“I feel like I’m getting better and I still have those moments where – I think I’m learning it’s a lifelong process and there is no getting over it,” Taya tells PEOPLE on the red carpet of the Miss America Pageant at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on Sunday. “You just have a way to deal with it that becomes more healthy.”
She now tells PEOPLE that letting go has been “healing” for her and has helped her to mourn. “For me that means I have to let myself cry sometimes instead of running from it all the time,” she says.
The 41-year-old served as a judge for the Miss America Pageant’s 95th competition Sunday night. She says that while Chris didn’t watch the pageant, he would “love” the organization’s involvement with the USO.
Taya also says that she had to re-learn how to allow herself to feel joy after the loss of Chris.
“For quite a while it didn’t feel right,” she says. “How could I feel joy when I lost the love of my life? I’m learning that those two things can co-exist. It will never be the same joy, but it doesn’t mean there won’t be joy. I think it’s a mistake to miss out on joy just because you have pain.”
She says judging Miss America (and bringing her kids along) helped her deal with the grief.
“It was a big step for me to do it,” she admits. “I’ve been asked to do a lot of things and I think I resisted because there were so many things to do – and I realize if I don’t make time for things that are fun, it’s a waste of a life.”
• Reporting by DIANE HERBST