Bittersweet Wonder

Thomas Johnson-Medland

There is an odd thing that happens in our grieving, and there is an odd thing that happens in our mending amid grief. The memories and emotions that emerge in our grieving — those memories and emotions that lead us into sorrow — lead us full-circle through the pain into a tender peace.
It is an odd gift that loss has left us. We find that the very memory of walking hand in hand with our loved one makes us cry in the absence of them and those moments, but that very remembrance of them and those moments open our hearts to a deep awe and gratitude as well. We miss them, but oh how sweet it was to have had them at all.

We have come across this bitter-sweetness throughout our lives. It is the sense we have when we realize that our own gifts are often our own curse; or the very wounds that we carry through our lives are the very place where we are able to touch others and bring deep healing. Pleasure and pain; at once a bittersweet wonder.

I remember holding Mary’s hand as she went on and on about the gardens she and her husband had planted. Through her sobbing she told me of the gathering of plants and rocks from all of their many trips with their children. “This one is from Pennsylvania, and that one from China. It hurts so much to see them, but they are so beautiful and they remind me of all that we shared. When I think of the memories, it actually gives me the strength I felt when we were there, together, doing those things.”

You have sensed the oddness of having your tears actually be your nourishment.

Ask me how it works; I do not know — but that it aids the mending, I do know that.

If there is no bittersweet wonder in our grief; then we are stuck. But if there is a bitter sweetness to our healing, then we are mending.

If our grief is dry and arid, we probably just need to listen a bit more — listen to our minds and our hearts tell the thousand memories they hold of our loved ones. We need to look at pictures and cry. This bitter sweetness is present in our perceptions of those who offer to help us mend. What people say often alarms us and we feel it was not the right thing. And then we have the feeling that we are glad they cared enough to try.

Back and forth, up and down, around and around is the process of mending amid grief. Sometimes we laugh when we think of Uncle Harry’s crazy hat collection, and then we sob because we don’t get to watch him make those crazy faces anymore. We cry when we think about our mother having cared for us as children when we were sick with chicken pox, and we breathe a sigh of relief when we realize she no longer is suffering with her confusion and horrible, labored breathing.

These memories and these emotions are both our bridge to the people we have lost and our bridge to our own healing. They enable us to arrive at a place where we may mend and do it slowly, tenderly and with grace.

All of the things that we have done together; all of the love and conflict and growth meld into one and give us pain in their absence, and strength to go on ahead. Try to figure out how the trees and roses can make you cry and laugh at the same time. I cannot. See if you can imagine how blue skies and white clouds can remind you of a loved one’s death. I cannot; but they do. And somehow the colors of the rainbow, and peoples’ faces, and friends shaking hands, and babies crying all give us sadness and hope at the same time. (Thank you, Louis Armstrong, What a Wonderful World).

Thomas Johnson-Medland is the Chief Information Officer (CIO) for Lighthouse Hospice Inc. located in Cherry Hill, NJ. As the CIO, Tom works toward aligning Lighthouse Hospice’s core values and culture with their growth as an organization and healthcare provider. Hardwiring excellence and quality into every aspect of Lighthouse Hospice is his primary goal.

Tom began hospice work in 1996 as a Pastoral Care Coordinator. He has served as a community educator, hospice representative, and Director of Project

Development and IT for Lighthouse Hospice. He enjoys writing and has published a total of eight books and over 30 articles on end-of-life care. He is a frequent presenter at local, regional and national conferences and serves as a member of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council and the Project Management Institute. For more information, contact Lighthouse Hospice at 1-888-HOSPICE or visit

As seen in Camden County Woman and Burlington County Woman


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