I didn’t know what sadness was until way, way into adulthood. I thought I knew. I thought I learned when I was young, but I was wrong.
When I was growing up, I thought my Dad was sad. He shuffled around the house in his robe. He cried. He said nobody loved him. He sat perfectly still in a red leather chair and was lost to me. He was flesh and blood, and he was a ghost. He was there, but not there. It was very confusing. But it was not sadness.
Now I know that my Dad was clinically depressed. But nobody told me that back then. I never heard that word, or any word, other than sad. Nobody ever said, what this is, this devouring, soul-destroying pain, this is not sadness.
Now I know that depression is a thief. It steals the ones we love. It makes them ghosts with streaming eyes.
But sadness is not a thief. Sadness is a rope. It binds us to those we love and those we have loved.
A story: When we first got Mutt, she was just a puppy. Youngest and I were playing with her one day, rubbing her belly, admiring her noble little face, telling her how much we loved her and how she was quite simply the best dog the world had ever known. We laughed when she got so excited she couldn’t decide who to lick and froze between us, paralyzed with love.
“You know,” said my Youngest, stroking her wide face, “When she dies, this is what we are going to remember.”
My Youngest knows what sadness is. He knows that we will mourn our Mutt when she dies. He knows that the sadness we will feel will be the price we pay for loving her. He knows that sadness is the evidence of our attachment, proof of our love. When she dies, we will share the sadness, pass it back and forth between us. Eventually, the sharp edges will fade, but whenever we see a tan and white mutt, with black whiskers on one side of her nose and white on the other, wriggling with joy, the edges will sharpen again and we will wince. We will remember her, stricken with love.
If you are depressed and you have young children, I want to speak to you on their behalf. Don’t tell them you are sad.
If they are lucky, your little ones are going to be sad. Sadness grounds us in life, keeps us connected to those we have lost and deepens our awareness of love. It is a shared knowing of vulnerability and loss.
But if your children grow up, as I did, equating sadness with what you are going through, they might think, as I did, that sadness is something unbearable, something devouring, something that robs us of the people we love. If they confuse depression with sadness, they may, as I was, be so afraid to be sad that they hold themselves, as I did, at a distance from love. And they may miss out on life, as I did, deeply.
So if you are depressed and can muster the strength, make up a new word or abscond with an with old one to describe what you are feeling: You could use Blue, Blah, Blech or Whack. Anything but sad.