Where grief and joy mingle.

I had been dating him for a few months when, while cooking dinner in his kitchen, he wrapped his arms around me and began singing a tune we could slow dance to—right there, next to the hot stove.

Twirling on the worn tile by the illumination of the oven hood light, I was immediately sent back to sweet memories of my younger years. My dad would approach me while singing [very] off-tune, and lead me in a dance around the kitchen. I’d giggle or roll my eyes (depending on how old I was at the time), but underneath it all I knew I was in a moment worth remembering.

Dancing with my boyfriend in the kitchen brought tears to my eyes as I recalled days gone by with my dad. It didn’t matter if I was in the midst of a terrible day or a jovial mood, both my dad and boyfriend would not hesitate to initiate a dance—and I don’t think it ever felt like a bad decision. It was like the two were passing a torch the other didn’t know existed. “Spontaneous slow dancing” must be an up and coming love language!

I’d like to think this was all foreshadowing to several months later, when I married my new dinner-prep-dancing-partner.

They were so close, they touched:

The hello and goodbye. Beginning and ending. Anticipation, reflection.
All within the two slow dances that I danced on my wedding day last August.

The first was with my brand new husband—the one who spontaneously dances with me as we wait for the kitchen timer to run out. We chose an R&B hit from the late 1990’s to spin to on the dance floor. We wanted something lighthearted—a little bit silly with a little bit of romance. It’s who we are. So we spun, we laughed, we kissed, we whispered sweet nothings—and it all felt like the sweetest everything. Joy was guiding our steps on the dance floor, and my heart was swelling with happiness.

The second dance, immediately following the first, was with my precious dad; we chose a particularly heart wrenching song. It was a beautiful tune, rich with lyrics that helped put words to our relationship. Our dance, while tender, was an ending, of sorts. We hugged, we cried, and we spoke sacred words of love and thankfulness. It was a flavor of grief that was guiding the steps my dad and I took on the dance floor, and my heart, though full, swelled with a sense of sadness.

“Weddings are a death,” my former professor, Dan Allender, would say. I’d smile and nod in response, but think to myself that it was one of the more morbid sentiments I’d ever heard.

Then I approached my own wedding and realized that part of the process (you know, “leave, weave, cleave”) actually felt like a death. My familial loyalties, my maiden name, the roommate status I shared with my best friend—it was all changing. There was so much to celebrate in getting married—and much to grieve.

Those two dances on my wedding day were symbolic of the transition I was experiencing. There was joy, newness, hope, and anticipation bumping right up against transition, life lived, gratitude, and reflection.

I needed the dance with my new husband to accompany the dance with someone who had walked with me up until this point, helping me mark the end of what had been, and blessing what is and will be. I needed both dances, because both the joy and the grief are what were true. With the hello, came a goodbye; with the beginning of a new chapter came a conclusion to the previous chapter.

Grief and joy, they’re not so separate. Maybe we actually need to experience one in order to know the other. In fact, I’d argue that there may not be anything deeply joy-filled that is without a level of grief or loss. To receive whatever the next season in our life holds, we have to make room for it by releasing something of the previous season. The joy might be louder than the grief, or the other way around, but they are both there, intertwined. Sometimes, they’re actually within the very same dance.

It’s the wild, wonderful, and terrible thing about life. We get to experience sweet joy—and yet, there, too, is grief. But do you know what else there is? There is dancing. And I happen to believe that dancing can almost always be an appropriate response, in one form or another. My two favorite dancing partners—my dad and my new husband—they taught me that.

When there are no more words to accurately express our feelings, there is movement. We can laugh together, sing together, hug, cry, and share words of thankfulness. But when the quiet comes, we can simply dance—our steps in sync—experiencing the joy, grief, bad days, or jovial moods together. We can do it in our gorgeous wedding gown under a ceiling blanketed in white lights, or we can do it in our sweatpants next to the stove in our outdated kitchen.

I say “yes” to dancing. Grief and joy will continue to mingle, and we can sway, bop, and boogie together through the thick of it all—laughing, weeping, whispering, and spinning—from one chapter to the next.

Mallory ‘Larsen’ Redmond received her master’s degree in Theology & Culture from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. Recently married to her husband, Darren, she is enjoying this new season of life as a wife and writer. She loves dry humor, clean sheets, and gathering around the table with friends. You can follow her writing here, where her stories are told with the hope of further uncovering the places of connection in our humanity.