You’re Allowed to Be Sad

By De Elizabeth

I went for a drive the other day without an actual destination. It was a 25-minute car ride, taking loops through familiar streets, passing deserted parking lots, dark windows, empty playgrounds. My toddler sat in her car seat behind me, every once in a while asking: Where are we going? Every time I’d answer, Just for a drive.

Towards the end of the trip, we passed an ice cream shop we’ve been to a couple of times. Like many other establishments right now, it was closed, windows shuttered, without its usual inviting neon signs. I found myself thinking back to last summer, sitting on those wooden steps, choosing not to care that my 2-year-old was getting ice cream all over her face and clothes. I took a picture of her chocolate-stained cheeks and hands; a printed copy is taped into her baby memory book, a snapshot of Before All Of This.

In the same moment as I thought back to last summer, I wondered about the months ahead, if we would visit that ice cream shop at all this year, if we’d take more photos on those wooden steps. Or will it remain closed forever, one of many small little stores that won’t survive this, whose stories are now placed firmly in the past.

And I’m not sure why, but the thought of that tiny quaint ice cream shop possibly never opening its doors again made me terribly, inexplicably sad. It was the same kind of sadness I felt a few days prior, crossing off the last weekend in March in my calendar — the weekend I was supposed to spend in New York City with one of my best friends. We were supposed to see a band we’ve loved since high school; we were supposed to put on glittery makeup and scream-sing words that meant everything to our teenage hearts and still mean a lot now; we were supposed to stay up late talking. I don’t know when we will get to do that now.

There’s no doubt that everyone is experiencing this chapter differently, with a wildly huge range of personal tragedies. And when I think about people I know, some of whom are grappling with unemployment, grieving deaths of family members, or fighting on the frontlines as healthcare workers, I feel ashamed for getting in my feelings about summer vacation or having to cancel a trip to New York. It could be worse, I keep telling myself. Everything could be so much worse.

But on the other hand, I think it’s possible to hold space for other people’s grief while honoring our individual disappointments. It’s possible to be grateful and sad all at the same time. None of us have ever lived through a pandemic before; we’re in uncharted territory. If anything, we should just be gentler with ourselves, give ourselves permission to feel the emotions as they come, rather than to try and self-police every feeling in accordance with what we think we “should” be feeling.

So if you need permission to be sad, consider this it. You’re allowed to be sad about a missed concert, a canceled vacation, a graduation ceremony that you’ve been working towards for years. You’re allowed to be sad about not going to prom, not hugging your friends, the loss of a simple everyday routine. You’re allowed to be sad about missing your favorite restaurant, longing to laugh with loved ones, resorting to a holiday dinner through a screen. You’re allowed to be sad over the absence of new memories, the fear of the unknown, the worry surrounding what may be coming next. You’re allowed to be sad about coming home from college weeks earlier than expected, postponing a wedding, going to doctor’s appointments alone, raising a baby in a world of uncertainty and fog. You’re allowed to be sad about a missed chapter, a forgotten season, the lingering ghosts of things you thought you were going to do, things you don’t know if you’ll ever do again.

You’re allowed to be sad, about whatever you’ve lost.

Featured image by Alan Labisch on Unsplash.