The Great Sadness

It has been a while. The reason being ‘The Great Sadness’.  William P. Young writes about it in ‘The Shack’.  I tried to come up with an alternative description than the one that he uses, but to no avail.  It describes a state of being one descends into after terrible loss or trauma.  After the death of little Missy in The Shack, he writes, “The Great Sadness has descended and in differing degrees cloaked everyone whose lives had touched Missy’s.” Indeed.  If I could rephrase to make it more personal, it would read somewhere along these lines, “The Great Sadness has slowly but surely settled into the lives of those who dearly loved Baby L, also known as Poppedais.”

It settled just in time for autumn. As the world around me turns into spectacular shades of yellow, orange and red, I look with eyes muted with shades of grey and dark blue.  If black had shades, I would be seeing that too.  As the colours of autumn begin to surround us like a warm, fuzzy blanket, I feel cold.  It’s a cold that is not planning to leave anytime soon as it becomes etched into my bones, like something black and greasy being injected into it with a syringe.  This cold brings along with it the profound desire to move slowly and heavily, of creeping into bed and hiding underneath thick blankets.  ‘The Great Sadness’ has a few desires.  Firstly, maybe more than anything, it wants to be kept hidden.  It also really wishes that all the billions of sounds that this relentlessly busy world so loves to make will become still.  But ironically, while colours and movements become muted, sounds become elevated.  It’s as if the world and everything and everyone in it suddenly start yelling with all available might for attention.  Then, it also wants time to stop.  Just for a while, until the ones in whose bones it settled can catch up again, somehow.

I find myself countless times trying to hear my own breath, to ground myself. Trying to breathe in and out, slowly and mindfully.  Trying to remind myself that this, too, shall pass.  Trying to create space in my body and mind for good to flow through.  But breath doesn’t seem to have the same plan.  Breath becomes shallower and more forced.  Especially during sleep.  For while sleep becomes as close as my shadow during the day, it runs away from me at night.  And then the dreams come, dreams that leave me paralyzed with anxiety.  Dreams that happen because my subconscious is dealing with the trauma of losing someone I deeply love.  Then, once sensation returns to body and mind, the ‘if only’s’ and questions commence.  Sleep no longer finds me.

‘The Great Sadness’ really creeps up on you. The initial stages of grief keep you quite busy. Denial, anger and bargaining consume massive amounts of energy and thoughts.  You don’t have time to see the still darkness of ‘The Great Sadness’ coming.  And then one day, when you’re done denying, being angry and bargaining because reality is reality and there is nothing you can do about it, it’s just there.  And you find yourself sad.  And tired.  And lonely.  And cold.  But still far from accepting the new truth that a loved one is not here anymore.  I am but a volunteer at a house of safety, but have taken a little girl into my heart, in many ways like my own.

Then there is the aftermath. A week or so ago, I visit my dear friend, the woman who has been Baby L’s mother for the past four years, the biggest part of the little girl’s life.  The women who is mother to eleven other little children at their house of safety.  I find her in a psychiatric hospital.  Her body and mind broke down completely a little more than three months after the little girl’s death.  ‘The Great Sadness’, for her, manifests in a different way.  She sits across from me, courageous, humble, sad.  Her hands rest on her lap as she sits on her bed.  She tells me how, the day before, she spoke about the little girl with her psychiatrist.

“I told her how my husband often speaks of the day he picked her up and she desperately grabbed him around the neck. That day, he cried for her because he realized how vulnerable and tiny she was, how hurt and in desperate need of love and care.”  She shakes her head, eyes turned upwards.  “I also told her how big she became near to the end.  How, when it was me and my husband’s turn to take her to therapy, we both tried to pick her up at the same time.  We couldn’t because she was too big!”  She laughs fondly at the memory.

It’s quiet for a few moments as we try to gather our thoughts.  Her face turns into a deep frown.

“I was so scared the whole time. So scared of one little bruise on her broken body.  I wanted to cover her in cotton wool.  I just wanted to keep her safe.  But I couldn’t.  The psychiatrist then said that I speak of her as if she is my own.  That I love her like she is my own child.  I know that only now, now that she is gone.  And then I started crying and I just couldn’t stop.  She was taken away from me and I could do nothing about it.  And now she is dead.”

When I leave, I promise to take her to the little girl’s grave I visited not long before, once she is better. A little of the thick fog surrounding ‘The Great Sadness’ has a way of lifting when standing in front of a grave.  Don’t ask me why and how, it’s one of the great paradoxes in life, I’ve come to learn from experience.

I drive away and my mind circles around ‘The Great Sadness’ and why we descend into it. I realize that the biggest reason for it is because we love.  We love with all our beings.  Our love might not always be unconditional, but still, we love with everything we have while being flawed human beings.  We give ourselves fully to others, especially our children, because we know that our greatest joy in life is to love and to be loved.  The loss that walks hand in hand with love is inevitable.  Kahlil Gibran wrote, “When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.  When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

As I drive further, I think of my dear friend I just visited. Of her laughter at the memory of how big the little girl became.  Of ‘The Great Sadness’ that also settled in her bones because she loves the little girl as her own.  Of how she cared and nurtured her like only a loving mother can.  I thank the Lord that I can talk to her about my love for the little girl and that she understands.  And I know that as time goes by, ‘The Great Sadness’ will lift a little, and then a little more, then ever so slightly, even a little more.  But I also know that it will never quite leave us.  And we will never forget.

Because we love.

And that is all I need to know now.


** During the past two weeks, the case of a little boy under the pseudonym ‘Baba Daniel’ was finalised in the South Gauteng High Court. His mother was sentenced to 20 years in prison for neglect of the child.  Her boyfriend was sentenced to life in prison for the abuse and murder of the child.  Read the full story here:


** A similar story about the death of a little girl and the subsequent arrest of her parents also made headlines. Read the story here:






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