I wrote an article for The Post and Courier two and a half years ago, called “Finding Joy, Losing Joy, Finding joy Again. The switch from a capital “J” to a small “j” in the title was not a typo.
Joy is my daughter’s name. I found her through adoption; I lost her when she found her birth mother.
It was a terrible loss, one I felt helpless to reverse. She spoke of her birth mother as being “everything I wasn’t.” All I had was a legal piece of paper saying she was mine; the other had her DNA.
Thus I had to find joy, with its small “j,” elsewhere. I put a hat on my head and a smile on my face and walked Charleston’s historic streets arm in arm with my husband. With each step I found myself pulling joy out of those hats. Ultimately it brought joy to others in the formation of The Hat Ladies.
The hole in my heart where Joy should have been was still there. But the pain became bearable through The Hat Ladies’ message of fashion and compassion, camaraderie and community service.
My writing the first Joy vs. joy article represented a personal milestone. Like the song “Secret Love,” I had had a secret pain. Over time, I was able to “shout it from the highest hill.” I could finally be honest with myself and try to help others in the process. I ended that article with the words, “I always had hope.”
It is time to confess I really didn’t have hope nor did I want hope. I felt I had no chance against a birth mother. Besides, having hope hurts since there is no guarantee it will ever be realized. Better to be like a rock, as in the song “Sounds of Silence,” and feel no pain.
Thus it is only fair to let those who followed my story know it has had a surprisingly joyous new chapter.
I never stopped sending my daughter birthday cards despite our estrangement. One year ago, my daughter responded, and our communication began ... carefully, tenuously. It became stronger with each email.
From the time of my first article to this one, I learned some valuable lessons which I feel are worth sharing:
There are many dysfunctional families out there, but people feel they are the only ones with problems. Therefore, there is tremendous value to joining support groups. Not only do people discover they are not alone, they may gain valuable coping mechanisms. Moreover, having understanding friends who walk in similar moccasins or friends who know all about you and like you anyway helps a lot.
The value of communication should not be overlooked. Whether it’s between family members or friends, people should not assume they know what is inside someone else’s head or heart if they don’t try to find out. People go on for years holding misconceptions that might be cleared up if they would only open up to one another.
The worst words in the dictionary are guilt, shame and regret. Don’t let them win. Admit them in whatever way you are comfortable. Reach the point where you can honestly say you have done what you could. Then move on and find people and activities that resonate with your passions and deserve your energy. Just don’t lose that sliver of hope, in the process. Where there is life, there is hope. And, with hope comes joy.
Archie Burkel of James Island is the Top Hat of The Hat Ladies, wife of John Burkel, author and motivational speaker.