In the past week, a good friend of mine lost her father after a difficult illness, and a young mother I know lost her husband in a tragic car accident. Just today, another friend lost a sibling unexpectedly. Things like this happen every day. Sometimes it happens to people who are close to us, and sometimes to folks we don’t know, so it doesn’t seem to touch us.
But then one day, tragedy, disappointment, or loss shows up on your own doorstep. Someone you care about becomes ill. A friend dies suddenly. The business idea that was supposed to be the answer — finally — crumbles before your eyes. You lose your job.
A relationship is damaged beyond repair. A marriage falls apart, in spite of your best efforts to keep it alive. Children get sick. A teenager makes bad choices that you know will not turn out well, yet you’re powerless to do anything about it.
Things like these shock us. We’re not made to cope with tragedy and emotional pain but hello, there it is anyway.
I’m going to tell you a story from my own life:
As you may know if you've been following me for a while, in January 2017 my mother died. She had always been a strong, capable woman and we all expected her to live a good long time. But a simple accident set off a chain of health challenges that within a few months ended her life. We had always been close and for my entire family, it was a huge loss. Our beloved Dad had passed away only a couple of years before, so it all seemed like too much, too fast, too soon.
Within the span of the year, eleven more of my friends and family passed away. Yes, twelve people in one year. In the midst of all this, I was tasked with being executor on my mom’s will, a job that required a lot of me. During that year, my sister moved from living five minutes away to the other side of the country, an eight-hour trip by plane away.
My much-loved little church disbanded and closed its doors. My business suffered as the emotional and physical demands mounted up. By the time the year ended, I was buried in sadness, and physically and emotionally exhausted. I can honestly say that it took me all of the next year to stumble back onto my feet.
Sadness can feel like you’re carrying a heavy load on your shoulders throughout every day, and sometimes a bag of tears around your heart. You might be able to put the burden down when you sleep, but the moment you wake, at whatever hour, there it is waiting to be picked up again.
I’d like to stop here for a moment, and make a distinction between sadness and depression. Sadness is generally a reaction to a loss, disappointment, ongoing problems, or difficult situations in which we find ourselves. Feelings of sadness usually lessen over time as we adjust to the changes in our lives.
Depression is a more serious mental health condition. Sometimes, sadness is confused with depression though, so be sure to seek help if you believe you are suffering from depression.
As with most emotional pain, both sadness and sorrow, which is deep sadness, can be exhausting. It can be difficult to keep putting one foot in front of the other throughout each day.
When you suffer a profound loss, people will tell you that life goes on, and it can feel like a slap in the face, but the truth is, that life continues even when you feel like your own world has stopped turning.
Even amidst times of sorrow and grief, we will have to get up every morning, make the bed, prepare meals, show up for work, gas up the car, care for the children, do the laundry. In many ways, this is a good thing. Distraction helps. Attending to the needs of others helps. But it doesn’t lift the weight of sadness from the weary soul.
Over the months that followed my mom’s death, through those difficult and trying weeks and months, I found a few ways that helped to ease the heaviness. Here is what worked for me.
1. Find reasons to be happy.
One of the things that had to be done was cleaning out my parents’ home. My sister, and my sister-in-law and I decided the best way to tackle it would be for the three of us to go together and begin the wade through sixty years of accumulated stuff. We laughed so hard at finding things like a forty-year old pink plastic back scratcher with only four fingers left on it. And the single stuffed arm of an unfinished fabric doll cracked us up. The laughter pushed back the sadness that came in between as we sifted through old family photos, and sorted out mom’s bedroom and sewing room.
Halfway through that dreadful year, my daughter gave birth to a baby boy, my first grandson. Spending time with that new baby, and his three-year-old sister made my heart happy.
In September, my husband and I took a vacation and went to Quebec to visit my sister and her family. Beautiful weather and new scenery helped lightened my hearts.
Closer to home, I deliberately chose to do things that I knew would make me feel happy in spite of the sadness.
Be careful not to wallow for any length of time. It only leads you deeper.
2. Cut back on demands as much as you can.
If you think of losses as actual wounds, while emotional rather than physical, they still need time to heal. It is imperative to allow yourself as much space as you can to be kind to yourself.
Cut out anything that increases your stress levels or puts more pressure on you. While I didn’t want to do it, I cut back on taking clients in my business. I simply didn’t have the energy required to do the work well while feeling so bruised myself.
Realize your limitations and know that you won’t feel this way forever. In the meantime, be gentle yourself. You’ve been hurt and need time and peace in order to get back on your feet.
3. Give your sadness away.
Remember how I said that sadness can feel like a heavy burden that you have to carry around? In fact, you don’t have to carry it.
Jesus said, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
Sometimes I’ve read or heard that verse and wondered how that even works. But over the years I’ve gradually figured it out.
We were never meant to carry our own grief and sorrows. God doesn’t put them on us, in case you’ve been told that. Instead, he wants to carry them for us.
Here is what I do, and it works. I sit quietly, close my eyes, and imagine that Jesus has appeared and is standing next to me, just waiting. I picture that bag of sadness that I’ve been carrying. Then I pick it up and hand it to Jesus.
I’ll even say something like, “Here, please carry this for me. It’s too heavy for me to handle.” In my vision, he takes the bag from me and slings it over his shoulder, onto his own back.
If the sadness tried to come back I remind myself that I’m no longer carrying it and Jesus has that burden now.
He did promise rest for the weary and heavily laden. He promised rest for my soul, which is where the pain of sadness resides. It’s not denial. It’s faith.
Remember, whatever may have befallen you, or whatever you’re going through, keep looking forward to better days ahead. One day you’ll wake up and realize that sadness is no longer overshadowing your heart. The memories will still be there but the pain will be gone.
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