Perhaps “Sad” isn’t the Right Word

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There are not many words, if any, that can describe how you feel when someone you love passes on. It is an odd, sort of empty feeling. It feels like a piece of you is missing, like there is a gaping hole in the deepest part of your heart. It almost feels supernatural. In my writing, I have most likely used the word “sad” when speaking on grief, but perhaps “sad” isn’t the right word. In today’s blog post, I’d like to explore this just a little bit.

A well-known South African journalist passed away this year. I did not know her personally, nor did I follow her career, but I knew of her. When I saw photographs of her on the news the day she died, I remembered her face. “I know her!” is the first thing that came out of my mouth. I remember getting goosebumps as I read the headline on the television screen. I felt weird, for lack of a better word. I remembered watching her on TV a few times during the lockdown period, and just like that, she was gone. Her heart had stopped beating. I felt sad, I think. I felt sad for a woman I had never met, a woman I never knew. I felt sad for her loved ones and I felt sad for the life she had just left behind.

The Oxford dictionary defines the word “sad” as showing sorrow or being unhappy. That makes sense right? Yes, sure. Why not? However, it seems all too simple. I did not grieve the journalist who passed on, per se. I was just somewhat in shock and genuinely sad for a brief moment because it reminded me of my own loss. The situation did not make me happy, so “unhappy” is probably fitting; but grief is just so much more than that. It is just so much deeper.

See, when my mom and dad died, I was probably sad too. The degree of sadness was obviously far greater than how I felt earlier this year when the journalist died (for obvious reasons). The question is, can we really describe grief based on the “degree of sadness” we feel?

So perhaps “sad” is part of the equation; but grief is clearly much more complex than that. I’ve been sad about many things outside of grief, things that may seem trivial to others. There is nothing trivial about grief. It is just so much deeper than what we can express with our words. I can’t help but compare grief to love, yet again. Grief, like love, transcends human understanding. We know it is there, but we just do not know how to describe it with words. We try, and we somehow get the gist of it, but the words are nowhere near the full picture. Only our hearts fully understand how it feels; but our hearts cannot express words, so our minds try, yet never truly succeed. Any mind can know of grief, but only a grieving heart can understand what it truly means.

So, perhaps “sad” isn’t the right word. Then again, which word is?