The overarching emotion most of us feel when we grieve is pervasive, sometimes relentless sadness. And although sadness is usually our normal human reaction to minor losses and disappointments in life, it takes on new meaning and often a life of its own with the death of one we love.
Since grief is personal, no one can tell us how long we’ll feel sad – maybe a few months, maybe several years. In our grief sometimes we allow sadness to become a comfortable habit. This was certainly my experience, and I admit that in the worst moments of my grief I’ve tiptoed right up to the very edge of depression. In my sadness I felt for a long while a certain gaping emptiness, the complete absence of joy and vitality in my life – a despair and hopelessness that only my persistent, somewhat ragged faith could even begin to surmount.
One of the reasons we feel such sadness when we grieve is that we’re lonely – we miss our loved one. The absence of their presence has taken from us something essential and life-giving – their love, their physical expression of affection and devotion, friendship, our life’s shared joy. It hurts to be without them. We’re sad when we start to speak to someone who’s no longer there. We’re sad because our hopes and dreams for the future have suddenly crashed. Somehow, some day, we’ll reorganize and go on with our life, but we're sad that it won’t look the same or be the same as we once imagined and planned.
We experience sadness in all the hundreds of little things - going to bed without saying goodnight to the one you love, an empty chair at the table, wandering around a too-large house with so many of life’s best (and worst) memories. And in our sadness we may rage and sputter and snuffle, yet somewhere within our heart we feel the love and peace of God’s comfort and - at least for the moment - we’re not as sad.
After my husband Leighton died everywhere I looked I saw couples all around me. Some held hands and seemed very married, as we were, others seemed disconnected - parallel yet apart. And as I observed and reflected I wondered why some couples live together into old age, and why I was alone. I wondered why some seemed merely to tolerate each other yet stayed together in marriage, and I wondered why I was without my beloved. All my wondering did nothing to explain my loss, it only fed my sadness – wishing things were as they used to be, yet knowing they would never be the same again.
If your grief is more about feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy, and lack of self-confidence than the normal, understandable sadness of loss and sorrow, you may want to seek the perspective of a confidential, non-judgmental counselor, therapist, or minister. A caring professional will listen thoughtfully and guide you away from possible depression to better understand the sadness of your grief.
The blessing of grief is that one day we find our sadness has turned into grateful, warm memories of the one now lost to us in death. When we weigh sadness against our own aliveness, grief teaches us that it’s not a betrayal of our loved one to be joyful again in life. Beyond our sadness what we may find is that joy requires a certain discipline of our spirit - we have to practice joy, we may have to re-learn what it feels like to experience joy. At its essence joy comes from within – it's an inexplicable gift of God’s grace that revives and restores our soul. And though in some corner of our soul we're forever sad because we’ve lost the one we love, we dare to live again in fullness of life and fullness of joy, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5 NRSV).
Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief.
Psalm 31:9 NIV
Keep me this day, O God, in the promise of your joy. Amen.