaving behind the friends he had since 3rd grade. In our military lifestyle, that is a long time at the same school and with the same kids! His new school would be bigger with academics and activities closer to home (think sleeping in!) and more aligned with his interests. What a wonderful transition, right?! As my son angrily explained to me how upset he was with his stepdad and me for “moving him away”, I could see the sadness in his eyes and hear the nervousness in his voice. Listening to him, I wondered “Wasn’t he used to change by now”? I was prepared to point out all the wonderful things about this big change, instead, I began to empathize. 

Major life transitions are not one-dimensional and the more they are treated as such, the more difficult the transition can feel. Change and growth can be uncomfortable. Acknowledge all of the feelings you have surrounding them and their unique losses and gains. All of the feelings have value and just need space, not judgment. Know that the way you feel will ebb and flow inevitably morphing your emotions and perspectives as the transition plays out. However, only if you allow them the space to do so. 

Some other major life transitions you may not expect to feel negatively about: 

  • Change in jobs, career, or retirement

  • Children growing up or going off to college

  • Marriage

  • Childbirth

  • Moving 

  • A new pet 

  • A healthier lifestyle 

  • Milestones being met


I hope that this information will provide you with some reassurance during upcoming changes in your life. Please share any life transitions you have navigated and how. Let me know in the comments below!


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