Let’s talk about sadness.
"I am the LORD, your God,
who grasp your right hand;
It is I who say to you, 'Fear not,
I will help you.' "
by Tammy Townsend Denny, Executive Director
Sadness may seem like a strange topic during a season when signs of hope, peace, love, and joy are everywhere -- actual signs on churches, on wrapping paper, even in my neighbor’s front yard. We’re supposed to be happy during Advent, right? We’re anticipating the arrival of Jesus. Our hearts should be dancing with joy.
But, what happens when the joy isn’t there? What if sadness overwhelms the hope, peace, and love?
Through my spiritual practices, I have learned to lean into the uncomfortable feelings of sadness, to embrace them, and to be kind to them. I have learned that our lives need space for sadness as much as our lives need space for joy.
A few days ago, I was feeling some of that sadness. Nothing was especially wrong. Kids are good. Husband is good. Life is good. When I glanced at the calendar, I realized it was December 7 – Pearl Harbor Day, the day we remember all those killed during the military strike in 1941. Admittedly, I’m a bit too young to have any first-hand, emotional memories about Pearl Harbor, yet the day holds significance in my life. December 7 is my parents’ wedding anniversary. This is my first Pearl Harbor Day without either of them.
When my father died in 2001, my parents had been married 40-some years. My mother passed away in March of this year.
I have distinct memories from my childhood of the news stories about Pearl Harbor that would remind Dad it was time to buy Mom a box of chocolate-covered cherries for their anniversary. He didn’t get the fancy candy store chocolates. Nope, my dad always gave her the inexpensive, grocery store variety – those cheap chocolate-covered cherries in the red box. And my mom loved them, saying they were her favorite, though I never understood why. In my mind, Pearl Harbor and cheap, chocolate-covered cherries are forever linked.
While the memories are joyful, the sadness is real. And that’s OK. Father Terrance Klein, in a 2020 Advent reflection for the Jesuit magazine America, says, “Advent begins as an admission. It is okay to be sad, to lament.” In my lamenting, I believe God has my right hand, even on those days when I forget to ask for help.
For those who have lost children, spouses, siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends this past year and for those who mourn loved ones who have died in years past (mourning has no expiration date), I pray that you find moments of peace during this Season of Joy. I also invite you to lean into the grief and sadness. Lament! Don’t push the sadness away. Embrace it. Be kind to it. And know that Theresians around the world hold you in prayer.
I leave you with an excerpt from a poem from Jan Richardson’s book The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief:
Do not pass by
what is forever gone
It is an honoring
of what has been…