Sadness is important. It accompanies regrets, recognition of real losses, grief. But sadness is painful; painful to experience and painful to watch in someone you love.
People often try to stop feelings of sadness by avoiding ever thinking about distressing events or situations. This can leave the thoughts in a primitive, all-or-nothing state. It can damage the ability to remember and to lay down new memories.
When elderly parents are sad, their children may be distressed. Most people don’t want their own children or their parents to be sad: certainly not all the time. But sharing sadness can also be healing.
There are times when we need cheering up, and there are also times when we need to be allowed to be sad.
This applies to old people, to adults and to children. It also applies to ourselves. Sometimes it helps to allow ‘sadness time’: a certain time (in the morning perhaps), when we allow ourselves to think about a sadness in our lives, before we have to pull ourselves together and get on with the day.
It is especially relevant when someone is or has been ill.
Recognition of loss is important in order to distinguish between what has to be lost and grieved for, and what can be salvaged; without sadness and grief people can deprive themselves of good things because those good things link with distressing feelings.
(If you lost your guitar you need to grieve for the loss and distinguish it from the playing – or you may decide never to play again. If you lose your leg, your memory, your ability to think clearly, you may decide never to go out, never to talk to anyone, not to leave your room – unless you can grieve for your loss and separate what you have to lose from what you can keep.)
Unfortunately there are often good reasons for fearing sadness in a parent. The parent may have been emotionally unstable in the past, or they may have always hidden their feelings from their children. Adult children may find it hard to allow their parents to show any distressing feelings. They may fear they will simply ruminate, go round and round and remain unchanged for ever.
And sadness may be covered by blame: blaming the self, blaming a loved other member of the family, blaming the person in the room or nearby.
Blaming is a common aspect of grief which generally changes if it is allowed thinking time: it may be a way of preventing sadness and acceptance of a real regret or loss. Blame is seldom simple and rational: if one person seems to be to blame, the chances are many others are too.
‘Sadness time’ may not need to be long. It can have a beginning and an end: for the day, the week, the year. But it may bring some kind of peace.