CAN BEING SAD BE GOOD FOR YOU?

Recent research suggests that experiencing not-so-happy feelings actually promotes psychological well-being.

HAPPINESS AND SADNESS

I write a lot about happiness - it's a topic that I'm very fond of. I'm learning that we create our own happiness and it's important to take responsibility for how we choose to react to the circumstances and people in our lives. However, there's two sides to every coin and I'm learning that it's okay to be sad too.

Our beloved little cat Callie, was hit and killed by a car a few weeks ago. It was an awful, sudden, and sad loss for us. My husband and I both mourned her passing. We needed to allow room in our lives for sadness, not to push it out, but to give it space. It's important to respect that there will be times when we aren't happy, and that's okay.

ALLOWING SADNESS

Unfortunately, it seems that we aren't allowed to be unhappy these days. Everything is geared towards instant gratification and not missing out on anything. We are told "chin up and move on", "seize the day", "laugh and the world laughs with you" and many other platitudes. But if we never allow room in our hearts and minds for sadness to be acceptable, then we don't know how to deal with it when it happens.

I kept asking myself why the death of a small, furry creature could impact us so strongly, and the answer is that we loved her, and losing a pet you love before their time is a sad event. It's okay not to "chin up" or "laugh with the world" for a while. It's okay to have a heavy heart and to wish it could have been otherwise. It's okay to grieve.

Callie

RESEARCH

Recent research suggests that allowing yourself to experience not-so-happy feelings can actually promote well-being, and avoiding those experiences can have negative outcomes for our health. (article HERE

“It is often not one’s initial response to a situation (the primary emotion) that is problematic, but their reaction to that response (the secondary emotion) that tends to be the most difficult,” says Sophie Lazarus, a psychologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “This is because we are often sent messages that we shouldn’t feel negative emotions, so people are highly conditioned to want to change or get rid of their emotions, which leads to suppression, rumination, and/or avoidance.”

Brock Bastian, author of The Other Side of Happiness: Embracing a More Fearless Approach to Living (2018) states that the problem is partly cultural: a person living in a Western country is four to 10 times more likely to experience clinical depression or anxiety in a lifetime than an individual living in an Eastern culture. In China and Japan, both negative and positive emotions are considered an essential part of life. Sadness is not a hindrance to experiencing positive emotions and – unlike in Western society – there isn’t a constant pressure to be joyful.


FOR ME

Happiness will always remain my first choice, but I'm also aware that living life fully - in all its depth and breadth - means that there will be good times, bad times, boring times, exciting times, sad times, pleasant times, angry times, hurtful times, joyful times - and a multitude of other emotional ups and downs. Trying to avoid any of the less upbeat moments means denying reality and setting ourselves up for problems down the track.

Sadness also opens us to the kindness of others - when we lost Callie, it was our neighbours who found her and brought her to us wrapped like a baby. They understood how upset we'd have been to have found her on the road. The following day another neighbour visited with a lovely bunch of flowers. There is always good to be found in every situation.

Callie's flowers
I'd rather deal with the nitty gritty of life as it happens - the good, the bad, and the ugly - because that's being real isn't it? I think we need the lows to help us appreciate the highs. I don't want to not love things in case I lose them, I don't want to not be invested in life because I'm scared I might get hurt. I want to live life to the full and if that means there's sadness mixed in with the happiness, then so be it.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

How do you cope with the lows of life? Do you want everything to be sunshine and rainbows or are you okay with the occasional thunderstorm?

Recent research suggests that experiencing not-so-happy feelings actually promotes psychological well-being.


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56 comments

  1. I think living fully means giving yourself over to the textures of life - and the simple fact with animals is that we love them, therefore we grieve. I lost a very close friend yesterday to pancreatic cancer - too young, too soon & too cruelly. It's deeply sad and I'm absolutely feeling that.

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    1. Jo I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend. Pancreatic cancer seems to be a savage foe and people die far too young with it. Sadness honours the relationship doesn't it? And I think being sad shows that the person who is gone has left a lasting legacy xx

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  2. Leanne - I am so sorry you are feeling this sadness - be gentle with yourself. I totally agree with you that it is important to our well-being to allow for sadness and grief. My husband, a Hospital Chaplain, often talks about how much violence, hatred, and illness in our society stems from repressed grief.

