GOOD GRIEF: What I’ve Learned About Sadness So Far

I’ve had a wild few months of learning to cope with loss. I’ve become pretty good at being sad and confused a lot of the time. I am not ashamed of my sadness. I’ve grown accustomed to the sight of my sad blurry reflection. Sometimes I don’t even bother with Kleenex, just shake my head like a wet dog. Sometimes I try to keep my eyes shut to contain the sadness. I don’t want it to infect the whole room. I will not let the sadness consume me, though I do allow it to take over for hours at a time, because I think that is what we both need.

But I sense progress. The sadness starts higher up than it used to. It used to start right at my gut but now it starts more in my lungs. I feel the joy trying to fight its way up. You know what helps, I suspect? That I want to be happy. I realize now there are times when that has not been true. I thought sadness meant something more than it did. I thought if I held onto enough sadness at all times, nothing bad would happen. But life is not interested in bartering. Sadness does not mean more than happiness. So grab happiness where you can find it. Your sadness and happiness do not negate each other. You can feel both at the same time. Allow for complexities. Allow for the things you can not articulate.

Grief looks different for everyone. Right now I am still getting to know my grief. I am trying to remember that it is OK to be OK. I do not have to sit and try to conjure up the sadness on days I feel fine. There will be days where the grief appears out of nowhere so I embrace the moments when it is just background static or when I forget it exists at all. Some days I cry so hard it makes me gag. I hesitate to write this publicly because I sense that it makes some people uncomfortable. But life is generally sort of uncomfortable.

It occurs to me that maybe I don’t deserve this grief. I have experienced mostly normal losses. Nothing too terribly traumatic. But my grief doesn’t know the difference yet. The loss is there, creating a big heart gap. But I recognize that even in my sadness I am in a place of privilege. First of all, I am lucky that this feeling of loss is rare and unexpected, not something that is common and that I have been forced to get used to. The second is that I am in a position in life where I can give myself time to process my sadness, that I am able to pay for mental health care, that I have a strong family and community support system. It is important to give yourself room to navigate your feelings, but I find it so easy to fall into this deep pit of self pity. I try to focus on the things I ought to be grateful for so I don’t lose sight of them altogether.

It is strange, to consciously want to be happy. I feel my body working toward it. I feel grateful for every kindness. I’m trying to use the pain as a source of love. Honestly, loving people is the only thing that seems to make sense as I fumble my way through loss. If people are  going to die no matter what, I might as well just love the shit out of them. It’s okay to protect yourself, but don’t sacrifice love for the sake of self preservation. You can be the most careful and still death and heartbreak will get you. Be a little less careful. Be more honest. Talk about everything. Everything’s better when we talk about it. Not talking about things creates shame and shame creates sadness and self-loathing and violence.

Here’s my final advice, for today: Feel your feelings. Don’t let people tell you how you should feel. Remember that you do not have to justify your feelings. The mere fact that you are feeling them makes them valid. Try your best to not let your feelings take forms that harm you or the people around you. Give yourself space from people who try to squash your feelings or ignore them. Listen to people’s advice but only follow what works for you. Mostly be as patient and kind to yourself as you can.

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