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How to Draw Comfort Through Sadness

The downside of peppy

There is a certain sense of peace that comes from sadness. It's counter-intuitive, but true. By turning toward positive affirmations and happy, motivational uplifting messages, it can almost make a person feel disconnected from life. I can recall speaking with a friend who was going through a divorce sometime back, who was struggling with the very real emotional impact of feeling abandoned, and feeling like her husband no longer desired her - and she was one of those people who was prone to those short little motivational passages like "I feel great!" and "I'm a winner!" And, talking with her, I could literally see the pain behind her eyes. It was disingenuous, and she knew it.

It's exhausting, trying to convince ourselves we feel empowered and excited about life, when we feel like our butt has been kicked. Why do we do that? Why do we try so hard to convince ourselves that everything is going to be swell? Is it because we fear that if we completely surrender to the feelings of pain, we'll lose ourselves completely - fall off of the cliff into and abyss of pain and misery?

Al Franken took this on on Saturday Night Live years ago with a character who said "I'm good enough. I'm smart enough. And doggone it, people like me."  I'm not knocking the notion of being motivated, but without an honest sense of feeling completly authentic, it can feel hollow and meaningingless.

Funeral for a friend...

Letting it in . . .

I can't recall a time when I didn't thoroughly feel the emotional weight of the song "Funeral for a friend" by Elton John. This past summer, I went to the funeral for a former friend and supervisor of mine from several years ago. I hadn't spoken with her in some time, and I was aware, through friends, that she had been stricken with cancer. It was a bittersweet story. Well into her forties, she had found the love of her life; someone I also knew. The two of them met, went through divorce of their first unhappy marriages, rediscovered love through each other, married, and had a child together - about the same time my daughter was born.

Not long after the birth of their son, she learned about her cancer. For close to ten years, she was battling it - she went through chemotherapy, gained an upper hand, went through remission, retired prematurely, and then, out of the blue, I heard about her memorial service. It's one of those things you know will happen, but still it's sobering to accept. I hadn't seen or spoken to her in several years, but I showed up at her service and sat quietly in the pew while I listened to people talk about how solid of a person she was. I watched a video her grown children made for her, honoring her as a mother. And even though I hadn't seen her in years, I was moved to tears.

This is the kind of raw emotion that moves me when I listen to this song. A truly meaningful, beautiful pain that moves me, strengthens me, and makes me know what it truly means to be alive.

Tears in heaven

Clapton's loss

On March 20, 1991, four and a half year old Conor Clapton, son of guitarist Eric Clapton, fell from the 53rd story window of a New York City apartment and died. His son's death had a huge impact on Clapton, and he took a long break from performing as a result. When he returned to the stage, his music became softer and more reflective. "Tears in Heaven" was one way in which Clapton dealt with the loss. It's a beautiful, heartfelt, melodic haunting song. And there is seldom a time when I've listened to it when I haven't felt the beautiful, heartfelt, spiritual message of a father grieving for his son.

Is it sad? Absolutely. But I feel richer, stronger and blessed because he felt willing to share his grief with all of us.

Dysfunction:  The only consistent feature of all of you dissatisfying relationships is you.

Dysfunction: The only consistent feature of all of you dissatisfying relationships is you.

Despair:  It's always darkest just before it goes pitch black

Despair: It's always darkest just before it goes pitch black

Dealing with despair

I love the faux motivational messages put out by Surely, you've seen the dramatic motivational posters in offices everywhere, designed to stimulate you to persevere, reach down deeply into your inner drive and push yourself to limits you never thought imaginable.

Despair takes them to a new, sarcastic and deeply hilarious context. I've given classes on employee supervision, performance management and discipline and these posters and videos take the emotional weight from all the class participants. It's so easy to get so overwhelmed and flustered by the fear and angst caused by the necessity of dealing with the frequently off-kilter/dysfunctional behavior of others. As supervisors, most people have this image of a thoughtful, supportive mentor they're supposed to emulate - but what they really want to do is wring the neck of the unmotivated, antagonistic, narcisisstic knucklehead they've been hired to oversee. They know what to do, and just need support and comic relief to remind them they haven't completely lost their marbles!

Failure and delusions . . .

Failure:  When your best just isn't good enough

Failure: When your best just isn't good enough

Delusions:  There is no greater joy than soaring high on the wings of your dreams, except maybe the joy of watching a dreamer who has nowhere to land but in the ocean of reality...

Delusions: There is no greater joy than soaring high on the wings of your dreams, except maybe the joy of watching a dreamer who has nowhere to land but in the ocean of reality...

The stages of grief

Seriously though, life is pain, and to continually try to paper over truly difficult circumstances simply feels disingenuous.  There are millions of messages telling us to feel better.  There are few telling us it's okay to be sad.  That is the point of this discussion.