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    1. I wonder about that too Janet - that if we were honest with our feelings and allowed ourselves to grieve when we need to, if it would take away a lot of the resentment and anger that drives the violence and hatred. Something we all need to think about isn't it?

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    2. Yes - and conversations that break down the taboos like you always share on your blog are so important to the process. Thank you!

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  3. I know just how it feels to lose your little friend Callie. When I lost my little Chihuahua Joey, I was heartbroken. He was my best friend and constant companion. Time does heal the ache that is left in your heart and in time perhaps you will get another little friend to sit on your lap as I have done. Time heals most things, but you will always have special memories of Callie.

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    1. Thanks Mum - I don't think Callie was quite as special as Joey, but she also didn't get to live as long a life either and that adds to the sadness. It's amazing how a little animal can have a special place in our hearts though isn't it?

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  4. Hi Jo, what a thought-provoking post. My initial reaction was that I'm often sad. But, after thinking about it a bit more, maybe that's just melancholy (which is a form of sadness, but not the direct 'hits you in the gut' sadness that a death can conjure up. Sadness is a part of life, and I welcome sadness when it comes, even if I don't like what instigated it. If we only have happiness we can't fully appreciate it - we need sadness to make a comparison. Does that make sense? Anyway, thank you for the post, it was a nice read, as usual. Have a nice week :-)

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    1. Hi Cheryl - I think we would be quite shallow and superficial if our life was always about happiness and we refused to allow sorrow to have its place. It's when we experience times of loss that we learn empathy and compassion isn't it?

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  5. She was a beautiful cat I am so sorry for your loss. Our pets just pull our heart strings their entire lives and when they pass it is like a part of our heart dies too. I think the reality of life is that it is not all rainbows and unicorns and being sad is a part of it and can not be reduced to an inconvenience. A very thoughtful post Leanne!

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    1. She was a real cutie Haralee - a sweet little harmless girl who didn't deserve to be chased out of our yard by an intruder, but life doesn't always treat us well and she'll always have a special spot in our hearts - and being sad is just a part of that process.

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  6. I absolutely agree! The son of our dear friends and his wife gave birth yesterday to a tiny, stillborn daughter. The sadness just wants to overwhelm me. I feel submerged in it. But I feel the greatest thing we gain here in this life is experience. Sometimes good. Sometimes bad. But it makes us US. I don't think we ever truly get past the terrible tragedies, but they become a part of us. Of who we are. and I wouldn't trade that for all my days of happiness, even if I could...

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    1. Oh how truly sad and awful for them Diane - my heart just goes out to them as I read your comment. There is never a good time to lose a child and even a newborn already has so many hopes and dreams that they're a part of. Our little cat doesn't compare but she was still a loss and you're right about the need to experience the full range of emotions in life to truly become our best selves.

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  7. So sorry for the loss of your Callie. I still miss my dog and it's been 3 years. Still not ready for another one.
    If we don't allow ourselves to feel sadness, we can't experience the fullness of joy either. At least that's what I believe.
    XO,

    Deb

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    1. You're right Deb - and I'm sorry for your dog's passing too. We're talking about getting another cat (our other cat is quite lost and lonely) The big problem is finding a pet with a lovely nature and one that fits the family dynamic - and who measures up to poor little Callie.

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  8. Your comment about all the experiences of life was so insightful. "there will be good times, bad times, boring times, exciting times, sad times, pleasant times, angry times, hurtful times, joyful times". Life is about all those experiences and yes, taking the time to grieve is important. Loss of our pets, that source of unconditional love, especially when it feels like it is "too soon" is very hard. Allow yourself to grieve and be sad.

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    1. Thanks Pat - as time goes on it gets less intense, but there is still the feeling of missing that little pet that became part of our lives and our hearts for the few years we had with her. We talk about getting another cat but the bar is set pretty high and I'm not sure whether we'll find one any time soon that we feel right about.

