Why feel sad? The selfishness of heartbreak, grief and loss
I don’t want to add to the dour feeling of this time of year but, like Gaz, I had a funny end to 2019.
It was a period of several funerals in quick succession, for people who’ve had significant impacts on my life.
Whilst grieving at the most recent funeral, I begin to examine my feelings of sadness.
After all, the individual that I lost wouldn’t want me to feel sad. He would have said, in his normal towering demeanour, “it’s alright little fella.”
So what was I sad about?
Was I sad because he wouldn’t see the sunset again, because he wouldn’t enjoy good food again or because he wouldn’t relish performing again?
Or was I sad because I wouldn’t get the joy of seeing him again, because I would miss his mischief or because I would miss his performances?
The answer was the latter.
Grieving, like any form of emotional loss, seems, to me, to be a selfish feeling.
I grieve, not for the things that others will miss, but for what I will miss about them.
Any sentence that begins with “I will miss” is now a trigger for me to acknowledge my selfishness.
Nothing belongs to me; therefore, I lose nothing
I am starting to reframe my feelings towards loss, mainly because I have realised that there is no such thing.
I do not own anything.
Nothing ever belongs to me; therefore, I cannot lose it.
This is certainly true of people.
You often hear people say, that’s “MY” man, that’s “MY” boy, that’s “MY” wife but the truth is, they are not, and they never will be.
People are not belongings.
This period of reflection has reunited me with one of my favourite poems, “Your Children Are Not Your Children” by Kahlil Gibran…
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
I must let arrows fly.
If I think I can hold on to someone forever, I am wrong.
I must remain stable and embrace what I have now, for it will soon be lost.
Whilst you are giving people your love, your guidance, your undivided attention, remain mindful that you do not own them.
Celebrate your experiences with them but do not feel dejected for your loss.
You did not lose them.
They were never yours.
This applies to anything you think you own – friends, family and possessions.
Remembering how lucky I am
When going through loss or heartbreak, it’s important for me to remember that I still get the miracle of life to experience.
Yes, those selfish feelings could raise their ugly head and I may feel down for a while.
Yes, I could become a saint and feel sad for the things that the lost person will miss.
But I must remember, I OWN NOTHING!
The very meaning of life is to let go and enjoy all I can whilst I have access to this amazing opportunity.
May this piece from Richard Dawkins’ book, Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder, provide you with as much motivation to enjoy life as it has for me:
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.
Stop being selfish and stop clinging-on, because nothing is yours.