Disney Pixar’s latest kids’ flick Inside Out shares the message that all of our emotions play an important part in helping us navigate our lives. Constantly striving for joy—living permanently ‘glass half full’ and not wanting to tarnish ourselves with sadness can have an unintended negative impact. Grasping for relentless positivity will bring us to our knees eventually, unable to function at all because we’re so out of touch with what’s really going on inside that we can’t feel anything at all.
One of the most powerful scenes in the movie occurs when one of the characters loses something important to him. The character representing joy freaks out and tries to ‘jolly’ him out of his despair.
He can’t move, the way a lot of us can’t move when we’re sideswiped by deep upset or disappointment. It’s raw, real, stunned devastation.
It’s not until Sadness sits beside him and lets him feel the way he does without trying to cheer him up or change it, that he’s able to awaken. He’s able to process what’s happened and move forward again, regaining his motivation in a natural way.
I thought of one of my closest friends, who is grieving the loss of her father just over a week ago. She, and her family, have spent much of the last week in tears.
And there will be many more tears to come, cleansing this open wound…
It can be uncomfortable watching someone you love in pain. Sometimes there’s a selfish desire to ‘fast forward’ a situation and drag it into less tortuous territory. Territory where they’re ‘back to their normal selves’ and things feel less fraught and more predictable. A place where you know what to do and say.
Learning to sit in another’s sadness is a critical tool of friendship. It’s about being able to receive their emotions fully, without trying to deflect what they’re feeling, or tamper with it, or make it yours. It’s about ‘sucking up’ how uncomfortable it might feel to see someone you love upset, and accepting your current powerlessness.
When you can do it like that, being present in another’s grief is, strangely, one of life’s gifts. They’re allowing you to see them stripped raw—the ugly crying, the anger, all of it. They’re sharing themselves with you at rock bottom. At peak vulnerability. This is the stuff of deep human connection.
Grief can’t be conquered by fake happiness. It won’t evaporate with a stiff upper lip.
It can’t be forced or rushed or packaged into a neat, convenient order or schedule. It can’t be photoshopped or ‘face-lifted’ or airbrushed or erased or deleted or trashed. It can’t be compared.
It just is.
And the healing that follows it always involves a surrender to reality—the reality of what’s happened, and the reality of our feelings about it.
One day soon my friend will be ready to get up again and keep going. Until that day, I’ll just sit here with her.
All in. With all the feels.