Sadness is one aspect of grief.
The sadness and sorrow after the death of someone central to who we are, is frequently of an overwhelming nature, powerfully uncomfortable and sometimes frightening in intensity.
It is also an emotion that people want to apologise for, thinking it a sign of ‘not moving on’, of weakness and inadequacy.
At its purest, sadness is love in the face of physical absence.
Grieving may be understood as what is experienced as one becomes accustomed to a world forever changed the includes the person who died with a different connection, a non-physical one.
People may die, but our relationships with them do not.
Sadness is, in fact, a useful and necessary emotion.
Leaving aside cultural rules about this emotion, the question may be asked as to what purpose does it serve?…What good does it do?…Why would nature have chosen this emotion?
The emotion of sadness occurs when we have lost someone or something that is important to us, and there is nothing we can do about it. Sadness turns our attention inward so that we can reflect and think. It allows a close examination of everything…which is part of what is necessary to rebuild life around the pain of loss.
Sadness slows us down; it slows down our biological systems contributing to withdrawing of attention from the outside world to our inner world.
Moreover, when we are sad, we look sad. Our face and body language signal to those around us that we may need help, care and compassionate understanding.
We are hard-wired to respond to each other in this way. We are biologically constructed to respond with care and concern when we see others suffering.
While many of us have been conditioned to perceive sadness as a negative emotion, it is a necessary emotion and has its usefulness and wisdom.
We are expected to be in control of our emotions and while it is important to learn how to ‘dose” ourselves when faced with intense emotions i,e. Get a break from them; it is important not to suppress them, deny or avoid them,
We, in our culture, tend to overvalue reason, logic and the capacity to be rational. Conversely, the language of the heart tends to be undervalued.
We search and are encouraged to seek quick remedy, relief and recovery. We don’t like to be vulnerable, out of control. We tend to keep our intense emotions secret and unseen and may even feel ashamed of them.
We are taught that to give too much room to intense emotions may be a sign of weakness or breakdown.
We turn away rather than toward them because of cultural conditioning and because they can also be frightening.
Grieving people sometimes fear that they will be overwhelmed by emotions like passionate sadness forever. They may also feel as if they are going crazy because of the intensity and unpredictability of intense sadness.
Our language is full of advice such as ‘get a hold of your self’, ‘get a grip’, ‘stay in control’ amongst many others.
The fear is that overwhelming emotion may be destructive.
We are sometimes encouraged to take medication that will make us feel better. The focus is on getting rid of strong emotions rather than learning from them. It may be difficult to believe that having strong, intense emotions acknowledged, listened and attended to, in fact, helps them diminish.
Sadness and sorrow are neither positive nor negative in themselves …it is the way we think about them that is positive or negative. How we think about things affects how problematic they may become.
Profound and passionate sadness is not a bad thing. It is the most normal emotion imaginable following the death of a child. While at the beginning that sadness may fill every inch of your being, it does not stay the same shape and colour for the rest of time.
Feeling emotional pain is not a sign of being sick…it is a sign of having loved deeply. It is the other side of love and as noted previously plays an important role in rebuilding life around the pain of loss. It allows an inward reflection on such questions as ‘Who am I now?’, ‘How am I different?’, ‘What do I need?’, etc. and it acts as a signal to the world around that compassionate care is required. This care includes the time and space to, for a while, withdraw from our normal concerns.
In spending time with intense and profound emotion, it is possible to discover or renew the capacity for gratitude, joy, faith, courage and compassion.
Healing is a journey through pain not a departure from it.
The purpose of intense emotion is not to make us miserable forever but to help us heal.
with special thanks to my social work colleague Vera Russell