Welcoming Sadness: Sitting with the Pain of Loss

Garden scene showing sadness as part of loss of spouse

Looking out my Office Window

Sometimes, we just need to sit with our pain. Maybe we breathe through it, or make it the focus of our meditation, or we just wail into the void, but we stay with it, for an hour or an evening or a good cry. My yoga teacher friend would call this “holding space” for someone who’s absent.

I didn’t do a Valentine’s Post this year because I couldn’t write about this most sugary, heart-shaped holiday without saying only,”I miss my George right now.” I kept seeing his face behind my eyes each time I closed them.  So, I thought about him, and wore my wedding rings at home and, for a couple evenings, I just missed him. A lot.

My usual posts are about coping with loss through action, like setting up drinks with the girls or buying new throw pillows, like here and here.  Or I write about managing the cesspool that is online adult dating like here or here.  But dating necessarily involves recovering from, or at least compartmentalizing, our loss enough to move on to new people. Maybe sometimes the only way to cope with loss is to invite it in, pour it a cup of tea and sit beside it.

I’d say to my loss,”Oh, you’re back. And for now, I’m unbearably sad. But I’ll stay with you because you’re a part of me, to try to shut you out is to run from myself.”

So much of what I’ve read about losing a spouse are warnings not to spend too much mourning.  Are we doing enough to recover? Could we possibly be falling into the hole of complicated grieving? Are we neglecting to be sufficiently grateful, properly organized and resolutely social?  But we can be all those things and still be sad. Failing to acknowledge our sadness, to give it a voice, just buries it like a splinter prone to infection.

I’ve often thought that as we process our losses, we mutate.  For me, part of the mutation is accepting that I’ve become someone who’s unbearably sad sometimes.

George is gone, but he’s also a part of me. When I wave an irritatingly slow driver ahead of me so they can change lanes easily, that’s George. He was a fast, but unfailingly polite, driver. When I pay for services I could get cheaper elsewhere but I’ve known the people who help me for years, that’s George. He was loyal and generous. When I told his parents I loved them, that was me and George wanting them to feel like they still had family.

And  when I miss him unbearably that’s George too, coming back to me.  We can deflect our grief for awhile, but sometimes we need to accept it and just be with it. If you’ve been feeling especially sad lately, it might be the weather or the political climate or the way people are treating each other in this political climate, but it might just be rolling sadness. Our loss has come back again to the forefront of our minds.

If we feel unbearably sad, let’s just admit it without shame.

Judging ourselves for our sadness does no good.  It’s perfectly normal to feel this way. We can prop ourselves up only for so long before the sadness demands attention. She’s a draining friend, but if we can sit with her, she’ll feel seen and understood.  She’ll even be happy for us that we feel better and can get on to other things, but maybe not just yet.

So, let’s admit it: right now I am truly sad . But I won’t feel this way forever.  And I can acknowledge those feelings as a part of loss without having to make excuses.  Now, pizza or carrot cake?

Do you ever feel the need to just sit with your loss? Does it help or just make you feel worse?

With Love,













  • Andrea says:

    So beautiful, my friend….and the writing itself, exquisite.

  • Quinnland23 says:

    For me it is exactly like meditation, where you struggle to empty your mind while your brain tries to fill the void with random thoughts. The trick is not to ignore those thoughts or fight against them, but to acknowledge them, let them pass by. I think sadness is the same type of thing; we don’t want to trap it and we don’t want to block it,.. just let it flow.

    …the same applies to Valentines rage and wanting to go all voodoo doll on a heart-hugging teddy bear. =P

    • Debbie says:

      Awesome description of sitting with pain. You are a wise man. By VDay, I was again grateful to be with my boyfriend. And lots of chocolate. And no teddy bears.

      • Quinnland23 says:

        Good! Glad to hear it.

        • Susan says:

          After 5 years without my husband, I have made the mistake of thinking I was “over it” only to have grief bite me in the ass unexpectedly. Dating has had its pitfalls and, I only recently realized that I was unconsciously looking for him and for what we had. I have decided to stop looking and to stop being surprised by the recurrence of loss from time to time. I have “designed a life I love” in the interim and have accepted that it may be a full life without another partner.

          • Debbie says:

            You are wise. I’m at almost 4 years (in April) and I’ve had to tell myself over and over I can’t have what we had. I too am trying to design a life I can love without a partner. It doesn’t always work.

  • Lisa says:

    …it’s been 9 months and I am still crying…I can say it out loud sometimes without breaking into hysteria…. But I still cry everyday. I definitely sit with my sadness…on the couch… By myself…sad. I go to work everyday where I pretend ( mostly) that I am still me…but I am profoundly different. I come home on Friday and proceed through an entire weekend wherein I don’t speak to another human until Monday morning when I pretend again….

