Grief has lots of emotions. Sometimes, when we experience it, all we want is to escape into nothingness, and so we climb into bed, pull the covers over our heads, and wait to drift away. Other times, we feel short tempered, irritated by the daily happenings that fill our days. We might feel exhaustion unlike anything we’ve experienced before, a heaviness making it difficult even to sit up. Or we might be energized by a mania that has us doing, doing, doing in an effort to avoid the pain which we are all-too-aware will be waiting for us as soon as we stop doing.
I heard a new description of grief while watching the children’s movie Home (Dreamworks, 2015), and it sums up what grief is like for many of us. Grieving people are described as “cranky and irrational, and physically violent.” They are described as “sad-mad.”
Home is the story of a group of not-so-intelligent aliens who arrive on Earth, gather up all human beings so they can be relocated, and then begin the process of moving in. During the relocation, a seventh grade girl named Tip is separated from her mother. The movie follows Tip on her adventures as she is reluctantly partnered with a rejected alien named Oh and searches for her mother. During their adventures, Oh strives to understand the nuances of human relationships and emotions, and is especially confused about Tip’s expressions of grief.
Tip repeatedly tells Oh about “my mom” and why it is so important that she find her. But Oh is unfamiliar with the idea of family and struggles to understand who this person named “my mom” is and why she matters so much to Tip.
“She’s just my mom,” Tip explains to him. “Not yours. Mine.”
“So your ‘my mom’ is a very important persons to you. More important than others. To not belong with her causes you to be sad,” Oh says. “But recent moments ago, you are kicking on me and yelling, which is seeming more to be mad than sad.”
“Well, sometimes it’s both,” she says.
“So you are sad-mad.”
And isn’t that just what we feel when we want our mom? When we can’t be with our mom? When we know our time with her is gone?
We are furious with the circumstances, angry at those around us who cannot understand, and so darn sad all at the same time. It may not be anyone’s fault, but we want to find someone to blame. We think it might make us feel better, but it doesn’t. We are sad-mad.
I’ve studied the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who wrote in her 1969 book Death and Dying about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. But right now, for me, “sad-mad” is a spot-on description of what it’s like to grieve.