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  9. I absolutely agree that the sad times help us appreciate when life is going well, and unfortunately we have to frequently be reminded to savor the good. We had to put our 12 year old golden retriever down this past August, and we still grieve. I'm somewhat ashamed to say that losing my dog was harder than losing my 96 year old mother last December. I believe it's because he was a daily loving and loved part of my life, whereas with my mother I was at peace that she was ready to go and so was able to release her.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean Laurel - my father-in-law passed away in April and we were nowhere near as devastated as we were when Callie was killed. I think seeing someone who has had 90+ years of living and has worn out and is ready to go, helps us with the grieving process. Sudden unexpected loss of a part of the family who lives with us day and night seemed to hit our hearts a lot harder.

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  10. So sad to hear that you lost Callie so tragically Leanne. Losing our fur babies is always heartbreaking. It's no wonder you've been sad, and it's been lingering. As you say so much focus is given to being happy, and getting on with life in a chin-up kind of way that we become ill equipped at dealing with feelings of being 'down'. Sometimes we just need to embrace sad, wallow, be kind to ourselves, and then get up and get on.

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    1. You're so right Jo - I think it knocked the wind out of both of us and it's been a bit of a slow process pulling our socks back up and moving on. I've always been quite stoic about losing pets - but they've always had a good innings and it's been easier to say goodbye than this time when it was so sudden and such a cluster of badly timed events.

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  11. Dear Leanne - I am so sorry to hear the sad news about Callie. We lost our husky, Cody, two years ago. Richard and I can still tear up when thinking about him.
    I wholeheartedly agree that happiness and sadness are both important parts of life. We don't fully experience one without having spent time with the other. Sending warm hugs your way.

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    1. Thanks so much Donna - and I'm really sorry to hear about you losing Cody. They might be "just pets" but they seem to worm their way into our hearts and their loss is much more meaningful than a lot of people realize. And I think it honours their contribution to our lives by allowing ourselves to grieve their passing.

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  12. Oh, Leanne... I'm so sorry to hear about Callie. I'm going to be honest here, maybe even blunt, but when people say that time heals all wounds, I think, "bunk." Yes, I'm not crying hysterically anymore over the loss of my dogs Stella, Sally and Beanie, but the pain is still just as raw when I let myself think about them. I believe that the way to cope with sadness and grief is to acknowledge that these emotions will always be part of the fabric of who you are. They are essential aspects of living. I don't want to get over the loss of my beloved pets. I want to live with that loss and, at the same time, be able to celebrate the joyful feelings that are also part of who I am.

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    1. You're so right Jean - I think you're words about grief being part of the fabric of our lives is absolutely true. It's what adds to the depth and richness (and colour) of that fabric - and we'd be a lot "less" if we hadn't loved and lost wouldn't we? I'm so sorry for your loss of your three dogs - they become our children in a sense don't they?

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  13. I believe that one of the greatest gifts we can give a friend is to simply sit with them in their grief (or fear or anger or whatever). That is not an easy thing to do and I think is the reason so many offer the "chin up" advice. Your desire for someone to feel better is often more about us, and our comfort, than it is about them. But it's that acceptance and support that is so healing. I'm so sorry for the loss of your cat. We also lost one of our kitties a couple of months ago. It was so hard. Hugs to you.

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    1. Thanks so much Kristin - and you're right about us wanting others to be happy so we can continue to have smooth lives that don't involve the mess of grief. Sometimes we just have to stop and acknowledge that it's okay to be messy and emotional for a while - it shows we're human and that we loved someone or something. I'm sorry for your loss too xx

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  14. Over the past year, I went through a very traumatic situation, and learning to sit with my emotions was a very important aspect of my healing. I found that I felt much better if I allowed myself to cry, and allowed myself to process my experience, either with a friend (or my therapist) or by myself. People are so quick to stuff emotions, and that really limits our life experience. I am very sure that the fact that I allowed myself to feel and to process is one of the main reasons that I came out of the situation without developing PTSD or other psychological issues.

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    1. You're so right Bethany (because you've been there and you know what real grief looks like) Other people want us to hurry up and be better and to not talk about sadness and misery or loss - but we need to do that to process and move through it. Our Western society doesn't leave enough room for the darker emotions and I think it leads to a lot of problems down the track - especially for young people.