It's important to recognize the five stages of grief, identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, which are:

1. Denial: You tell yourself this isn't really happening. You think once you wake up, or once someone else comes to their senses, the problem will resolve itself. While it's a normal part of grieving, it doesn't truly recognize that a painful event has occurred.

2. Anger: When something occurs that doesn't happen in the way you expected it to, or when someone decides they don't want you, or agree with you, it's aggravating. And only natural you're going to hate it - hate fate, hate God, hate that other person, etc.

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3. Bargaining: Even though you may know intellectually the thing you're grieving has already happened, there's this sense that you can negotiate a better deal, one that doesn't result in the same end that resulted in your grief.

4. Depression: This is a sense of helplessness, where crying and tears demonstrate your hurt. I've heard it described as "anger turned inward", but to me, it's more that sense of dealing with and feeling the pain of grief.

5. Acceptance: This is where you come to understand that things happen for a reason. You may not want the result, but you've accepted that what has happened is part of what was meant to happen, and you agree that what happened was not only inevitable, but was part of a master plan that you can't control, but which governs the universe, and the affairs of mankind.


One of the most beautiful and simple songs I have ever heard is "Edelweiss", which you will recognize from the movie, "The Sound of Music." The song is simply about a flower, and goes like this:

Edelweiss, Edelweiss
Every morning you greet me
Small and white, clean and bright
You look happy to meet me

Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever

Edelweiss, Edelweiss
Bless my homeland forever

Every single night, when my kids were young, I would sing songs to them before they nodded off to sleep. And every single night, the last song I would sing was Edelweiss. I don't know why - all I knew was that the song brought comfort - to them and to me.

In the movie, the Captain sings it, accompanied by his oldest daughter, in the time before the Nazi's invaded Austria and demanded that it's citizens embrace the Fuhrer. There's a peace accompanied by a certain sadness - especially considering it was at that moment in the movie when you realize the Captain and Maria love each other.



Life is beautiful

 In the end, embracing the sadness and despair of life can lead to a peace that can't effectively be achieved through other means.  In our current economic environment, it's so easy to get swallowed up into the angst and hopelessness that can come from losing one's home, job, or relationship.  We know that we come into this world alone and depart the same way. 

I find strength through knowledge of self and through surrender to the knowledge that what will be will be.  And, in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who authored Self Reliance, "it is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude."


Gregory S Williams (author) from California on June 05, 2012:

I agree. Music possesses a vast storehouse of feelings and emotions, with the benefit of being unencumbered by the connotation of words. I think it's one of the most direct routes to the soul, without barriers of interpretation.

Pain is a difficult thing, and hard to know how to handle it. I was into midlife before I realized pain isn't something to be avoided, but to be understood and experienced, otherwise it sticks around until you acknowledge it.

Thank you again for your affirming words, Ms. Wieck...


klarawieck on June 05, 2012:

I loved this hub, but it does stir feelings inside of me that I'd rather ignore.

It's funny how we all use music as a tool to describe feelings like sadness and despair. It's that particular connection between composer and musician that has always fascinated me. The feelings are transferred from creator to performer beatings the odds of distance and time. It makes you want to crank up the volume and say, "Here, listen to this and you'll understand."

This personal reflection is one that we all relate to. Beautifully presented, too. Thanks for sharing.

Gregory S Williams (author) from California on June 29, 2011:

heart4theword: I understand; and that's why I wrote it. I have this habit of discovering a new piece of wisdom and then putting it down in writing, where it seems more real there in black and white. Your words are right - without pain, suffering, etc., there is no contrast with which to garner us appreciation for life, compassion, goodness.

I'm happy you received this essay in the context in which it was intended....

Be well, G

heart4theword from hub on June 29, 2011:

It was just recently, I wrote a short writing about be-friending your pain. (Don't think it will be put on the pages though:) We do learn and grown through the pains of life, as some have pain, no gain? Without pain, we may not of come to appreciate love and life? The school of the hard knocks, seems to give us wisdom to know the difference:) Enjoyed this hub, even if it was a little painful to read:) I was one to bottle things up, only knowing to focus on the positive as well...because I didn't know how to deal with the issues at the time. Good read, thanks for taking the time to care!

Gregory S Williams (author) from California on August 09, 2010:

Just A Voice - what drew me to your hub site was your profile image, which looks like it's from the Antelope Slot Canyons in Page, AZ, which we just visited. What drew me to read and add you as a fan was the beauty in your writing. You're experiencing transition and processing some incredibly difficult things.

I wrote this during a period where I felt like that, and was just searching for some kind of meaning. A good part of that search never resolved, but rather I had to grow to accept it as part of my life experience. It sucks to say that and it sucks more to realize and internalize that.

I sense in you a wise and resilient soul. I hope and pray for some internal resolution for you.


Just A Voice on August 09, 2010:


This was a beautiful piece. Sadness is something we so desperately try to hide, yet is such a big part of our life.

