The Other Side of Sadness


Don’t cry when the sun is gone, because the tears won’t let you see the stars. 
Violata Parra, Chilean folklorist, early 20th century.

Met Death last month.

I asked, “What brings you here?”
He said, “My job.”
“But don’t you think it’s a bit too early.”
“Well maybe, but who cares.”
“I do.”
“Who are you?”
“A wife, a mother.”
He curled his lip and sneered, “Is that all you are?”
“Uh…. Yes, that’s all I want to be.”
“I’ll give you a new identity.”
“And what is that?”
“…. A rebel.”
“But who do I rebel against? You?”
“Yes.”
“But I’ll never win.”
“Trust me, you’ll never lose either.”

And he left, his job done.

Facebook entry of a young wife recently widowed.

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A close relative died young last month. He lost the war to leukemia, leaving behind a young wife and a five year old daughter. The daughter still goes around asking and searching for her Dad. She believes he has gone away on a long journey.

Having watched him through birth, childhood and adulthood, I find my own emotions swing between a connection severing anguish and a “out of mind, out of sight” normalcy. Sometimes when I see myself normalising thus, guilt returns in waves. Am I a betrayer, is my self-centeredness making me forget a loved one? Or could it be that as I reach out to others in my normalcy, I initiate my inner healing?

I read the Facebook entry again. Is there some coping mechanism here too? Is it a way to confront and face the very intimate and intense feelings the widow holds? Could this creative piece of writing be a vent through which she in fact is acknowledging Death?

My thoughts shift to that path breaking book, The Other Side of Sadness authored by George A. Bonanno. Dr. Bonanno refutes the widely held belief that a surviving family member needs to necessarily go through several stages of Denial, Anger, Bargaining and Hurt before he or she can reach the healing stage of Acceptance. The good doctor contends that the person in grief would in fact find a surprising inner storehouse of resiliency that would take him or her to the shores of Normalcy. He further maintains that “the natural sadness that actually follows a death is not a thick soup of tears and depression but a fluctuation that is nothing short of spectacular, the prevalence of joy during these times can in fact be striking.”

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As I muse on Dr. Bonanno’s thesis, I begin to see that while there can be no common pathway through grief nor a pre-determined structure for the grieving process, we may indeed share common responses. The Facebook entry for the widow and my periods of normalcy could just be the catharsis the doctor has written about. With this thought my emotional pendulum swings again. I understand the need to acknowledge my present emotion of normalcy just as I feel the urge to shout out to my widowed relative.

“Feel what you feel without embarrassment. It’s okay to be angry, to yell, to cry. It’s equally okay to laugh, to find your joy and let go when you are ready.”
In learning………..                                                                            Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: The Other Side of Sadness: What the new Science of Bereavement tells us about Life after Loss by George A. Bonanno Ph.D, September 2009.