anything but sad

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.

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9 thoughts on “anything but sad

  1. I like this. That we should be sad, that we should not all strive for happy-happy-happy or even okay-okay-okay all the time. So many people are so afraid of sad. I’m thinking about eskimos and their 50+ words for snow. We have plenty of words for different kinds of sad — depression, melencholy, blue — but maybe not enough. Or perhaps we just don’t hear them enough, so we can’t quite make the distinction. In the end, they all get lumped under sad.

  2. This is an interesting take on it. I think depression definitely is the sand in innocent bystanders’ lives, rubbing sensitive parts into thickened, calloused protective walls. It’s good to see someone who has survived parental depression in such a healthy way. Me, I’ve still gots anger. Lots and lots of anger. And there is distance between my parents and I that I don’t have the energy to bridge, most of the time. You are right, words are so very important, in so many ways that we can’t imagine, to little kids.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree. Sadness is not depression, although it can be a part of depression. Depression is so much more than sadness. We shouldn’t teach our kids never to be sad, because they will lose something that way. Sadness is cathartic and can be transcendental. Being moved by a sad film is one example — if one of my kids, when old enough, sat through House of Sand and Fog, for one, and did not cry, I’d worry what was wrong with him. It’s IMPORTANT to be moved by life. If we don’t know sadness, how can we empathize with someone who’s suffering?
    The other day, my five-year-old told me that someone in his preschool class had cried “in front of everybody,” as if that were the worst thing in the world. And I said that crying in front of everybody is not a bad thing at all, and what would bother me is crying over something unimportant, not crying in and of itself. Everyone cries, I said, and I wondered where he got the idea that crying in public is a no-no.
    Very thought-provoking post. Thank you.

  4. Ali B, I think happiness is over-rated in our North American culture and as such, our language may be on the paltry side when it comes to words to describe sadness. That said, I was really trying – and perhaps failed wildly – to make the point that clinical depression is not sadness and that to label it such, is a disservice to our children who are just learning what feelings are, and to the idea of sadness itself.
    Ah Imperatrix, I like the image of depression as sand in the innocent bystanders’ lives. So true. And softening those callouses takes a lot of time, attention and patience with oneself.
    I so agree, slouching mom, about the importance of being moved by life. That reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by James Merrill which was something to the effect of: “People talk about living life. I want to be lived by life.” There are so many ways to be moved by life – I hope my boys feel them all. My Youngest son, in particular, has a very easy relationship with sadness and I really admire him for it.

  5. “Sadness is a rope.” I love that image. This post is such a good counterpart to the one I wrote today – there is something very whole and healthy and alive about sadness, which makes it very different from fear and depression.

  6. What a beautiful post. Such true words.
    I was just crying the other day, thinking of my dogs that passed away 5 and 6 years ago, respectively, because something happened that made me think of them. But the pain and sadness of losing them was so worth it when I thought of all the love, happiness and joy they brought to my life.
    I will take your words to heart!

  7. It’s very challenging to write about a topic like sadness without getting maudlin — maybe it was the honesty or the emotion, I don’t know. But I feel like I learned something here; not just cried. A great post.

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