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How Sadness Can Move You Forward

Sadness from Inside Out

Grief has found me and I’m trying to ignore it. 

I’m back from the trip of a lifetime—an EPIC adventure with my family to Scandinavia that we’d been planning and looking forward to for months. Now it’s over and I feel like I can’t complain because who does that after the trip of a lifetime?

My eldest son is two weeks away from moving to Colorado—having taken a gap year and then a little bit more with us at home where we nestled in a puppy pile during that bonus time and became even closer. I’m so excited for him, and yet—please don’t leave.

We came home and learned that a kind man whose hand I have shaken at every cross country meet this fall as our boys raced hither and yon was killed suddenly and tragically in a plane crash—no warning, no reason, no goodbyes. Really?

Our aging dog was ecstatic to see us after being in the kennel for 10 days, and as I was petting him I noticed new lumps—hard, not squishy—along his spine. He’s got his annual check up next week at the vet and I’m dreading it. Please, please, please…not now.

That’s the thing about grief—it doesn’t need an invitation to visit you. It just arrives.

I’ve heard it knocking for a while—it is autumn in New England, after all, so it’s right on schedule as the leaves fall, the temperature drops, and the light gives way to darkness.

The thing is? I’m trying to linger with my memories of what was and not be present to what’s here.
And I’m failing spectacularly.

I’m acting like a do when I see Jehovah’s Witnesses come up the walkway to my home—I get really quiet and pretend I’m not there, even as the car is in the driveway and they can see me standing in the kitchen frozen like a statue.

Ignoring grief doesn’t work. You can kick the can up the road, but the can is undeniably there.

I’ve written about this before. I know better. And yet? Here I am. Again, writing about the internal fight so many of us have with ourselves about something that is so incredibly natural—and ultimately powerful.

I felt like the character Sadness in the movie Inside Out, trying like the dickens to hold space for something that was hard, and yet extremely important

Was I wallowing? Wasting time? Being unproductive? (urgh…shame arrives.)

But then I looked at the rain that is coming down in sheets outside my window and I thought of Mother Nature and how she holds nothing back—especially now. I want to be more like her. Wild. Free. Powerful.

So here I am. In all my inside-out glory—with you.

Author Susan Cain in her book Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole describes the power of “melancholic energy” to not only heal us individually, but also be the ultimate “bonding agent” between us collectively.

What if the key to bridging our divisions and stitching our society together is to hold space for ourselves and each other to not only feel—but specifically grieve?

I think about these things.

Susan Cain writes about our messed up relationship to this energy in American culture, and points to the character of Sadness in Pixar’s movie Inside Out as an illustration:

“American’s prioritize happiness so much that we wrote the pursuit of it into our founding documents…its outlook is forward leaning and combat ready, prizing cheerful goal orientation…but the bittersweet-melancholic mode, in contrast, can seem backward leaning, unproductive, and mired in longing.”

“But longing is momentum in disguise”, she writes.

I know this intellectually, I do. This is a huge part of the work I do with my clients as they are seeking to move forward. It often begins with feeling deeply—into our bones—where we are.—and often there is sadness.

It takes tremendous courage to face what we feel—to be with it, listen to it, and ultimately honor it—I see it every day.

What’s missing?
What’s no longer there that you loved?
What’s coming to an end?

Bitter. Sweet. Longing.

That’s the seed mix for growing inspired actions that are aligned and distinctly yours to plant.

For me, as I open the door to the grief that is standing on my porch in the rain today, it’s this:

  • I am so very committed to love with my whole heart—be it my beloved, my children, my dog, my life—that I am willing to lose it all. I have never, ever regretted loving, even as I know doing so sets me up for loss. Brene Brown said it best: “The price of love is grief.”
  • I am reckoning with how much is out of my control in this wild world we live in—and how my work is to stay present to each day because it’s truly the only thing I have. It’s true what Master Oogway said: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift…that’s why they call it present.”
  • I am feeling my age—or maybe it’s my “stage”—perhaps for the first time. My body and my life feel more precious and also a bit more fragile, even as I have never felt more strong, powerful and resourceful. Is this a gift—that awareness—that will inspire me to make the most of my days or is it a limitation that will curb my appetite and have me be more measured and cautious?
  • There are universal moments—rites of passage—that have the power to bind us, to connect us, even beyond our language, culture, beliefs and orientations: a child leaving home, the loss of a loved one, discovering a new land for the first time, tragedy touching close to home. To feel these deeply is how we can care for each other and connect with our humanity.

I didn’t want to write about grief today, kind of like how I didn’t want to do the laundry from our trip or clean the kitchen from last night’s dinner (am I the only one that still has dishes in the sink from last night?)

It’s not glamorous, it’s humbling. It’s not neat and tidy, it’s messy. Unsightly, even. It’s not the stuff of InstaFace posts, where people reach for selfie sticks and say “Look at me, living the dream!”

It’s real, it matters and it’s here—in fact, I do believe it’s everywhere if you have the courage to look. It’s the flipside of love, which reminds me of the opening scene of Love, Actually, and this pearl of wisdom: “If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling love, actually…is all around.”

So I guess I’m taking a stand (in the rain) for love—and loss—today.
Drip. Drip. Drip.

That’s the sound of water hitting the earth to grow new life. An essential element, however inconvenient it feels in the moment.

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