–Jonathan Safran Foer
I am sad. My friend Neil died a couple of weeks ago. He was young and had so much to give. But I’m happy I had a great visit with him just a few days before he lost his battle with cancer. That day he was strong and lucid. He was happy. He’d had an amazing life, with contributions and recognition beyond his wildest dreams. More than 30 years ago I hired him for this “dream job.” He thanked me. I thanked him. We laughed together and held hands, were tearful together, and touched by our deep connection.
I am sad. My 21 year old grandson, Sam, had a head-on car crash last week. Both his liver and spleen were lacerated. They kept him in the hospital and watched him like a hawk. Eventually he was discharged. Natalie, his precious fiancé, is helping him in a recovery period during which he can’t work. I’m happy he’s going to be fine, and that he’s calling this a “wake up call.” Hopefully he’ll reflect on his life and vow not to work to exhaustion.
My friend Maria has cancer, and has declined treatment. She is more peaceful that I’ve ever known her to be, and I’ve known her a long time. Maria has been central to my life for many years. She has designed and kept my gardens beautiful. She’s teaching me now. I’m sad, because I’ll miss her deeply. I’m happy because I’ve called her my friend, and she is such a bright, generous-spirited person.
Experiencing sadness often shines a light on what’s really important to us. We are forced to ask ourselves if the life we’re living is the one we want to live. If the sacrifices we make to succeed are worth the cost to our relationships and our physical wellbeing. Sadness moves slowly, heavily. It does not find a comfortable place in our speedy lives. It has its own time and space.
If we don’t let ourselves experience sadness, we can make ourselves sick. I’m convinced that’s part of what contributed to my having cancer many years ago. I was caring for my husband, Hal, who had dementia. I worked hard to stay positive, burying my deep sadness. In my desire to care for him, I forgot to take care of myself.
Psychologists say that the goal of therapy is to experience the full range of emotions – and not get stuck experiencing only one. If we’re feeling sad all the time, we tend to isolate and the sadness can consume us. We forget how to access joy. If we are constantly cheerful, even in the face of sad circumstances, we are not allowing ourselves to experience the fullness of life. The ability to experience the full range of emotions is a hallmark of resilience. Making friends with sadness can help us navigate life’s inevitable ups and downs.
Osho said it beautifully. “Happiness is like a tree going into the sky, and sadness is like the roots going down into the womb of the earth. Both are needed, and the higher a tree goes, the deeper it goes, simultaneously.”
- Expect sadness to arrive. Make friends with it instead of fighting with it. When it comes, you can say, “Oh, here you are,” then figure out how to let sadness in, but not let it take over.
- Write about your feelings, just for yourself. Writing can be both clarifying and freeing.
- Draw, paint, or dance your sadness. Creative expression can help embody and integrate sadness.
- Share your sadness. Talk to a friend or family member. And if there’s no one you’re comfortable talking with, hire a therapist to help you integrate and move through sadness.
- Embrace every moment of joy that comes your way….from seeing the beauty in a rosebud, to hugging a grandchild. This will help you face the next sadness.