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The other day I was in the elevator at a major Boston hospital heading to the 16th floor.  The elevator was full of people; visitors carryi...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

When we cannot kiss it and make it all better.



I am not thinking about hospice at all today. Just people.

And how we see them hurt and sad, or maybe just sad, and we cannot help them. As much as we would like to and really do try.

But sometimes we cannot even help ourselves.

Remember how easy it was to have your mom or dad or grandmother hold you and tell you not to be sad? That it would all be okay? And when we were very young, before we knew so much about life and death, and all the messy stuff in between, we believed them. And it did feel better. At least for a time.

But that doesn't happen so much as adults. Or even as children. Children are too sophisticated to believe this anymore. They know too much about the hard realities of life, even from an age when I thought they wouldn't.

But life is hard. And bad things do happen, even to those that do the 'right' things.

Many books have been written about why bad things happen to good people. I think it is comforting to read, but it doesn't make it go away or even really explain it well.

I see a lot of very sad people all of the time. When I am working, I expect it. But even when I am not, and I mention what I do, the sad stories come out. At parties, amusement parks, in the store, out for lunch. There is just no escaping the fact that we all are going to feel sad sometime. And I think sometimes we get sad just thinking that one day we might be sad.

And that is truly sad.

The number one prescribed medication in this country are anti-depressants. Personally, I find them over-prescribed by physicians who fix every complaint with a simple pill. Even kids are on them. And I know many who take them who are still quite sad. But I wouldn't classify them as clinically depressed. Just sad. And angry. And beat down. And weary. They seem to have the weight of the world on their shoulders.

I get sad sometimes, too. We all do. I get sad when my daughter is having a bad day. Or when I think about what my mother-in-law is going through. Or when I see someone having lunch with their mom or dad and I know I can never do that again.

I feel sad for my patients and their families. I feel sad when a pet dies. Sometimes I feel sad for no particular reason at all.

I don't have any answers. I do tell my patient's families to allow themselves to grieve. And I guess I would offer the same advice for anyone feeling sad.

To allow yourself to feel sad.

We don't allow ourselves to do that much. We really don't.

And we try to make the sadness go away by doing things that make us feel happier. Like eating. Or shopping. Or sleeping.

But nothing really does make it all better. Nothing really does make it go away. It is always there, lurking. Sometimes people will tell me that the sadness overwhelmed them suddenly. Perhaps they saw something that reminded them of something painful in their past. Who knows. But it can come on suddenly and unexpectedly. And often takes us by surprise.

But what I do know is that sadness is universal. It is a common bond we all share, but, interestingly, don't share with one another too often.

Even at funerals, when asked how they are doing, many reply, "fine." They are not fine. They just do not want to burden anyone else with their sadness. Or they feel the sadness is too personal, too intimate to share. Or perhaps they feel that someone will try to diminish their sadness or make light of it.

And many cover up sadness with a hardness that grows over time. Or with anger. Some of the hardest people I have ever met have had an inexplicable amount of sadness trapped deep down. And they shield themselves from anymore hurt with anger. They close their hearts. And they feel all alone.

I don't know. I am not sure why I thought of this today. Maybe because I am a bit sad today myself.

"Hearts will never be practical, until they are made unbreakable." The Wizard of Oz was right. But that doesn't mean we should crouch and hide from sadness. Perhaps what we need to do is let more of it in. Embrace it for a time. Allow ourselves to feel it. Then let it go if we can.

I think it would make us happier in the end.

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


"You cannot prevent the birds of sadness from passing over your head, but you can prevent their making a nest in your hair.”
Chinese Proverbs


"She said she usually cried at least once each day not because she was sad, but because the world was so beautiful & life was so short."
Unknown

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