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  15. Hi Leanne - I'm sorry to hear about Callie. I think it's actually healing to embrace sadness when it occurs. Sending warm hugs your way. #MLSTL

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    1. Thanks so much Natalie - I just thought that we don't talk about sadness much - we're all quick to tell our happy stories, but sometimes it's good for us to share our losses too - that's what community is all about isn't it?

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  16. Another important post, Leanne. Two things jumped out at me. The only way to avoid all sorrow is to shut out the joy. You can't love without ever experiencing loss. When my best friend of 40 years passed away suddenly, in the midst of the sorrow, I felt such gratitude that I had the opportunity to love her and be loved by her. Also, the idea that we label some feelings as "bad," so we try to push them away, rather than just acknowledge that "Right now I feel sad, or anxious, or angry." If we can let ourselves feel, the feelings will dissipate eventually. Of course, I'm not talking about clinical depression, but the kind of sadness that is inevitably part of life. I'm sorry for the loss of your beloved pet. We have a 13-year-old dog, and I dread the day he is gone. Sending you hugs and warm wishes!

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    1. I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend Christie - I know that losing a pet doesn't come close to losing a friend or family member, but loss is still loss. And you're right, if we hadn't loved and formed attachments then we wouldn't experience grief - and our lives would be a lot shallower as a result.

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  17. Hi Leanne, firstly, I'm sorry for your loss as our pets are important members of our family and their loss, especially an unexpected loss can cut deep. Lately, I've been contemplating my writing and also what I read on Social Media in particular. As someone who likes to be 'upbeat' and 'motivating' to others, I can sometimes take the 'stiff upper lip' too seriously. We are human, with a range of emotions which we feel at any given time. We can't be bright and bubbly, rainbows and unicorns all the times. Sadness whether it is from the loss of a loved one or just feeling sad about other things happening in your life should be a normal and healthy way to react. I suppose we see so many suicides that we are too focused on people being happy all the time when that just isn't possible. We need to notice the warning signs if someone just can't find some happiness but we also need to accept that all emotions in moderation are healthy. Thanks for sharing your sadness and thoughts with us at #MLSTL and I'll be sharing on social media.

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    1. I think that it's all about balance Sue - we need to allow the sorrow, anger, upsets of life a place or we don't know how to handle them when they come our way. If we decide we only want happiness and positivity all the time, we are shoving those other emotions into a box and eventually that will come back to bite us. Healthy grief and a healthy approach to other negative emotions allows us to experience them, move through, and come out the other side with a much deeper appreciation of this beautiful life we've been given.

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  18. I'm so sorry to hear you lost your Callie. I totally understand how you would have felt after that. I agree with you that we have to experience the lows in order to appreciate the highs. I don't like the obsession with happiness that seems to have become popular. As you know I lost my son. Mostly I cope as well as could be expected with that loss. But occasionally sadness just comes over me from nowhere. When that happens I'm happy to be with that sadness and my memories. At moments like that I don't want to be cheered up. I'd rather feel sad for a while. Thanks for the thought provoking post. #MLSTL Shared on SM

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    1. I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to lose a child Jennifer. The only family members I've lost have been parents and grandparents who had lived long lives. I think sudden deaths, and deaths that come too soon are what really hit our hearts hard. Being allowed to process that grief in a way that has meaning and honours those who have died is so important - and an area that we seem to overlook these days.

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  19. You're so right Leanne. I know only too well that life is all about a mix of things good and bad. We all cope differently but it is entirely fine to be sad and I agree, we need to be honest with our feelings. I enjoy blogging about a whole range of emotions as it helps me work through things. I am sorry about your cat and hope you are OK. Another fabulous thought provoking post which I thoroughly enjoyed. #mlstl

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    1. Hi Deb - I know that you've had hard times of loss too - and when it's family it's even harder. I think I wanted to write about the other side of the coin to what I normally blog about. I'm a big advocate for being happy and finding joy in life, but there is also the need to balance that with acknowledging grief and allowing ourselves to work through it at our own pace and to be allowed to say we've lost a loved one and we mourn their passing.

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  20. I have been blessed with having some very wonderful times in life, and I have also had sadness that felt like it would never end. However, I am glad to be able to feel things so deeply that I am moved to tears of happiness or sadness. I am lucky to be able to experience it all.
    I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your cat. Losing a pet is heartbreaking.

