Today, at my step-grandmother’s funeral, the pastor spoke about western culture, and how we insist on repressing emotions, holding in our tears because we somehow equate that stalwart stoicism with strength. By contrast, that would mean that tears and emotion are a sign of weakness and vulnerability. Well, I’m here to tell you that they both suck.
I, too, fall into that mentality (western or not) that crying is a weakness – not because emotions make a person weak. The weakness has nothing to do with the existence of the actual emotion. The weakness exists in the failure to control those emotions, to keep them restrained until you have privacy and all ceremonial tasks, like receiving lines and receptions have come and gone. The strength lies in maintaining one’s composure in the public eye.
Perhaps this mentality comes from being a woman, a gender that is debased, and yet represented, by emotional compasses and downpours. If we women want to play in the field of men, we must act like men, and therefore appear less affected by our feelings.
Perhaps this mentality comes from being a female manager in a male-dominated industry. Being in a position of hiring, firing, disciplining and any other task belonging to management requires a person to put their feelings beneath the cloak of professionalism. You must be able to look an employee in the eye who you’ve known for ten years, whose family you’ve seen at bbqs and Christmas parties, and fire them because they aren’t producing enough to justify their pay. You must be able to hide your stress and always present a calm, solid visage to the people looking to you to set the tone of the day.
Perhaps this mentality comes from knowing about history and figures I admire and respect who buried their emotions and did what it took to…well…make history.
Hell, perhaps it’s just my genetic makeup. But whatever the reason, I am a person who has always buried or internalized my emotions. I carry it all inside. I have not been known to sob openly, nor jump up and down in excitement. Though I have felt bone deep grief and life altering bliss, on the outside no one would know it.
People have told me how unhealthy this is, and physically, I completely agree. I often get back spasms in my left rhomboid that can be so painful and debilitating that I cannot turn my neck. My entire back will go out to the point where I live on heat-ice-heat regiments for a week. My stomach burns, full of acid; I get panic attacks; nausea consumes me and I become an insomniac.
That’s what “keeping it all inside” does to me.
But what does “letting it all out” do to me?
The last ten days have been very tiring for me. Leaving my family and spending 40+ hours in the car, two full days and nights in the kitchen to set my Papa up for winter food, watching people I love dearly ache with sorrow and grief, and still keep it together has taken a toll on me, physically. I’ve gone to three memorial services in a week. The first was up at the island, and I kept it together pretty well. The second was the burial and I did fine there, too. The third was the Las Vegas service, and I actually expected it to be the easiest of the three – because I’d managed the other two so well.
And as the family was ushered out to our designated rows, the music played, and a lovely singer on stage began to sing “It Is Well.” My husband reached over and rubbed my leg, then grabbed my hand, and the dam broke. I did everything I could. I avoided Betty’s picture staring at me from the stage. I dared not look at my Papa, whose quivering lip and galloping Adam’s Apple I’d come to memorize during the other two services. I bit my lip, the inside of my cheek, took deep breaths, pinched my eyelids shut, stared at the lily arrangement directly in front of me, deep red centers fading out into light pink, like a southwestern sunset. It didn’t matter what I did, the words of It is Well pulled those tears from me like petals kissing nourishment from a dewdrop. I couldn’t help but cry, because to me – it wasn’t well. Nothing was well.
Despite the personal loss I felt for Betty, there was the deep empathy and sympathy I felt for Papa and also for Betty’s biological family. There was some pretty heavy news I was carrying from work and also a major decision looming on the homefront. Despite the beautiful flowers, the beautiful singers, the promise of hope of the resurrection for Betty and healing and comforting for the mourners, all was most certainly not well in the world, or within my own heart.
I cried. And cried, and cried, and cried. And it was subdued enough that it wasn’t a scene (we are still talking about me, here). A sniffle every 30 seconds and half a box of kleenex for an hour long service is all we’re talking about, but I wept without ceasing the entire time. And you know how I feel tonight?
I feel no great relief. I don’t feel unburdened. I don’t feel lighter. I don’t feel anything positive. I feel fatigued beyond measure, weary and weak. I feel like the damnedest little thing would set me off into a fit of tears again. I took my son to soccer practice tonight and my mom called to see how I was doing. “It seemed like you had a hard time during the service,” she said. And just her calling to see how I was doing brought tears to my eyes. I hate it because I can’t say any one thing that it is making me so emotional. I grieve, yes. I have suffered a personal loss, yes. I worry for my Papa’s future, yes. I have stress in my life, yes.
But I’m strong, right?
Surely, I can feel all of these things without cracking, without crumbling, right? Life goes on. No matter how terrifying or great, how sunny or fog-worn. The earth still spins. People are born and people die. Nothing changes, yet nothing is the same.
I cried the good cry. I let it all out. And I don’t feel better at all. My head actually hurts; my ears thrum with swollen sinuses; my stomach still burns. Nothing good has come from my “release.”
So, I couldn’t advise a person whether to hold it all in or let it all out. Because in my experience, neither one helps.