Recently, we experienced the ordeal of our daughter, our youngest, leaving home for college. What followed were several evenings of looking awkwardly across the dinner table at each other, lots of silence, and a profound, unshakable sadness. Obviously, there was some anticipation of emotional pain prior to the event, since our son had left home three years earlier, but it did little to cushion the blow of our suddenly-empty house and empty hearts.
When your children leave home, even in happiness and excitement for their future, your life completely upends. Everything changes, and the loss of their presence is tangible. Adjustment begins slowly and naturally, in urgent necessity, accomplished through the process of grieving what has been lost. A shroud of sadness settles over us like a healing cocoon, incubating against a world that continues to move, unmoved, by our personal hell. For a time, we curl into our memories of hugs and spoken words, the sheets that smell like a distant perfume, and trophies lovingly packed away into boxes with labels.
Such an incubation period is necessary to healing, yet people outside our grief are not comfortable with our sadness…
The concept of ‘being sad’ has somehow been perverted. It has become a status of disdain, to be avoided or treated away as quickly as possible. But just as happiness has its place in our life journey, so does sadness. If we weren’t so preoccupied with the belief that one should be in an impossible state of ‘constant happiness’, we might be better equipped to see the positive aspects of something that makes us, essentially…’feel bad’.
Sounds like a contradiction…I mean, how can something that makes us feel bad, be good for us?
In the case of our daughter leaving home, I can say my sadness is good, because it comes from a place of deep, intense love. I’m grieving my personal loss of her presence, which added so much immeasurable happiness to my daily life. However, I grieve for me, yet rejoice for her and for the world that will now have the unique opportunity to get to know her. It is in the hope for her future that I find my way through the grief of her leaving. Thankfully, I grieve a change, impermanent in that I still have her in my life, though no longer under my roof.
A few days after her arrival at college, one of the students on campus went missing. Two days ago, as we visiting our daughter, a body was found just off campus and identified as the missing young woman. I will not pretend to be capable of comprehending the level of grief her family is now experiencing…
What I do know is that their grieving, like mine, is necessary…
Grief, on all levels, is an acknowledgement. We are fragile creatures. Without acknowledgment of the truth, the pronounced permanence and unpredictability of change, we cannot find the acceptance necessary to move on. Grief simultaneously teaches us and puts us in our place. The stages grow in us a steady, burning desire to continue to live, learn, love, and inspire.
When we’re on the outside of grief, watching another in pain, we want to make it better. We recognize pain is painful and our compassion wishes it away, especially when it’s someone we love. We just want to make it all better, but we need to exercise patience and respect for the process and acknowledge it. It’s important to remember that grief, sadness, and pain are necessary components to the human experience.
Nothing highlights great happiness as much as marked sadness. Never was one so overjoyed to come into the light, as one who has just emerged from the darkest forest floor. The key to grief and sadness is maintaining, and promoting, hope. Hope is the tiny light that beckons through the darkest hour, pointing us toward acceptance and beyond.
No matter the cause, we really shouldn’t seek to counsel those who are grieving. Grief is a natural process, like breathing, so let it be. Grief shouldn’t be chastised simply because it makes us uncomfortable. Instead, grief should find respect for its process. It should be met with patient compassion and loving hopefulness for its promise to yield to brighter days 🙂
*Image courtesy of: http://evolvingfaith.blogspot.com/p/grief-quotes.html*