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    1. Thanks Cherie - and yes, you're right, being allowed to cry for a loss - to let out the emotion and to slowly move through it is really cleansing and a process that isn't given enough recognition these days. I think we all need to be able to say "I'm sad" and to have that acknowledged and to know the right response when others are going through a tough time - shame we weren't taught about this in school!

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  21. I agree that expressing our feelings of loss is critical to recovering and being able to remember the happy times with joy. It is part of the healing process, as I have learned in the last few years. So sorry for the loss of your cat, it is a sad time for sure.

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    1. Thanks Candi - and yes, we need to express our sorrow as well as our joy - otherwise things get out of kilter and we end up having a meltdown over something else because it was the straw that broke the camel's back. Allowing ourselves to shed a tear is a kindness that we need more often.

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  22. I think that being sad is a natural way for us to be. We need to show a wide range of emotions and when we don't express them it hurts us emotionally. Thanks for hosting and I hope that you have a wonderful week. #MLSTL

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    1. I completely agree Patrick - if we don't acknowledge and honour the emotions we feel at the time we feel them, we're in for trouble down the road.

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  23. I'm okay with the idea of being sad and definitely think it helps us process things and sometimes we just need to wallow. I often talk about my own wallowing and don't mind it when people do but those who are constantly maudlin annoy me. I worry about becoming too much like that... someone whose social media feeds people hide because they're too negative!

    I usually toss myself down on my bed feeling sad or depressed or something but then lie there thinking about what I can do about it. (Usually the positive mood lasts at least 30mins! ;-) )

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    1. Now I have a picture in my head of you lying spreadeagle on the bed doing your best to think happy thoughts Deb - it gave me a smile! And yes, wallowing is not the way to go (especially if you share that wallowing with everyone around you!)

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  24. It's all part of the circle of life. It can't be sunshine and roses all the time. I do get sad sometimes, but generally pick myself up again. So sorry about your gorgeous cat. #TeamLovinLife

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    1. I think Western society sweeps death and sadness under the mat Kathy and we forget that they are the other side of the coin and need to be accepted, lived through and acknowledged if we want to live healthy lives.

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  25. I'm so sorry about Callie. But I think you're so right...we need to feel the feelings that are appropriate for the time and events. How can you truly be happy in unhappy situations??
    Sending lots of hugs...
    XOXO
    Jodie
    www.jtouchofstyle.com

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    1. Thanks Jodie - I was surprised at how much her death affected us - probably because it was so sudden and unexpected (and so utterly out of the blue because we live in such a quiet neighbourhood). But it's been a good reminder that it's okay to grieve over the death of a loved pet, then we pick up and move forward.

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  26. I no longer try to get rid of feelings of sadness and loss because in the past I would stuff those feelings down to avoid the discomfort and in the long run make it worse. I learned that recognizing them and knowing they will pass by is a necessary part of living. I guess that's why they advise you to let some time pass by before going out and getting another pet to replace the one you lost. We need time to feel these very human emotions. Beautiful post Leanne! I'll be sharing on FB and Twitter for #MLSTL

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    1. Hi Mary Lou - I was the same - stiff upper lip and pretend it doesn't matter. But, you know what? It does matter when something sad happens - and it's okay to cry and it's okay to miss the company of a little furry friend. I think we'll find a new pet in the not too distant future, but she'll always have a special place in our hearts and memories - one she earned by being the sweet little thing that she was x

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  27. After years working as a hospice sister, I can honestly say that grief is never what we think it will be - and that goes for a much loved furry family member as a human one. My father in law recently lost his sister and a much loved dog in a very short space of time - he then felt guilty for grieving his doggy companion more than his sister. We are currently having to watch and wait as our 16 year old dog deteriorates - when is it time to call time ? Thinking of you and your family x But you are right, life wouldn't be life without the full range of emotions from joy to sadness - I have shared your fab post on my reg feature Monday Magic - Inspiring Blogs for You! Claire (PainPalsBlog) x MLStL

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  28. Once again you have said what we need to hear. Without trials we would not know what strength was and we would not know how to grow emotional strength.
    Of course we will feature this post on the next Blogger's Pit Stop.
    Kathleen

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