My friend Miriam asked me to write about sadness, so I’ll try. I’ve mentioned being sad a couple of times, but not much, considering the circumstances. I guess it hadn’t seemed worth remarking on, since it’s so obvious and ubiquitous. Yes, I am sad. Sadness is the expected, perfectly normal, reasonable response to loss or imminent loss. I love life, I love my life, and I do not want it to end. Yet the amount of time I spend being sad is, I think, much less than for my loved ones. My sadness is there all the time, just below the thinnest surface, but it doesn’t break through that often, and then usually briefly. Sometimes just once a day, for less than a minute. Now and then I’ll get sentimental with someone and indulge in an hour of weeping and make a big pile of wet kleenexes. I’ve had a few down days, usually when I’m alone. But altogether, sorrow occupies a very small portion of my time. I have many more hours of being happy, or resting, or being occupied with something.
So what can I say about sadness? Perhaps my loved ones should be writing about this instead of me. There are different sorts of sadness. Grief, melancholy, sorrow, depression. I have grief, but most of my sadness is for the suffering of others. I am sad for my loved ones’ sadness. My children are losing their mother, the person who loves beyond everything. I am heartbrokenly sad that I am leaving my youngest son essentially orphaned. That my older son loses not only his mom but a close friend. I am sad that my boyfriend will be lonely without his lover and most intimate and trusted companion. That my parents will be grieving a lost child, even though I did reach middle age. That Miriam is sad because she will be losing one of the people who knows her best. I am sad for my beloved cat, who probably needs me more than anyone. Each of my loved ones is losing someone who occupies a particular space in their lives, whose role gives them something specific. So my sadness is mixed with some gladness that I was at least able to give all this to others. I have been blessed.
I am also sad because I am losing everything. Some of my sadness is grief for things I have already lost, like my work and gardening and runs up the mountain. But most of my grief is about future loss. It is for things I will lose in death or things I’m imagining I might have had in the future. But of course, since I’ll be dead, I won’t be feeling that loss. I actually still have those things now, such as my children, or am just imagining them, like grandchildren. If I am consumed with grief for things I still have, then I am not enjoying them. And I feel silly grieving things I might have had—though that hasn’t stopped me from shedding bitter tears about those grandbabies I’ll never hold. Our emotions don’t always obey our reason! Because grieving means inhabiting a space of loss, of death, before I must, I push myself to embrace this moment and the joy and beauty it brings. That requires a bit of discipline, and often I fail. But usually I do remember or am reminded to just be here. I know it sounds trite, but this moment really is all any of us ever have.
While the sadness of my loved ones is also anticipatory, in a way they are just getting ahead in the work of grief. They’re going to be going through that in any case, and working through some of it now may help later. I’m the only one who will really be spared the grief. I do hope, at least, that they can make the most of their time with me now, and allow me to do anything I can to alleviate that sadness.
But what can I say to console them in their sorrow? I don’t know. I wish I knew. If they are sad on my behalf, I could remind them that I am suffering relatively little now, and that I won’t be suffering once dead. That the space I leave in their lives will be filled with others, I hope very much. Not exactly in the same way, of course, but in some other wonderful way. Maybe someone who gives them things I couldn’t. And that my love will always be there for them; love, I believe, is our immortal part. That I won’t ever be completely gone because that love is still there.
But really, I can’t take their sadness away. I can hope there is more sweet than bitter in their pain, but I can’t prevent the suffering. They will suffer their loss, each somehow, hopefully, finding comfort in their own way. I know from this experience that others reaching out does help, so I do hope that you will let them know you too are there for them, and offer them some love and comfort. It might not seem like much, but it helps.