Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Good Cry

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.  

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She Was Betty…

There is nothing, really, that can prepare you for the death of a loved one. Even when you wish it, say, in the sense of ending their suffering. Turning off machines, letting someone go…we can all justify it logically in our minds. But when you are there watching a living, breathing creature suddenly go still, it is always a shock. And it’s in that moment that you realize – you never really believed they would die. A tiny speck of hope lived on in your heart. It took over all of you, and then it betrayed you.

As a relatively young person, I’ve fallen into that trap of thinking, somehow, old people are prepared to die. I mean, surely they must know their time is limited. As my great aunt once said: “None of will escape this world alive.” And I always thought that as a person nears ninety or hundred years that they come to peace with it, accept it, and somehow become unafraid. But I was wrong.

My step-grandmother, Betty, passed away this week. She is, in fact, my step-grandmother, but I always called her Betty. I did so because when she married my Papa, I was still grieving my biological grandmother, Papa’s first wife, my mother’s mother. Dorothy. But, in truth, Betty was my grandmother far longer than Dorothy, by God’s will. I was eight when my grandmother died. And 34 when Betty died. I knew her as my grandma for almost 26 years. She never made me (or asked me to) call her Grandma, but my children called her “Little Grandma,” chiefly because she was a petite little thing and my Papa (whom the kids call “Big Papa”) is a towering six foot five.

The start of this blog might be a bit misleading. I was not there when Betty died, but I have witnessed other loved ones pass into the great beyond, so I know the feeling well, and those memories sprang to my mind when I learned of Betty’s death.

Two years ago, I had a bad dream about my papa, which then led to a “feeling” that time was of the essence to spend time with my grandparents. You see, they live in Washington and I in Las Vegas. Carting a family of four up to Washington is expensive. Papa and Betty used to come to Vegas a couple times a year and I’d see them then. Of course, throughout the year I’d call and write them (emails and letters) often, so we were always in touch. But about three years ago, they announced that they’d no longer be taking the trip south to Vegas because it was too hard on them.

So, after I had this dream and this instinct that we needed to get up to see them, I spoke with my husband about it and we decided we would deplete our entire savings, make some other large sacrifices, and spend a week up in Washington with my grandparents. As fate would have it, the day before we were to fly up to Washington, Betty’s sister who lived in Texas – died. Papa and Betty had to leave and fly out to Texas. Well, all of my travel arrangements were non-refundable (aka – the cheapest options). So, we went on vacation in Washington. It was a great time, but not what we’d hoped for. Then, I started to question my “gut feelings.”

I remember speaking to Betty about her sister’s death, telling her how sorry I was, even though her sister was in her 90s. And Betty said something to me I’ll never forget. She said, “Everyone thinks that just because a person is in their later years that they’re not afraid of death, and that is the farthest thing from the truth. It’s a frightening, horrible, awful thing that must be done. And you’re never, ever ready for it.”

Betty was afraid of death, like almost everyone is, and it’s been really bugging me the past week at the services to hear the pastors say that she met her death with peace, because she didn’t. She was terrified, to the very end.

Over the last two years, I’ve worried about Papa, but never – ever- about Betty. My sense of urgency and anxiety was always about him. So, when Betty went in for her routine heart doc’s appt. last Monday, it never occurred to me that she would be dead on Thursday, and it certainly never occurred to her either.

But the thing that really, truly strikes my heart is that she was aware of all that was happening around her -at least in the beginning, and that she was afraid. How the hell do you live with a thing like that?

Death is a very surreal, sad thing. And I wish I had a better attitude about it. I believe in God. Let me rephrase, I believe in Jesus. I believe, but am also a doubter. And I think that’s okay, because I don’t think we are all meant to be sheep who do not question. Doubting keeps me searching. But never is my doubt stronger than when a loved one dies. But there is one thing that always persists in these dark moments of life.

We grieve with hope. That is the Christian distinction. We grieve with hope of a forever. But I’m not going to pretend that the hope portion is dominant. It is a small, sometimes seemingly infinitesimal fraction of all that we feel.

But it is there. And to it, I cling.

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