Today is my dad’s birthday. Due to moving I have been looking at photos and memorabilia after emptying our loft at the weekend. Dad has been on my mind a lot. I have come to realise that one of the aspects of moving that is emotionally draining is that you are confronted with your entire personal history as everything you own passes through your hands, either into a box, or into the bin/charity shop bag.
Yet, despite all this, I haven’t shed a single tear.
What I have found myself doing is struggling to remember what food Dad liked to eat. I have felt oddly detached from my memories. I have also found myself feeling that utter disbelief as if this is something farcical. How could he not be here, celebrating his 57th birthday?
Last week, my Mum was visiting and we took the dog out for a walk to the park. We reached the park quickly, as one does when one is dragged there, and started down the path around the perimeter. Chatting about the move, my Mum said:
I bet you won’t miss living in this area!
No, I won’t!
(As much as I enjoy being woken in the middle of the night by drunk lads stopping cars for a laugh).
Just as we reached the corner, we heard a woman crying. Across the street was a young couple (mid-twenties or so) and the woman was very distressed. To say she was crying doesn’t really do it justice. She was wailing. Whom I presumed was her boyfriend/partner was with her and looked a bit flustered. I wasn’t sure what to do and living in an area where it’s not rare to hear people shouting and making a scene had made me hesitant.
But my wonderful Mum was straight in there. She marched over the road muttering if they needed help. I stood there knowing that if I took a highly energetic dog over there he would jump all over them, which this young woman might not appreciate, having now dropped to the ground.
Mum sat on the pavement next to her and barely any time had passed before she was rubbing her back and saying encouraging things. This poor girl was sobbing uncontrollably. I wandered over there and heard Mum offering words of comfort. I handed her my key in case they wanted a cup of tea and departed to resume my dog walk as said dog was starting to growl in response to her wailing.
Twenty minutes passed and Mum hadn’t come to join me. I went back and she was still sitting with them. The woman had quietened down and Mum was still gently rubbing her back. Then a car pulled up and they stood. A lady got out and hugged the young woman, who then embraced Mum and they said goodbye.
Mum walked over to me with a few snail trails of tears down her face.
Her Mum is dying. They had just gotten home from the hospital, which is an hour away, thinking she was OK then got a call not long after they walked through the door saying they should go back.
Part of the woman’s distress was having left in the first place. Heartbreaking. Life can be so cruel. As we walked through the park I said to Mum:
Well, she’ll grieve well if she has no concern over crying like that.
Afterwards, I thought about this more… Why did I say that?
“Tearless grief bleeds inwardly.” — Christian Nevell Bovee
I guess most of us know the impact of crying and the release it can bring. A psychiatry professor from the University of Pittsburgh has done various studies on crying.
Not only can crying help in the healing process of grief, but those who can’t cry when they lose someone they love often are much more vulnerable to depression and other health problems. “When people hold back their tears, it does seem to lead to mental and physical problems,” she says. “It takes a lot of effort to hold back tears.”
Lauren Bylsma, quoted in an article by Mark Roth in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In her studies of thousands of men and women and their experiences of crying she notes that it is cathartic in situations where the problem is resolved.
Of course, the death of a loved one can’t be resolved, but the study also notes that people can get a sense of catharsis if the crying gives them new insights into their suffering. One of those revelations is that even if you can’t be with the people you lost, you can be comforted by your memories of them.
For this young woman, her crying didn’t really change anything. The painful experience was yet to fully unfold. However, by being willing to let herself go, wherever, whenever, she was able to experience the kindness of a stranger. Kindness that encouraged her that we make the best decisions with the information we have at the time and amongst everything going on, she needn’t feel like she’d made a bad decision.
As they said farewell, the woman asked Mum what her name was. When Mum said it the woman burst into tears.
That’s my Mum’s name.
Yes, crying doesn’t bring the person back. There will probably be more tears to come. Over, and over, and over again. Never running dry.
But if we can push through the shame-barrier that tells us we mustn’t lose it in full sight of the world, we might find our pain is met and embraced by a kind, wonderful stranger or friend, who somehow, makes it easier to bear.
I felt envious as I pondered her freedom to express her pain. I don’t know why I rarely cry, despite the pent up emotion I can feel, but I’m grateful for her example. It takes a willingness to fully embrace the pain and allow yourself to feel it, as that’s what triggers the tears.
But sometimes, it’s just too big and frightening.