For the past four years, Easter has been an important marker in my life. Maybe it’s because in my faith and in my family, Easter is a time of joy – and joy is something that hasn’t always been so easy to grasp since Shawn died. Even as the trees turned pink with flowers and the purple-red buds of the peonies peeked above the ground, even as there was hope and life everywhere and even as I heard the church sermons that proclaimed joy for this time of year – well, even then, I couldn’t always embrace the idea that joy was all around me.
The first Easter I celebrated as a widow was in in 2018, just a few months after Shawn died. I got the stomach flu and my friends Kristin and Becky took the kids to church with their families and did an egg hunt together afterwards, sending me photos of the kids that made me so overwhelmed with emotion that I sat in bed and cried big, fat tears. I was also waiting on test results to confirm that the abnormal breast exam didn’t really mean cancer.
It wasn’t exactly what I would call a joyful Easter. I was suffering so much from the stomach bug that I spent all day in bed and I tried to at least appreciate that I finally got a day without my kids. Clearly, I was really stretching to find some joy that year.
The second year was maybe the worst. That’s strange to say, I know, since I wasn’t a brand-new widow and I also wasn’t home with the stomach flu or a potential tumor growing in my chest. I mean, you’d think it would have been better! But I was reeling that spring from a rough breakup, and even though I’d started to feel a bit better, it was a pretty uneven road I was traveling. Every day I’d wake up and think, “my GOD, this is my life. I do not like it at all.” That year, I spent part of Easter day at Shawn’s grave, marveling at how much life there was around me – in the trees and the people and the birds – and yet, his body was there in the ground.
The third year – last year – was a time unlike any other, of course. I’d spent the month prior to Easter in full quarantine due to the pandemic, not leaving the house for anything, really. The kids and I became a unit, even more so than we’d ever been before. Every day felt like us against the world.
I was also falling in love. I hadn’t yet laid my hands on him, but Chris was mine, and I was his, even if our whole relationship had formed over the phone.
The day before Easter, I prepped the buttermilk roast chicken I was going to make the next day (if you have not made it and want someone to fall in love with you, I can highly recommend it.) I went on a run. I cleaned the house and sat in the sunshine in the backyard and tried to convince myself that even though I would be the only adult in the house, Easter wasn’t going to be terrible. I didn’t feel joy per se, but I felt okay about things. I had the kids, and on the phone, I had Chris.
Late that afternoon, I came out of my house and Chris was standing in my driveway. I was very, very surprised.
Easter last year was our first full day together. We took a bike ride with the kids and did a “egg hunt” with pieces of cardboard that we cut into egg shapes and then taped on little pieces of candy. The kids knew it was kind-of lame, but they pretended it was great, because they knew we were trying. That night, we ate the chicken and Chris smiled at me from across the table and I thought, “this is the Easter joy I have been missing.”
But really, I was in the early stages of love and the joy was more of an excitement kind of joy. I didn’t know where everything would lead with Chris. I felt the overwhelming sense of new love, new joy, new hope. What would it mean in a week or a month? I had no idea. I was just happy to have him there that Easter day.
And now, it’s Easter again. An important marker for me and for the kids. It’s also an important marker for all of us – me, the kids, and Chris – as a family.
Because today is a day when I feel a kind of joy that is different from last year. Yes, last year I felt excited, but this year I feel a kind of joy that I’ll call expectant joy, because it’s about my future with Chris, and also about our life together as a family.
Easter in my family (and in our church) has always been about rebirth and renewal, joy and excitement. I couldn’t always feel it, especially in those early years. But the joy was there, even if my vision was too clouded to see it. This year, I am so glad I can embrace it.
If you’re not there yet, if you’re in the years where Easter (or any other holiday you celebrate) feels dark and sad or maybe just dull and drizzly, that’s okay too. There is no right way to feel on these days, of course.
But I can say this: there is something to be said for knowing that there is joy in the world, even if it’s not yours at that moment. Because someday, in some form, that joy will come for you. Maybe it will be the excitement kind of joy for something brand new, or maybe it will be expectant joy of something yet to come. Maybe it will be a new love or a new friend or a new job. Or maybe it will be nothing new, but rather that you will find that you can sit in the sunshine and marvel at the peonies pushing up through the dirt. That, too, is a special kind of joy.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.