    • Debbie says:

      Lisa, I am so sorry. Nine months is really recent. I don’t usually give advice because this stuff is so personal and different for everyone. I know when I was unbearably lonely I joined a yoga studio and at least had weekend yoga classes that I liked. I made a few friends there. It’s nice to have a friend to walk with. Maybe there’s something like that?

  • GaryL says:

    Sadness and I have become far too close of friends. Sometimes I know triggers are coming, but more often it just happens. I recently had the 9 month anniversary of Diane’s passing. It was a Sunday and I didn’t have anything planned, which in hindsight was good. 9 months is the period from conception to birth, but a new me is nowhere near being born. Maybe I can be an elephant and have a longer period. The day started well, but then I was engulfed by sadness. Wailing is a much better description than mere crying. It lasted for hours, came in waves, with each break giving me a chance to at least breath.

    If I am lucky I delay falling off the sadness wall until I am alone at home. Has anyone figured how to schedule sadness? And if we are supposed to avoid complicated grieving, what is simple grieving? I often sit outside where we used to share our end of day conversations and let the sadness, tears, hurt, anger and loss come out. Fortunately I only have one adjacent neighbor and they are very understanding of grieving sounds. The feelings envelope me like a cloak, blocking other connections with the world, leaving only sadness and grief. While the frequency of the incidents is lessening, the intensity of emotion grows stronger. I don’t want to be sad all the time, but sadness is always with me. I am trying to integrate this into a more complete me, because not do so lessens me, Diane and what we shared. But, much easier said than done. My best to everyone and hugs Debbie to help you through the post Valentines Day down.

    • Debbie says:

      Hugs to you too Gary. Nine months is just so recent after a loss like this. The sadness and wailing is normal. It’s just unbearable. I used to listen to George’s favorite music and wind up wailing almost every night. You describe your feeling so well. Not that it’s any consolation. Take care of yourself. Maybe have some carrot cake or chocolate velvet cake. Again it’s no consolation, but a great dessert and an engrossing tv series to binge-watch never hurts.

  • Tammy says:

    Thanks Debbie I needed this .

  • Jeanette says:

    I too get surprised by that little bad penny called Sadness, at random times after nine years without my soulmate. I was single until I was 30 so this feeling during the “You should really have a date on this Hallmark holiday” is already familiar and I have learned to ignore it (although sometimes I just get pissed off that the holiday exists, for the sole purpose of making me feel alone).

    My sadness visits me when I see my late husband’s mannerisms in my son or daughter. Or at a certain place, or through a private joke we shared. Unexpectedly my sister broke out in tears when my son told a joke at a birthday party because she saw my husband telling that joke. I am not the only one affected.

    Grief counseling taught me that I should not expect any new partner to be just like my husband, because there is only one person like him. I think I’ve done pretty well in that category, although I’ve only seriously dated two men since him. However as much as I try, the sadness sweeps over me when I don’t get the same traits in a man that made me fall in love, even though these men have other qualities that many women would love. As much as I try not to, I want the same person who made me happy even though I know logically it’s not going to happen that way. Before marriage, people told me I was too picky. Now I’m in the same situation – telling myself that if I have to look at someone every day for the rest of my life, damn right I’m picky. Lucky for me, I don’t mind a lot of alone time, where I don’t think most people feel the same.

    The sadness, as you already know, doesn’t go away when you date someone new. It sits in the background, ready to attack like that little bad conscience sitting on your shoulder asking you: “Remember how he would have done/said that?”. I have learned to address it head on, but try to turn it into a little pity party imagining his arms around me for a few minutes, and then moving on. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

    • Debbie says:

      I wish I were better at bring alone over extended periods of time. And, yeah, I have the same flashbacks to George and how we would have done things or how we would have lived. It’s just hard sometimes. And it’s a life cut short. Sometimes I can get over it quickly, other times not so much. (P.S. You’re a really good writer).

  • Betsy says:

    Debbie, I left these 2 posts in my inbox and just reading them. I feel like we are becoming kinderd souls. You say things like I feel them. Once I found you I have left comments. It is hard. It is sad. Bob has been gone 6 years now. I am always sad, but I am ok with that now.

    It is not easy. I feel for Lisa & Gary as it has only been 9 months. Let no one tell you how long or how little to grieve. It will always be with you. I don’t want to paint a horrible picture for you, just trying to be realistic. Your loved ones will always be with you. And you can rejoice in that fact.

    I talk to Bob. It’s ok to be sad, for an hour, or a week, whatever. Talk to your lost loved one, anytime. It’s ok.

    Debbie, thank you so much. Peace and love.