Even though I typically feel some sadness or melancholy around my birthday, that feeling caught me unprepared this morning.
After all, it’s a clear-blue-sky sunny day after a night of thunderstorms. Everything feels clearer, sharper. More alive.
It’s my birthday week. A reminder that I’m aging quickly, that life has gotten harder in some ways, physical ways. Those health problems seemed to start about 10 years ago, just before my breast cancer diagnosis.
I think of what I’ve lost over the years. In my 40s, both of my parents died. In my 50s, I had a very tough breast cancer journey and a year of surgeries that included a double knee replacement (from which I am still recovering).
Part of me wonders what pains the rest of my 60s will hold. And if I’ll still be on this side of the veil for my 70s.
But another – a wiser – part of me knows that’s how life is. It’s unpredictable. Gigantic pain may be just around the corner. Always.
And gigantic joy may be as well.
My challenge is learning not to dread or to hope but to be present to what is.
And that “what is” right now is sadness.
How often have I tried to run from sadness, to cover it up with some activity, some distraction? How often have I tried to “figure it out”? That’s my way of trying to control life. Trying to understand. Everything.
I could say, oh, I feel sad because my breast cancer surgery was eight years ago this week. Or because I have an appointment this week with my dermatologist about an “approaching squamous” tiny mole on my face, one I tried to treat with chemo cream. But the chemo cream made my eye gunky, my sinuses sensitive, and made me feel rotten all over like the beginning of the “real” chemo I went through for seven months when I had breast cancer. And now I wonder what the next dermatologic treatment will be. Will it be painful? I am very sensitive to pain. Or I could say I feel sad because my back pain is increasing, and even though acupuncture and yoga are helping some, a part of me wonders if there’s something severe going on in my spine.
So yes, my thinking can come up with these several reasons for my sadness, my melancholy. That’s the part of me that feels that understanding is a way to have some control over what actually can’t be controlled.
I can think of all of these things. I can come up with lots of reasons for my sadness.
But my soul knows it’s something deeper.
When I was younger, I’d hold my breath until “bad” times were over, and then I’d give a big sigh of relief and hope that “bad” things would never come again – or at least for a long time. Hope that I’d be safe and comfortable and happy for the rest of my life . . . or most of it.
Though I knew that was not even possible!
But now I know that life is a series of “bad” things. And if I look closely, some things that seem “bad” really may be bringing me gifts.
They most likely are. But knowing that today doesn’t make the sadness go away.
So I will let myself feel sad. I won’t try to run from it or cover it up or figure it out. I will pay attention to it.
I’ll feel it, where it manifests. It feels located in my chest and throat at this moment. And it might want to come out as tears.
Honestly, it feels like loss.
It feels like grief.
Grief for parts of life, parts of myself that are so far ungrieved.
So today I’ll let myself grieve them. Even if I’m not sure what exactly I’m grieving.
I’ll be kind to myself, as kind as I would be to someone else.
Sometimes that’s hard because I feel I should be strong, courageous, impervious. I know that’s silly. We all have sadness and grief. We all lose lots in a lifetime.
So today I grieve. I let myself feel. I am present in my body. And I’ll let myself grieve as long as I need to.
Just as there are times for celebration, there are times for sadness and grieving.
Just because you feel you should be happy, that doesn’t make you happy.
So right now I’ll take the time to feel sadness and grief. Even though it’s my birthday week.
Maybe even because it’s my birthday week.
I’ll give that gift to myself.