Over the past few months (well, maybe years if we want to get technical), life has been a wee bit difficult for my family. I know, I know…there are times when we all walk a hard road. We all lose loved ones along the way, battle dragons of disease, witness horrific acts of war in the media and more. I promise, I’m not here to whine. I am not trying to convince you that my problems are bigger than yours. In fact, I am here to finally share a secret in hopes that my life experience may give a fellow soul seeker a bit of help…a sort of encouragement boost. I am going to be brave and just lay it all out there. Here goes….
Last Friday started out like any other day with my befuddled brain coaxing the rest of me to the coffee pot around 5 am. I grabbed my tiara and supermom cape on the way. (Okay, I don’t really wear a tiara and cape, but pretending that I do makes me motivated to make it to the coffee pot.) I stuck the tiara on my head and fastened on my cape while plodding in my moccasins toward the kitchen. Now I just needed that cup of coffee to fuel me to kindness by the time my kiddos greet the day. As I passed the mirror in the foyer, I noticed that my tiara had lost an awful lot of sparkle and that my cape was a tattered mess. Then I noticed that tears were welling up in my baby blues and a heavy sigh escaped my lips. What sorcery is this!? I didn’t have time for tears, for goodness sake, especially tears over a dull tiara and jacked up cape. I had a Disney movie date with my daughter, my bestie and her girls in a few hours! I pulled off the tiara and gave it a quick polish with the tattered cape and realized it was a futile effort. My Supermom attire was definitely not acceptable for the movie outing. It would be a comfy top and yoga pants kind of day.
I soldiered on and managed to make it to the theater with my tween on time. Our movie of choice was “Inside Out.” The bestie, her wee cutie pies, my sweet tween and I made our way inside. I could write for days about that wonderful movie. For now, let’s just say it was incredibly insightful and actually life changing for this girl aka me. I loved the whole idea of having a peek into the “head-quarters” (aka emotional centers of the brain) of a tween girl named Riley (especially since I am the mother of a tween creature.) Much to my surprise (or shock, I suppose), I was very moved by the character “Sadness.” She was incredibly annoying and whiny. However, there was something so vulnerable and sensitive about her. All of the emotions in Riley’s “head-quarters” were super adorable. I laughed (A LOT), I cried and like the audience, became very connected to the characters and their story. However, Sadness was most definitely in control of my “head-quarters” during the movie, but why? Little did I know that I was headed for a big emotional wake-up call while surrounded by popcorn eating movie watchers.
By the end of the movie, I was experiencing an Oprah style “A-ha” moment. Of course, it is no surprise to me that I would be annoyed by the character of Sadness. It suddenly made perfect sense! Sadness has been knocking on my door for a very long time and I have pretended that no one is home. She has peeked in my windows calling out, “hey, I know you’re in there…can I come in, just for bit? I’m just going to keep wandering around here in my melancholy ways until you let me in.” But I kept pulling down the blinds and ignoring her efforts to gain entry hoping she would go away. She never did so I stayed locked up inside. I was truly annoyed by her behavior. Didn’t Sadness know that she was not welcome to visit me? I mean, there are people battling terminal illnesses, losing jobs, fighting wars and a whole myriad of other disasters out there. I didn’t need her to spend time with me when there were so many other people who needed her. I would often yell out the window “Sadness! Leave my house! There are so many others for you to see! I have a safe home, food for my family, warm beds for them to slumber upon. I have family and friends that love me. Go! I don’t need you here!” But Sadness would just stare at me with her mournful eyes and say, “You also have feelings and they matter too” and then she would look like she was going to (gasp) hug me. That is usually when I would slam shut the window and go hide under the covers.
I mean, really, couldn’t Sadness see that we were in the midst of making hundreds of hearts for Catherine’s fundraiser? Didn’t Sadness know that I was trying to prepare for my son’s graduation? And don’t even get me started on the wedding plans. This was supposed to be a joyful time for me. Come on, Sadness…is there really a point to your incessant knocking on my door and crazy stalker like behavior?
I tried so hard to avoid this little blue creature that I became very reclusive. If I had to meander out into the world, I would grab my happy face mask and my suitcase of sunshine and rainbows in case I bumped into friends. Sadness wasn’t fooled by my smiley face disguise. I could always see her lurking around…hiding behind things, creeping along ready to pounce if the opportunity presented itself. Not to worry, I’m really good at faking happiness. I know this for a fact because so many people who know me tell me how happy I am all the time. Well, once Sadness showed herself on the big screen in “Inside Out”, my façade began to crack. Uh oh….my “head-quarters” crew went into over-time trying to put the lockdown on the blue intruder. Unfortunately, Sadness just batted her big, tearful baby blues at all of them. That ornery headquarters crew of mine just opened the door and let Sadness meander right in. And I think we can all guess what happened next.
After floods of tears and some pretty difficult days, I remembered what this vulnerable and sensitive Pixar creature had taught me. Sadness is not an emotion to fear. In fact, it is our body, mind and spirit’s pathway to healing. One of the best parts of the “Inside Out” movie is where Sadness sits down with a character and acknowledges his loss. She expresses her understanding of his loss and then agrees that it must feel very sad. I was so very moved by this moment that it still sits with me. Her acknowledgement and attempt to understand his pain was a beautiful, healing moment. Unlike Joy, she didn’t try to distract him from his sadness with silly faces or fun games. She held his hand while he felt his feelings and then he was okay. Powerful stuff.
So many of us feel that we are not allowed to feel this emotion because there is always someone out there worse off than we may be. That may be true, but in the words of my little blue friend, “your feelings matter too.” I had traveled for years down difficult roads when Smitty was battling multiple terminal illnesses. I always tried to keep things upbeat by keeping a positive attitude, smiling when I really just wanted to cry. When he died, I was busy trying to make everyone around me feel comfortable talking with me rather than deal with the overwhelming painful emotions that come with that kind of loss. I am not the only one who goes through this. In my journey through grief support, I saw many other women experiencing the same thing. Why is it that we don’t feel like it’s okay for us to cry, to hide away from the world for a bit, to go through these feelings in any form? It dawned on me that I needed to be a better example for my children. That by watching me accept my sadness and allowing myself to process it, they could see that you can heal in ways so that you can welcome happiness back into your world. I’m not suggesting that you ever get over the loss of a loved one. Far, far, far from it. (and honestly, Sadness is a sneaky creature. It may take her a while, but she is determined to help you get all the hugs and compassion she can gather. Sadness is truly well intentioned, once you get to know her a bit.)
As usual, I’m late to the party (as they say), but I have finally arrived. Yes, it’s still a pity party, but I am wearing the color blue loudly and proudly. I am wrapping myself up in the hugs of my kiddos, reading good books, spending time with my British beau (thank heavens for technology), allowing friends to hold my hand through it and getting to know Sadness a wee bit better. She will be leaving soon, but I assured her that if she needed to return for a visit someday I would be a bit more welcoming. For now, she hangs out in my office with Mary Poppins, the TARDIS, my Writer’s Block (made by Hugh and Cat) and of course, my very special gal pal, JOY. (see photo above) She is a gentle reminder that all of my feelings matter. Thank you, Pete Docter for writing this film and making it possible. Not only did you help me remember that my tween was embarking on a new journey with her emotions, but you helped me heal in so many ways. And most importantly, you made me FEEL.
My grandmother used to say that without the rain, flowers don’t grow and there are no rainbows. I embrace my rain. I cannot wait to see what kind of flowers will bloom. (and who doesn’t love a good rainbow?)
p.s. and if you have the time, go see “Inside Out” 🙂 You will be very, very glad that you did ❤