A few years ago, I told my counselor about how I was a sad person and I wanted to fix that.
“What’s wrong with being a sad person?” she asked.
I looked back at her, annoyed. “I don’t want to be sad. I want to be happy. People want to be friends with and be around happy people, not sad ones. I want to be that type of person.”
It took about a year for me to come to terms with being a sad person. I’ve had depression for a long time, and I used to hide it as best as I could. I believed that if people knew, they wouldn’t want to be around me. So I practiced smiling and laughing more, I took my vitamin D, and worked really hard at being a good friend to my people, in hopes that they would remember it when they realized who I actually was.
When I grieve, I hide it the most. Almost a week ago now, I lost my Grandpa (see my Davenport post from a while back for some background info). Even though he’d been ready to go for a long time, it was a hard goodbye. I haven’t cried that hard in months, but I mourned the best way I could– capturing and reliving memories and moments that celebrated our time together.
And you know what? I’m doing okay. I would even dare to say I’m doing well, all things considered. My mental health the past few weeks has been consistently good, which has made the grieving process much healthier. My long-time support system has been crumbling, and I’ve known for a while. When it failed me, it was one of my major fears coming to fruition. I felt alone.
But you know what? I’m okay now. Even though it’s okay to not be okay, I am okay. I was able to say a final goodbye before Grandpa passed, and I could not find my words. The second I thought about what to say, my throat clenched and tears began rolling. My whole body began shaking when I thought about reaching out to hold his hand. When I finally did, I had a hard time letting go.
It took me a while to talk about it with anyone. After that goodbye, I didn’t have the capacity for words. I wanted to pray, to look to God and tell Him everything I wished I could have said and done before then. I couldn’t. For days. I felt guilty, as if I was keeping God out of my hurt. Then I remembered how present He is.
God refers to Himself as the I AM (Ex. 3:14). He is many things, but ultimately He IS. He is the whole and perfect Creator, who exists always and is perfect in all ways. The I AM is omnipresent and omnipotent. His Spirit will not leave me since I’ve chosen Him. He isn’t waiting for my prayer phone call. He lives this life with me because life itself comes from Him.
He walked with me around the park where we used to feed the ducks. He was there when I broke down sobbing in my car. He heard my words before I could form them, and He never judged me for struggling with them. I wasn’t mourning alone.
To find solidarity with God was the most human I have ever felt. Even with the loss, things were as they should be.
That solidarity reminded me of the times when I have been a support for others. When I’ve cried with people, let them lean on me physically and emotionally, and made them laugh, which is usually my go-to. It’s a privilege to be let into someone’s hurt. A sad person’s privilege. It’s what I have to offer.
Just like in the movie, Joy often follows Sadness. As this past month has led to the closures of so many things going on in my life, I’m beginning to see and feel joy. Colors are a little brighter, and my steps less heavy. I’m celebrating.
What a gift it is to have known sadness and still know joy. God has never needed me to be a happy person to know joy and celebrate with others. I am more blessed to witness joy after sorrow than to see and experience joy alone.
As for joyful me, I’m borderline unstoppable. I can be as fiercely happy as I have ever been sad, if not significantly moreso. I’m ready to thrive for a while.
My Grandma passed about 14 years ago, but one of the many things she was known for was making you laugh, even if it you didn’t want to. She had this amazing habit of making you feel incredibly important without letting it get to your head. And if you were out of line, she’d call you on it in a heartbeat. There needs to be more of her in the world.
I sought solace in some very old encouragement notes recently. I was suddenly struck by the things people said they saw in me, especially with how sad I was when I received them. There was one that really hit home for me, from my closest camp friend when I was 16.
“Thank you for making me laugh, even when I don’t want to.”
What a joy it is, friends. God knows I love the little things, and He’s blessed me in abundance lately. When I finally could get the words out to Him, they were, “Take care of Grandpa.” That was all I could manage.
Have I cried every day this week? You bet. But joy and sadness can exist in the same place. Feeling and being joyful doesn’t keep me from being with someone when they’re sad. If anything, I can give them more support. In the same way, being sad doesn’t always keep me from smiling and laughing.
There will always be something worth crying over, and something worth smiling over. It’s the mystery of the human existence– to feel wholly what the world has to offer us. So if you need this sad girl, she’ll be smiling and having beer and cake for dinner soon, with God in attendance. It is Grandpa’s favorite.
With humility and deep love,