How to be sad

As I write this, it is the beginning of February 2021 and the UK has recorded over 100k deaths from the Coronavirus. My social media is riddled with posts about lost love ones and the misery of separation.

It’s a pain I recognise.

My own mother died when I was 23 of metastatic breast cancer and, like a lot of people in my gang, the reverberations of grief and sadness resonate with me somewhere deep inside.

I won’t wang on about my own sadness, it’s mine and can’t really help anyone else. After nearly 17 years of it I’ve learned how manage it. There are some excellent organisations out there who can help you to do that. I’ve spent lots on therapy and genuinely feel it’s worth every singe penny.

But if you are new to our club, here are some (slightly blunt) thoughts on how to be really, really sad. I hope they help.

  1. It doesn’t get any better so don’t worry if you feel like it won’t. Lots of people will tell you that it does but they don’t know shit. Time doesn’t heal grief, it just makes it part of who you are. You will most likely have fewer gut busting episodes of weeping or raging as time passes but they will still come. The most important thing to remember is that there’s nothing weird or broken about that. If anyone tells you that you ought to be ‘over’ your grief, punch them in the face.
  2. Grief is a really selfish emotion. It tells you that only you feel this way about the dead person and it makes some people behave like dickheads. From really bizarre social media posts to actively telling other people that they’re not sad enough – it’s totally mental. However you grieve is fine as long as you are being honest with yourself. If anyone tells you you’re doing it wrong, punch them in the face.
  3. Big sadness makes other people feel uncomfortable. We don’t ‘do’ big emotion in this country and when you inevitably honk and sob in the pub after your friends have tried to cheer you up with wine, they will want to throw themselves to the floor and commando away from you and all your snot. The really good ones will not do that – they will probably want to, but they will swallow their fear and turn in to the white hot coal face of your big sad. Those friends are the best ones and should be treasured and never, under any circumstances, punched in the face.
  4. Don’t forget to breathe. Sometimes grief can feel like pushing an ocean out through your eyes; it’s physically painful and exhausting. A bit like child birth though, it is totally natural and shouldn’t ever be resisted. Breathing through the waves of agony is the only way to get to the other side. I have tried to swallow gallons and gallons of my grief and now I’m a person who wants to punch other people in their big faces.
  5. Ask for help. It’s such a stupid piece of advice but it has to be said. Nine times out of ten you won’t know what you need and you won’t want to see that look on anyones’ face – that piteous ‘How are you doing?’ face or even worse, the ‘omg I think this person has turned into a gorgon’ face. But you have to push through that and ask. The only slight caveat to this one is that you can’t expect anyone else to make you better or to take the grief away. They will do their best to help in small ways and that’s pretty much all they can do. And then sometimes you get a person who thinks they are a friend and wants to do things that they think will help but are actually really annoying and stressful. These people mean well and in a few years you will see that they were just so desperate to stop you from hurting that they forgot to listen to what you needed. But in the moment they are pretty toxic and it’s fine to threaten to punch them in the face.

Ultimately, grief is as personal as your relationship with the dead person was. There’s no guide book or instruction manual, it must simply be endured and weathered. The key is to find the small things that make it just about bearable – friends, family, the dog, walking, music or faith. Find them, cling to them and hang on in there.

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