I myself am in the 4 degree of grief, I am incrediably depressed. I have described the place of where I'm at as gray. My world is gray. And it is hard to fight your way out of that gray world.

I am a very independent person and have fought my way out of many situations. But the particular situation I'm in has me so overwhelmed, that I can't seem to get beyond the "gray world" right now.

It's not okay and I can't pretend that it is. I believe that this is not a permanant state, but it is where I am now, and you hub was comforting in meeting me where I am at now, yet giving me hope to think toward the future.

Thanks for the insightful hub.

Gregory S Williams (author) from California on January 23, 2010:

Thank you, Kelly. I was feeling a painful experience at the time I wrote it and just found it interesting how comforting it felt to embrace, rather than fight the feeling of sadness. I'm so sorry to hear of your losses. You sound like a strong soul - I'll check out your hubs.

Thanks for your comment!


KellyEngaldo on January 23, 2010:

Very beautiful! Having lost my best friend and husband to cancer - you hit a cord - buy exceptionally well done with many of favorites - Elton John, Tears in Heaven and Edelweise too! Wow! It is the bloom and grow. We must keep growing - individually or "homeland". A loss of a homeland is just as sad as a loss for a loved one. The hope of bloom and grow is the comfort. I envision my loved ones smiling down upon me - in a better place and very happy - that is my comfort.

Awesome hub! Congratulations for touching hearts.

Gregory S Williams (author) from California on December 07, 2009:

Thank you, donotfear. I wrote this as I was going through a painful experience. Learning to accept and fully feel pain is counterintuitive to me; all our lives we learn to avoid and run from fear, but then it's still there. Un-faced. I appreciate the affirming comment!

Annette Thomas from United States on December 07, 2009:

I'm so glad I found this article! Thank you for telling the truth! For someone to deny pain is not the way to healing. Be with it, go through it...Wow, this was good.

Gregory S Williams (author) from California on September 07, 2009:

Bos - I don't know whose article you read, but it wasn't mine. It sounds like you're projecting something within yourself onto your comments. I don't know where you would get the idea being passive is the same as accepting what life has to offer. There is what happens, and then there is how you deal with it - positivity needs to have some roots in what is real, acknowledging life's difficulties, but making the best of what's out there. In doing so, you first have to accept the reality of painful feelings, because if you fight them, you only paper over your problems, and those will come back to haunt you later.

Bos on August 28, 2009:

I find this article in itself depressing, in the fact that you explain life as an inevitable series of events, which cannot be changed. While that may or may not be true, you still have a choice in what happens and what kind of person you will become. Also, based on perspective your life can change; for example if you went outside and it was 100 degrees you could either say "this day is going to be long and miserable", or you could look on the bright side, a real, non hollow bright side, and say "that the sun is shining and today is going to be great." Chances are, that the people who are complaining about the hot sun, and not looking at the fact that other great things are happening around them, will have a worse day than the other person. By leading a passive lifestyle and giving into depression you're ultimately creating a void in which you won't ever see a brighter side to life. Also, by being sucked into the depression you are losing an opportunity to better yourself.

Gregory S Williams (author) from California on March 14, 2009:

Thanks lgali for your comment.

Lgali on March 13, 2009:

nice article

Gregory S Williams (author) from California on March 03, 2009:

Benson - thank you so much for your kind words.

Midtown Girl - wow, once again I'm humbled by your words. You have an innate wisdom, and an eloquent voice (you really should post some entries here, by the way, and share that with the world!) I appreciate your thoughtful reflection.

Midtown Girl from Right where I want to be! on March 03, 2009:

Another highly introspective essay, Gerg. This appears to reflect an acceptance of ‘everything happens for a reason’, that one part of life that is hard to recognize for those who want to control their destiny. Most people are familiar with the Five Stages of Grief. Your personal definitions reflect a tendency toward fate. What you wrote about the fifth stage, Acceptance, leaves little argument for randomness.

Feeling pain, for however long is necessary to each individual, is essential to recovery and building resilience. Whether the injury is physical or emotional, moving on too quickly, under the pretense of “not wanting to let this bring you down”, can be more damaging than the incident. If you pull a muscle and try to reestablish your workout routine too soon, you cause additional damage to your body, further delaying your return to that activity. If you negate the emotional impact of a tragedy, not giving it the time and understanding needed, you further delay your return to what you want your life to be. ‘Getting on with your life’ in a valiant effort to stay in control and regulate the outcome, before you’ve given the issue proper time and attention, weakens the mind and body which leaves us with unattended fear, doubt, and pain that is certain to manifest itself at a later time.

The need to process sorrow is eminent in this life. It hurts and it takes time. We need to feel it and be kind to ourselves.

I am really enjoying your thought processes.

Benson Yeung from Hong Kong on March 03, 2009:

thanks. It's a beautiful hub on a theme which I find most enchanting.

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