Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
“The word happiness would lose its meaning, were it not balanced by sadness.”. ~ Carl Jung
We all carry pain, grief and loss. As we age, they become more familiar to us because we feel them, experience them, and perhaps even question them more frequently. They are no longer just words; they are realities.
Sadness is a normal emotion; it’s our response to major life changes, sudden loss, and disappointment. It often manifests itself when something or someone disappears, leaving us unprepared for the empty space in our hearts and lives.
It challenges us to find acceptance and peace under the weight of sadness we feel.
The recent loss of friends and colleagues makes that weight almost more than I can bear.
Change and Sadness
Sadness results from changes you didn’t expect. It drop-kicks you into a place you don’t want to go and forces a confrontation. Sadness also means it’s time to make changes to restore balance and happiness.
Even planned changes carry unexpected emotions and fears. Retiring from a job is a planned change; but when there is no job to go to each day, we search for something to fill the void. Work defines us; new projects and routines help us stay focused and fulfilled.
Some changes have sharp edges. Friends pass away unexpectedly, leaving silence where we heard their voices.Illness strikes, sometimes out of nowhere and relationships we thought would stand the test of time crumble. Part of our sadness is the inability to change the outcome.
We are in the sandwich generation: retiring and ready to live into the plans we’ve made only to find ourselves caregivers to elderly, sick or financially dependent parents.
The weight of sadness robs us of friendships we thought would continue for years to come and steals the time we thought was ours.
Sadness versus Depression
Everyone feels sad, especially when it’s due to loss. Sadness is easy when you’re a child, but as we age, it’s more difficult because we’ve learned to control our emotions. It’s a double whammy when we face what causes the sadness and acknowledge the pain that goes with it. Emotions, especially difficult ones, are what make us human.
n most cases, sadness resolves as you come to terms with it, accepting that feelings linger and, in the case of bereavement, return with reminders of birthdays and anniversaries. It’s hard, but it’s normal.
Sometimes sadness deepens, remains, and turns into depression. If your sadness is difficult to explain or is present throughout days that become weeks or months, that is depression. When people are depressed, they have a very negative view of themselves and the world. Depression affects people of all ages.
Signs of Depression
- Depressed mood (feeling sad or empty)
- Lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities
- Significant weight loss or gain, a decrease or increase in appetite
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Agitation, restlessness, irritability
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and guilt
- Inability to think or concentrate, indecisiveness
- Recurrent thoughts of death, suicide attempts, or plans to end your life
These symptoms negatively affect personal and work relationships and require professional counseling.
Too Much Loss
In the past few months, I’ve experienced the pain of too much loss. It has been hard to accept and harder to process. Death has come too close, and with it the realization that people I know and love are going to die before I am ready to let them go. We don’t get to choose our exit date.
The loss of classmates who were dear friends and work colleagues who became friends has been hard to accept. Their lives were unfinished and death came unexpectedly. Two fought heroic battles with illnesses that would have claimed them sooner but for their determination to remain with us longer. One was kayaking on Saturday and gone on Sunday, all of us left to wonder why.
The news that a cherished high school friend buried her daughter left me with a loss for words and the unbearable sadness of a parent outliving a child. It’s hard to get in front this much loss and sadness. I feel its weight on my heart. I start to wonder if my own death is closer than I know.
The thought of my own death is hard to ignore. Are my affairs in order? Have I left clear instructions and made my wishes known? Am I living my best life?
It’s a harsh reality but I am allowing it to inspire me.
Living in the Now
Life unfolds in the present. “Everyone agrees it’s important to live in the moment, but the problem is how,” says Ellen Langer, a psychologist at Harvard and author of Mindfulness. “When people are not in the moment, they’re not there to know that they’re not there.”
When you aren’t being present you are focusing on the past or the future. Thinking about what might have been or what could happen voids the joy of the present moment. I learn this lesson repeatedly, but these recent deaths remind me that joy and sadness sit side by side. My friend’s lives were joyful and our friendship was part of my joy.
We have a choice to live each day in the present moment. How we define that is up to each one of us — there is no recipe or one-size-fits-all program. The way we see the world creates our ability to live in the now and that is how we face the future.
The Take Away
Sadness is proof we have lived full lives. The physical pain of sadness, grieving and loss is only present when you have felt joy and love. It is how the pieces come together.