Seeking joy in Hanoi

November 23, 2104

I am here traveling solo in SE as part of an overall attempt to seek joy.

I remember finding so much joy during the solo international travels of my mid-20s. there was beauty in all of it – landing in a foreign place with no plan, beaches, rice paddies, museums, bamboo bungalows, food, temples, gardens, hammocks, mountains, smiling children, throngs of motorbikes… I loved all of it. I learned that different doesn’t mean better or worse. I learned that America is but a very small spot on our globe and that there is an enormous and colorful world out there with so much to teach me. I learned that many things that I thought were big problems were really small problems in the grand scheme of it all.

Here I am again, trying to find the new me, the me that is Holly, not Holly-and-John. I am floating, adrift, stumbling around in Hanoi, gazing upon sights that would have delighted me years ago, unable to find the joy and wonder that I once found, painfully aware that I am different now.

For the first several months after John died there was more hysteria, but also more moments of joy. By hysteria, I mean – uncontrollable sobbing, shock (“OH MY GOD, MY HUSBAND IS DEAD.”), hyperventilation when talking about the loss of him, entire days when I got nothing done because the tidal wave of grief flattened me. However, the numbness that accompanies significant loss gave me brief breaks from the hysteria. The body protects itself during this early stage by not allowing you to feel the pain all the time. So in between the bouts of hysteria, there were moments of laughter, silliness, joy.

Now, almost 6mo in, there is no hysteria and there is very little laughter. I find myself wrapped up in a deep, all encompassing sadness like nothing I have ever experienced before. I have many days when I truly cannot imagine ever being happy again. I continue to be told that I am “on schedule” and that I can expect things to get worse before they get better.

It is fascinating to observe how my brain and heart have different conversations. My brain knows that there is happiness to be found in this world. My brain tells me that it is possible I will love again some day. However, my heart sings a different song…. a song of true sorrow and heartbreak, with lyrics detailing the loss of the one man who looked to the depths of my soul, reached inside of me, and wrapped his love around my heart without conditions or caveats.

I am here in Vietnam because my brain told me to come here. The logical side of me insists that I continue to seek joy, even when my heart claims that joy is not possible. I am not yet finding joy, but every single day I set the intention to keep trying, to stay open, to not harden. Really, there is no other choice. I must continue to seek that which my heart says cannot be found.

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