Let There Be Sadness
I hesitate to write posts like this for fear one of you reading it might think I am writing directly to you. Please hear me on this - I am not. I could write a book or two telling you all the ways I have been cared for over the past ten months and the kindness that has been spoken to me. So many friends, and even strangers, came through in thoughtful ways and continue to do so. So, please hear my heart in what I am about to write. If we've had a conversation in the past year, please do not sit and wonder if my words are referring to you. I had these thoughts running through my mind long before cancer entered the picture, but I feel it even more acutely now.
The first time I remember making a conscious decision to let myself be sad for as long as I needed to, was the day Hunter left for college. I smile at that now because he only moved about 22 miles away. Today I have a kid in college 985 miles away. I'd like to think that means I've gotten a little better at letting go, but I'm not sure that's the case. I think it has more to do with the fact that FaceTime didn't exist in 2012 and now I can "see" Houston any time I want. Well, any time he answers my calls, that is.
Back then, after we dropped Hunter off and made the loooonnnggg 22-mile drive home, I sat on the deck and told myself I could sit there and cry for as many days as I needed to. Change is hard and I knew Hunter moving out marked the beginning of a new season for our family. Over the next 9 years, we would go through that same transition three more times, and every time, I allowed myself to just be sad. It actually felt good to let myself grieve, body and soul.
I have never considered myself to be a glass-half-empty person. I am generally positive, hopeful, and looking for the good in all circumstances. However, I have found myself wondering if my view of the glass has changed, as some conversations have left me questioning my perspective on difficult seasons. I'm sure life and time have taken a toll on my positive-o-meter, but what I'm noticing more and more is an overall resistance to sadness. It feels like people have grown more and more uncomfortable when someone tells them they're not okay. As if we just don't know what to do with the emotions that rise up in us when we hear about someone's pain.
I understand - I really do - the feeling of needing to do something or say something helpful when someone shares their pain with you. We either want to fix their circumstances, offer options for how to get out of their situation, or say something to boost their mood. Lift their spirits. Change their perspective. Having been on the receiving end of many of those comments, I do believe those attempts come from the most genuine of places, and I have rarely left those interactions upset. I said rarely. Have I ever left a conversation or two thinking things I can't even post here because they are completely inappropriate for this blog? Yes. Yes, I have. Thankfully, I usually come to the conclusion pretty quickly that I'm sure I have said the exact same thing to someone else at some point. We don't always say what is best for the other person. Sometimes we say what we think they need to hear, which isn't always beneficial for anyone but us. And sometimes we say what will make ourselves feel better, because to sit in someone else's sadness for a while is hard.
My friend Julie texted me one day a couple weeks after my first surgery. We don't see each other as much as we used to, but every time we're together, I am increasingly grateful for her friendship. She asked if it would be okay if she came over for a bit. I told her I could only manage about an hour of conversation, since managing pain with heavy narcotics only gave me about sixty minutes when I was either not in la-la land or barely holding on until the I could have another dose. I also told her I was in my pajamas, bald, wearing no make-up, and had four bloody drains sticking out of me so she'd better be prepared for what she was about to see. She didn't hesitate.
When Julie arrived, we ended up making our way out to sit on the deck, which was always the most healing place for me to be. She asked a few questions, mostly let me talk, and what I recall most about our time together, was how she responded to the information I shared and the tears I shed. She just said, "I'm sorry." She said it several times. She didn't try to fix anything. She didn't try to relate. She was simply sorrowful with me. It was really the only thing appropriate to say and I remember being so grateful for that when she left.
Sometimes it feels like our culture is doing everything we can to avoid sadness. Please know I am not talking about depression here. I fully support anyone who needs help overcoming a deep, dark sadness that will not lift, with whatever counseling, medication, or other resources they find helpful. What I'm referring to is the inescapable emotion that accompanies everyday experiences for every human. Sadness over disappointment. Sadness over broken relationships. Sadness over the struggle with a chronic illness. Sadness over loss.
I know all too well how hard it is to watch people you love be sad. Hurt. Grieve. As a mom of four kids, I'd say on any given day, I pray for one of my kids to navigate their way through some kind of sadness. My heart just wants them to feel better, but I've come to believe that them feeling better without having grieved or learned or trusted won't serve them as well in the long run. I hate the process, but because I love them with a love beyond words, I often pray they'll sit in their sadness for however long is best. The hard part is knowing I'm not the one who knows best.
When I was halfway through chemo, we got the wonderful news we would soon be grandparents for the first time as Hannah and Seth were expecting. This gave our family some much-needed joy in a season when joy was often hard to find, so we celebrated and anticipated having a new little life joining our family. Two weeks after making their announcement, Seth and Hannah would walk through the dark shadows of grief as they lost their baby to miscarriage. Having experienced the same kind of loss myself, I knew there was no way around some of the emotions they would be wrestling with in the weeks and months to come. Their little one would have been arriving any day now, so a fresh wave of sadness has come again, and again, my mama's heart breaks for my girl. Choosing to sit in that grief can be agonizing, but choosing to ignore it could be worse. And so I pray they weather this storm of sadness once again. No one but them can determine how long it will take for this storm to pass. I have learned firsthand, you can't predict the things that will cause sadness to overtake you or when it will lift. When tears will finally give way to smiles and even laughter.
I found it interesting that one of the symptoms of chemo is watery eyes. There were days when this symptom was relentless for me. I would literally have tears streaming down my face. It still happens occasionally. I used to find it annoying, but I've come to view it as evidence of healing. I see it as my body grieving what it once was, even though those tears may seem to be void of any emotion. It doesn't register in my brain, but my body knows there is loss to be acknowledged and somehow released through those tears. There are also days when the tears come from a heart that knows full well what my body has endured. On most of those days, I've found it's best if I'm alone with my thoughts and emotions. But sometimes, I want to be with someone who lets me know it's okay to just sit in that sadness for a while.
This world is not our home and sometimes it just stinks to be a stranger here. However, shadows show us our need for Light. Pain shows us our need for a Healer. And sorrow shows us our need for Joy. Even in feeling the weight of loss, I know deep in my being I do not grieve without Hope. I can be sad because I know joy is coming. We like to throw out the verse "joy comes in the morning" but we really have no idea when morning will be, for anyone. Morning might actually mean morning, thus the reason we sometimes sleep off our sadness because we know we'll feel better when we wake up. Morning might mean days or weeks or years from now. I have no idea when morning will come for my own long nights, and I certainly have no idea when someone else's will. In the meantime, don't be afraid to grieve. And don't be afraid to walk with someone else in their shadows. There will likely come a day when they walk with you through yours. It's okay to not fix their problems. It's okay to say nothing. And it really is okay to simply let there be sadness.