On Sadness

poemsI try to read one poem from Garrison Keillor’s poetry collection, Good Poems, every morning.  I open at random to a page and start reading.  I admit, at least half, I don’t get, nor do I know why they are good poems.    But this morning I opened to John Updike’s poem, Dogs Death and found myself crying.  It is an incredibly sad piece about a rescued dog that has an undetected illness.  Beyond the sadness of the poem, it reminded me of losing my beloved Tuxedo cat, Claude, to cancer 2 years ago.  But when I was still crying 5 minutes later, I knew I was about to relearn a lesson that I’ve relearned many times before:  If I continually stuff feelings of sadness, they will come out as anger or disinterest in life or in isolation.  And eventually find their way out as sorrow, triggered by some totally unrelated (and probably minor) sad something.  An old friend and psychologist once told me that the reason we like sad songs is that they allow us to indirectly process sadness we can’t (or won’t) deal with directly.  Obviously, sad poems work, too.

As I sat there, trying to compose myself, I thought about the isolation of being in a new state, unable to visit the few people we knew or meet new ones because of COVID.  I thought of my wife, Muri’s surgery for breast cancer, her weeks of chemo therapy, followed by radiation.  It was the hardest and, yes, saddest time of our 50 plus year marriage.  I was beside her every moment, supporting her, being the strong husband, but I don’t think I ever cried.  There was a year of sadness, frozen inside me, waiting for a way out.   Then last week, my kid sister passed away, the result of dementia that showed up when she was in her early sixties.   She had been in a care facility for over a year and was really not aware anymore, so her passing wasn’t a surprise.  I tried to convince myself that I’d already mourned.  I didn’t cry.   Then came this morning’s poem.

PattiMy sister, Patti (with an “i”, like Patti Page, who she is named after) was 9 years younger than I am.  That means when I went off to college, she was 8 years old so I didn’t know her very well.  By the time she was a young adult, I was married and had moved away, first to Rhode Island, then to California.  You only get a superficial picture of a person through occasional visits and phone calls.   But I knew we were different.  I was an engineer climbing the corporate ladder and doing quite well financially, she lived life at an easier pace and with more modest means.   But we shared our mother’s interest in art and in spirituality beyond formal religion and that gave us a bond.   I really got to know her when my Dad was in his seventies and had what I would call a depressive breakdown.   He spent some time in a nursing facility until they found a medication that helped, then suggested that he try assisted living.   It was a time when I had a contract in Washington DC and Mystic Connecticut, so I was back east monthly, and always went to Connecticut to see Dad and Patti, as well as help with anything Dad needed.   We were a good team and when we weren’t with Dad, we went to lunch and dinner, or just sat by the beach and talked.    We didn’t always agree and sometimes our differences nipped at our relationship, but that is how friendships are born.   And so during my fifth decade on this planet, I learned to love my sister Patti as a friend as well as a sister.  A gift courtesy of my Dad.

So.  Goodbye, Patti. I love you.  I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you more during the last few years but you have always been in my heart.   And goodbye, too, to a year of watching the person I love most dealing with cancer.  It was incredibly sad, something I knew but never let myself feel in my  effort to be strong.   Guys can be like that, can’t they?  Well, I feel it all now.  While I’m at it, I’ll say goodbye again to Claude, a lovable old soul of a cat that I only had for one year.   I believe that if you don’t fully feel the sorrows of life, you can’t fully feel the joys.  I haven’t fully felt the joys for quite a while.   Maybe now I can start again.

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3 Comments on “On Sadness”

  1. Muriel Reed Says:

    Well, you got me crying with this post! Maybe I stuff my sad feelings too! Here’s to a healthier, happy year ahead.💗

  2. barrythewiz Says:

    I’m sure you’re familiar with this quote, but I thought it would be appropriate here: ““Life becomes harder for us when we live for others, but it also becomes richer and happier.”

    — Albert Schweitzer

    • oldereyes Says:

      But only when we feel it all – Oldereyes

      By the way been looking for a good video or film on Albert. Have you ever come across anything?


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