Updated October 2017
It seems a bit silly to even have to say this, but when a Loved One is diagnosed with a chronic illness, it can make us feel sad.
It sounds ridiculous. Of course when someone is sick it is going to make us sad. But I genuinely believe it’s not that simple. At least it wasn’t for me. I actually found it quite difficult to respond to:
‘How are you?’
It didn’t seem like an appropriate answer somehow. Here’s why.
4 reasons we find it hard to be sad after a diagnosis
1. Sadness is unexpected
To be sad – and only sad – is quite rare. Life is complex, and so we are often experience several emotions at a time, particularly in the wake of a chronic illness diagnosis.
Our grief is often tainted with anger or bitterness or frustration, or even exhaustion. As a result, when we find ourselves ‘simply’ sad, and ‘only’ grieving, it can feel a bit odd. It is an experience we are not prepared for, and don’t know how to cope with.
This can be uncomfortable and confusing. It was for me.
2. Sadness is too simple
Sadness can sound trite. Perhaps we feel like it’s too obvious to state. After all, our family member has just been diagnosed with cancer – of course we are sad!
‘How are you?’ It’s easier to respond with ‘stressed’ or ‘tired’ than ‘sad’. Somehow those responses just seem a little more ‘adult’ or a bit more ‘acceptable’. Or if we do admit we are grieving, we tend to preface our explanation with: ‘just sad’ or ‘a little down’.
My friends, this is a great disservice!
There is nothing simple about sadness. Grieving is important, and acknowledging we are grieving even more so.
Yet sometimes sadness still seems too simple, and this is difficult.
There’s nothing simple about sadness! – Tweet!
3. Sadness is not an action
It has been said that “bitterness is a paralytic” (Sherlock, BBC). So is grief.
There is no response to sadness except letting it pass.
We cannot reverse a chronic illness diagnosis. We cannot simply make a decision to trade our grief for happiness. Life doesn’t work like that.
Other emotions give us more room to respond:
If you are stressed you can put steps in place to relieve it.
If you are angry you can yell or shout or expend energy in some way.
If you are jealous you can recognise it as harmful and pray for change.
But if you are sad, what can you do? Often we have no means to relieve it, no need to exorcise it (it’s not wrong!) and no more tears left to express it.
When we are sad we are helpless, and this is hard.
4. Sadness sounds like Depression
It’s true. If you tell someone you are sad, they may immediately assume you’re Depressed. And with Depression comes (hopefully) a bunch of options. There are known strategies for dealing with Depression and in some cases there is medicine. Not so with sadness. Not really.
Especially not for sadness which is the result of a diagnosis rather than a death.
Yet sadness is not Depression.
Depression comes in many forms, and I am not going to attempt to explain it entirely. But I believe it is different. Depression is numbness or despair or exhaustion or utter darkness.
Sadness is a bit different. And sometimes, explaining this is difficult.
How to cope with sadness after a diagnosis
These four reasons are all very interesting, you might say. It’s all very nice to dissect my emotions into neat boxes and explain why they are hard to feel – but that won’t take my grief away!
That is true.
But I write this because I believe that the first step to coping with any emotion is to acknowledge that it exists. To get a good look at it and to admit that it is painful.
And sometimes, it’s reassuring to see your emotions written out in black letters on a white screen and know that you are not alone.
I cannot take away your sadness, only God can do that – and often He simply says ‘I am here, live out your sadness.’
But take heart, because sadness after a diagnosis is not strange or simple or ridiculous or foreign.
It is reality. It does hurt.
But we are not alone.
“Jesus wept.” John 11:35
// Have you experienced a personal tragedy (diagnosis of a loved one, yourself, or something else)? Did you respond in sadness? Was this difficult to express or deal with?
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