“I’m so tired of being sad,” I said to Dr. Everything’ll Be Alright (yes, Prince lyrics)
“I bet you are,” the counselor said calmly.
We talked some more until my hour was up and I left. I went back the next week. And we did some more excavating into my soul. At some point in the conversation I again said, “I’m just so tired of being sad.” And he said, “I bet you are.”
Well aren’t you going to give me something to fix that? A pill? A book? A suggestion? An exercise? How about some homework? Nothing? …Maybe he didn’t understand me.
I went back the next week and sat on The Couch. We talked about history and the whys of how my problems had unfolded. We talked about roots and branches of my tree. And, as if there was something this week that was different than last week, I threw it out there again: “I’m tired of being sad.” I was hoping for a sudden new cure that had come on the market in the last seven days. Can’t you just write me a script? But he gave me the same answer. “I bet you are…and you’re starting to show signs of a mild depression.”
Great. Just great. Now I’m falling apart.
Lord, I’m so sorry that I am…what did he say, “mildly depressed”? Uugh. What does that even mean? I am a Christian!! I’m sorry that I’m not more together than this. I should have joy no matter my circumstances.
In hindsight it was no surprise. I was at the apex of a very rough life chapter. I didn’t know it was a chapter. It felt more like a novel. Just when I thought I had turned the page, another bad chapter would unfold. Lots of rough years in a marriage, feeling completely trapped. A rough divorce (as if there is any other kind). His “new beginnings” looking shiny, polished and romantic. Then his suicide. Parenting alone the two grieving teenage sons. One son very sick. It was all just getting to be too much.
It felt like I’d been running a race with a wound to my leg. And it really hurt. Man, it hurt. But I was so afraid to stop the race and look down at my wound.
How badly was I bleeding?
What if I look down at the wound? Will I fall?
And worse yet, will I stop running the race altogether?
I’ve got two sad kids here that are relying on me to keep running.
Do I even dare to look down at the wound?
I honestly didn’t know what else to do. And Dr. Everything’ll Be All Right was not fixing things. So I decided to go with it. I got sadder.
I looked down at the wound.
Sounds so simple, but looking back, it seems like it was such a big step for me.
It was almost like I had to put it on my list of things to do. “Get milk. Cry. Pay the orthodontist bill. Call the school. Hot bath. Cry.”
I cried on my way to work and I cried on the way home.
I cried at night when I went to bed and I cried in the shower.
I found an empty parking lot on my way to work where I could park if I realized I wasn’t going to pull it together in time to walk in and say hello.
I found an empty parking lot near my house for the same reason. I didn’t want the kids to think the only parent they had was falling apart. So I fell apart in the empty parking lot.
If I couldn’t pull it together at the office, I went to the bathroom stall and cried.
I became very efficient with my tears, not wasting any time with them at the counselor’s office. I was paying him too much money for that.
I tried not to cry on the phone to my parents. I didn’t want to strap them with more helplessness.
I learned not to wipe tears away from my eyes. It messes up my makeup. I just let them fall. And wiped them from my chin instead.
It sounds like I was hiding. But I was actually avoiding conversation. It didn’t take me long to learn that any amount of tears will trigger a conversation. Those darn people that care about me! Ha. They might want to pray with me and that’s even worse. Prayer turns crying into sobbing…and tear snot. I just didn’t want to talk about whatever it was that was making me sad that day. I’m not even sure I could have put it into words anyway.
Was it that my marriage of 20 years was over? Was I sad that someone I’d loved for most of my life was hurting so badly that he took his own life? Were the tears a confusing mix for the love of my youth, anger and compassion?
Was it that my kids did not have a Dad? Was it worry for the son who was grieving? Or worry for the son who wasn’t?
Was I worried about how I was going to make ends meet?
Was it fear that I would never meet someone that would love me and cherish my kids and take all of my mess?
Was I freaking out as I looked down the road saying, “How in the world am I going to do this?”
Or was I scared to admit what I was feeling towards God…so I just cried instead?
Actually, it didn’t really matter why I was crying.
It felt awful.
And it felt really good.
I wasn’t trying to be “healthy”. I just didn’t know what else to do.
And I wanted the pain to go away.
After about four months of this, I distinctly remember NOT crying one day and how remarkable that was. I didn’t feel much different. I still had an ache all over. I was exhausted inside my soul. But it was a little tiny thing that said…maybe I was getting better.
And maybe I was getting better because I had cried so much. The next day I cried again. But I was slowly draining my silo of tears. Finally, I think I ran out. It was like going into a store for my favorite something and there’s a little sign that says, “Out of Stock.” I was just “Out of Tears.”
But still, I was sad. And I was tired of being sad.
But I finally stopped hinting to the counselor that he fix this.
Little did I know, that his meh non-reaction to my issue was actually nudging me into the freedom to grieve. He wasn’t going to give me a checklist or a book or a pill.
The best cure for grief…was grieving.
Other than the situation changing – which in my case it was not – I had to just go there and be sad…whenever I felt like it.
No explanation to myself.
No pep talking to myself to feel something different.
No self talk that said, “Be strong, girl!”
No apologies to God for not being such a joyful Christian.
I just grieved.
Turns out, I wasn’t falling apart. I was actually getting better.
I realize now that grief is a gift to me from God. A gift I was slowly unwrapping.
In a perfect world – a Garden of Eden world – there was no need for grief, not even an existence of tears. And even though God really wanted things to stay that perfect, He was dead set on creating people with the ability to choose. With that, came sin and fracture in this world.
Don’t laugh, but I have a short video in my head of God kicking Adam and Eve out of the perfectness of the Garden of Eden. God in his “while we were yet sinners” lovin’-sort-of-way, packed up their suitcases and said, “It’s gonna be rough out there, now that sin is here.” And because He loved them so much, I envision him handing them a suitcase and saying, “You’re gonna need this.”
Inside the suitcase there are so many things we need. But among the treasures, is this ability to grieve. He created me to cry and get sad. Grief is a gift to get through the sadness of this world. I realize that now.
It certainly doesn’t change the messed up world. Or my situation.
But, it felt so good to cry.
It felt good to listen to a sad song.
It felt good to hurt.
When a memory hit me, it was ok to shed a tear – or even fall apart.
And those who have experienced losses, even greater than mine, are weirdly ok with this.
Like every gift that comes from God, I’ve seen people abuse it and lose it. When someone is grieving, it’s hard to say when it’s time to get back to work, back to life. Start eating again, go through “the stuff.” But I’ve seen people so stuck in grief that it completely destroys every other part of their life. Maybe, like me, they are waiting to feel “normal.” And that ship never really comes in. But the days between “good crys” can start to get further and further apart.
Then there’s the other extreme where people don’t want to talk about it. They pretend that everything is normal and it’s not. They go through all kinds of mental gymnastics just to avoid being sad. They get rid of all the stuff, avoid all the memories and talk about it as little as possible. The gift of grief left unwrapped. The suitcase God packed for them, never opened. They just carry it around, year after year. And that is what’s so sad.
God certainly packed my suitcase for me. He knew I’d need so many things to get through my jacked up life. And I’m so glad I unpacked the gifts to help me grieve: Tears. A long drive to work. And a long drive home. A car to cry in. A good counselor who wouldn’t fix things. A nice warm shower, a running track and an empty parking lot. Sad songs. A friend who just “knew” when to not ask. Waterproof mascara and Kleenex.
Yes, God gave me Kleenex. ‘Cuz he knew I’d need it.