On my mom’s last Christmas, she couldn’t stop crying. The doctor’s hadn’t told her it would be her last, but she knew; we all did.
I had dry eyes.
To cry would be to crumble, to fall apart, and never recover, not with a sorrow this great. I thought.
Years later, I worked as a grief therapist; a “wounded healer” – the field is full of them.
Many clients were afraid.
Eyelids red, lips quivering, “What if I start crying and never stop?”
Gently, after a beat, “You tell me.”
Answering questions with questions with questions. There is no guidebook for grief.
But it’s true: this, too, shall pass.
No feeling is permanent.
We don’t choose our feelings; they choose us; we choose what to do with them.
I had chosen not to have any at all after my mom’s last Christmas.
“You’re so strong,” people said.
I thought I was, too, for a while. No feeling is permanent.
I landed in the opposite chair, facing a kind counselor who told me it would be okay if I cried; he could handle it.
One day, I believed him. I gave myself a bath of sobs, the ugliest kind, but I didn’t feel cleansed. I wanted to cover my face.
When the 50-minute session came to a close, I sprinted out the door, the cold wind on 6th avenue slapping me in the face, drying it, but not for good.
A levee had broken inside of me. Tears came when I ran along the East River, when I read books on my balcony.
What was once a flood became a steady stream. I began sleeping again, breathing and feeling again.
Something I never thought would happen did – I had a baby.
Something I figured might happen did – I got the baby blues.
I was besotted with my newborn, but breastfeeding was unbearable. Every latch felt like shards of glass shooting into my raw skin.
I cried; I couldn’t help it. Tears falling onto my son’s face, he was crying even when he wasn’t.
Eyelids red, lips quivering, I looked at my husband, “Will he be damaged? By seeing his mother like this?”
It got easier. Time heals.
But it doesn’t work alone.
My son, a winsome toddler now, worships board books.
One of his favorites is, “Baby Happy, Baby Sad.”
An illustration of a baby eating an ice cream cone: “Baby happy!” the text reads.
A baby wailing in his crib as his father leaves the room: “Baby sad!”
The first time we read it, I paused at the sad part. Should I skip it over it – won’t it upset him?
Before I could decide, my son stuck out his bottom lip and pretended to cry, “BABY SAD!”
“Yes, that baby is sad. We all get sad sometimes.”
Years of stifled tears, a sorrow that couldn’t squelched, and still, I jump to protect, in my personal life.
But crying is not what will kill us.
As one of my former colleagues says, “Tears are strong.”
Before long, it will be Christmas again, and there are many reasons to smile this year, which makes my eyes sweat.
What my son’s book doesn’t show, what he’ll learn as he grows, is that people can be both, happy and sad, at the same time.
In grief, letting pain through lets joy back in, too. In time.