• Courtney Ellis

When Being Sad Is the Right Thing

I’ve officiated enough weddings to have a handful of instructions I never thought I’d need to verbalize that I now have learned always to mention.


I will not marry the two of you if either of you is visibly intoxicated.


Please remember the marriage license. There’s a waiting period. You can’t just pick it up on the way to the venue.


I tell groomsmen not to lock their knees. (Fainting is a thing.) I remind the best man that if he’s charged with carrying the rings, he’d better have them. And for the love, don’t tie them to the collar of a dog unless that dog is well behaved.


Then there are the instructions that tend to strike a funnier chord. Things like: If you can’t get the ring on, don’t force it.


Don’t be surprised if you’re sad when you drive away, but that sadness doesn’t mean you shouldn’t drive away.

When I get a private moment with the couple, either in premarital counseling or before the ceremony, I mention the advice I wish someone would have given me before I married Daryl fifteen years ago:


Don’t be surprised if you’re sad when you drive away, but that sadness doesn’t mean you shouldn’t drive away.


In the frozen northern lands where we spoke our vows, tears streamed down my face as our white Camry turned onto the dark, slushy road leading south and away forever.


“Everyone we love most is back in that room,” I told Daryl. “Why are we leaving?”


He took my hand as we passed under a streetlight, and I noticed tears on his cheeks as well.


“Being sad doesn’t mean you’re doing the wrong thing,” he told me, an anthem that plays often in my head to this day.



I choked up over a tube of baby lotion last week. We’re nearly at the finish line potty training our three-year-old, and I truly thought I was beyond nostalgia when it came to saying goodbye forever to the mess and expense of diapering. Yet there I was, cleaning out a cabinet and finding a lavender-scented essential from Ye Early Days of Newbornlandia with our final infant.


She’s our third, and by the time of her arrival my husband, Daryl, and I fine-tuned our fourth trimester parenting like a Stradivarius. During the first weeks of sleeplessness, I’d take the night shifts and he’d take the early one each day, wrangling our daughter’s two older brothers through breakfast, bouncing the baby to stave off her hunger for just a little while, allowing me a little recovery sleep and maybe even a shower.


A few days into my daughter’s life, a dear friend mailed us this lavender-scented baby lotion. As I safeguarded our daughter’s impossibly tiny backside from rashes each night, nursing and snuggling and changing and pacing and rocking, the cream’s scent filled the bedroom.


“It’s like a spa in here,” I told Daryl. “I feel postpartum fancy.


“We should get you some more!” he said, noticing the tube beginning to run dry. We looked it up. It was four ounces and $24. We laughed ourselves into hysterics.


When faced with scarcity, I buckle down, so I pushed the tube of magical smells into the back of a cabinet, determined to use it only when I really needed it, and then forgot all about it.


Until this week.


I sit on the floor with the lotion and I breathe through the memories and the wave of emotion and the knowledge that life keeps moving.

Our daughter turned three years old last month. She started preschool this August. She talks a mile a minute and knows the name of every character in the Daniel Tiger universe. Out of all our children she’s in the biggest hurry to grow up quickly, throwing a serious scowl at anyone who dares call her little or cute. She’s our tallest by age and scrappiest by personality. It’s hard to remember she was ever any other way.


But that lavender took me back in an instant to her tiny football form nestled against my shoulder, sighing against my neck, smelling like lotion and heaven and milk.



Our daughter will be our last, as far as it depends upon us. I know some women birth babies well into their forties, but I felt a new complaint in my body as I carried her. Things went fine—I was healthy, she was healthy—but I could sense both the edge of my physical capacity and the limits of our parental energy.


With that finality, the same grief that caught in my throat while driving away from the wedding grabbed me again, standing in the bathroom with the faint smell.


I grieve the finality of knowing this spunky girl is the last baby I’ll swaddle night after night. I’d give almost anything for ten more minutes at our wedding, knowing that some of our guests have now passed on to glory, others have suffered so much their smiles are forever altered, and that those loved ones will never gather in the same room again.


Rather than run, distracting myself with work of the church or the home, both of which clamor for my attention, I sit on the floor with the lotion and I breathe through the memories and the wave of emotion and the knowledge that life keeps moving.


There is a time, the author of Ecclesiastes reminds us, for everything.




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