Between Joy and Sadness

“Can I watch Joy’s movie, Mama?”

“Joy’s movie?”

“Yeah! The yellow lady with the blue hair!”

Frantically searching my memory bank for the missing puzzle pieces, I stare confusedly into space until a bright light blinks into existence above my head. “Aha! Joy! You mean Inside Out.” My sweet boy, with swollen eyes and a puffy face, gleams proudly and excitedly shouts a resounding, “Yes!”

As our streaming service loads the movie, I wonder what prompted this interesting selection choice as his usual fare consists of adventure princesses or American-dubbed Asian cartoons. An animated movie that deals with the complexities of different emotions that children experience was something I didn’t think he would find interesting—at all. In the week that followed, he watched Inside Out a total of five times. He never could remember the title, but always asked for either “Joy’s movie” or “the one with Sadness.” 

That same week and the next, we spent our time bouncing in and out of the hospital. After multiple doctor appointments, dozens of blood labs—often with multiple draws per day—three emergency room visits and two hospital stays, we had a diagnosis for him and his kidneys. Needless to say, it was an emotional week that echoed with physical and emotional trauma for the both of us: my son carrying the weight of both types of trauma and his mama holding onto so many emotions that I have not yet even begun to process. 

While we were watching the movie for probably the third time, he snuggled close and asked at one particular scene why one of the side characters, Bing Bong, was crying with the main character, Sadness. Oh! It was such a good and awfully big question for his little heart. I took a deep breath and tried my best to explain to him that sometimes when we feel sad inside we just need someone to listen to our hearts and be sad with us. 

“But why can’t he be happy, like Joy?” 

“Because the only thing that feels healing when we feel the loss of something is sadness, baby. He can’t feel like Joy until he cries with Sadness.” 

“I cry when I get pokeys at the doctor.”

Tears threatened to spill out of my eyes on a tsunami level and my breath caught sharply in my lungs. I held him so close to my body, aching to snatch away all that he was experiencing and replace it with happy, joyful memories. The irony of the movie paired with the circumstances of real life mocked me. I took a deep breath, and all I could say was, “I know, baby, I know. I cry with you too.”  

A few days later, I was once again holding him close after several pediatric and ER nurses spent three hours attempting to get an IV line in his swollen, bruised arm. As we laid in the hospital bed, I listened to him cry in his sleep, and I soothed his ruffled hair and stroked his tear-stained face. I thought about how hard it is to find the balance between wanting him to feel joy amidst this chaos and aching to reach into his soul and weep along with him. I thought about all the times people tried to change the narrative to joy rather than risk tears. 

It’s terrifying to sit with someone and be curious about their tears and pain. There is so much at risk. What if it doesn’t help? What if they don’t want it? What if I end up being too much? But I’ve learned one important truth in my thirty-four years: the best healing medicine is the road people so often do not want to travel down. It’s the road where we have the ability to sit with sadness and ache together toward comfort and, quite possibly, joy. 

Mal Arnold is a passionate Latina wife and mother who is a chaser of dreams and believes in living life with abandon. She writes to pour some of herself out for any who care to experience her heart, but is also an avid reader, lover of old movies and going on journeys with family as well. She has seen heartache and trauma in her past and is learning to let her Maker heal her broken places.