I am well experienced with melancholy. It’s a feeling of deep sadness that seems to be free floating and waiting for any moment when I’m alone, and not occupied, to take center stage. Whenever I try to explain this situation to a friend, they become concerned. My empathic friends, even more so. Especially if they haven’t experienced melancholy before. If they are the “fixer” type their reaction is as if something is wrong with me. I should not be sad, and they need to fix the situation.
Let me provide some back story. I went to my first funeral when I was 13 years old. Lon Chaney – the tap dancer, not the actor – had past away. I knew I had to attend. At least once every two years after, I would be in attendance of someone passing. As the years progressed the funerals became more frequent. The sense of continual loss was inescapable. I became proficient in the cycles of grief – specifically their non-linear nature.
These experiences went right alongside the development of deep friendships, celebrations of birthdays and achievements, and the love and care I experienced.
For whatever reason, my emotions gravitated towards the sadness more than the joy.
Through all the years, I’ve come to realize the gift of sadness. A gift, you say? Yes, the gift. I’ve had to process a lot of it. I’ve had to find language to describe all the different kinds. Not unlike the societies which expand vocabulary for areas of life that are important to that society’s survival, my own vocabulary is full of words to describe the different kinds of sadness I’ve experienced.
There is a sadness that needs compassion. Another that asks for some “get to work” action. There is a sadness that comes from missed moments, and another that comes from moments that will never be repeated. There is a sadness that comes form distance, and one that comes from feeling that closeness is fleeting. There are more, but I won’t belabor the point.
This insight allows me a sense of calm and familiarity if I’m ever allowed into someone else’s sadness. This is a sacred place. I’m not there to fix the situation. But what if I could hold some space? Be a witness to the process? Even offer some language?
What if I could say, “It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to feel all the feelings. Do you want to find words?” Maybe if we find words with one another, the sadness we all experience could be more like an acquaintance – someone who comes and goes in our lives – and less like something we have to fix or run away from?