Originally published 5/24/15
Lately, I've been thinking about crying. Not considering having a cry, mind you--I'm already all in on that one--more of its importance. Crying ties in with culture, emotional state, and feelings of safety. When my husband and I married, my parents worried about our different faiths. What I learned reasonably quickly was that faith was a small part of our differences. He was a Christian boy from Iowa. I was a Jewish girl from Long Island. Yes, our families and ancestors worshipped differently, but that paled in comparison to how we approached feelings.
Pat’s people are stoic. I mean s.t.o.i.c. Several years ago we had a voicemail from his mother. Let me set the stage: she was 70 years old, recently widowed for the second time, lived alone and had suffered a minor stroke. The message went like this:
“Hi, this is Liz/Mom…I just wanted to let you know that Percival (the tiny farming town of 100 people where she was born and raised) is about to become a part of the Missouri River. They’re going to flood it. It will be gone forever. We have about three days to evacuate. Ok, that’s about it here. I hope all is well with you…”
These are his people.
I come from a family of criers. When my step mother died, the five granddaughters cried so loudly through the service that we still maintain that they could serve as professional mourners if they were so inclined. And I was not embarrassed. To be honest, I was kind of proud.
My grandparents lived with us when I was growing up. I remember my grandfather crying while watching the 4 o’clock movie on tv (remember the 4 o’clock movie?). My sister and I cry together with some regularity. I’ve seen my dad and brother cry—not many times, but I’ve seen it. Crying and emotional displays are a part of the culture of my family. I am comfortable with displays of emotion, for the most part.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that when my husband suffered a massive brain bleed, I cried quite a bit. I cried at his side. I cried on the phone. I cried on the staff, to include techs and cafeteria workers. Actually, I need to clarify: it has been point of pride for me that I have mostly cried *near* people, rather than on them. The grabbing and sobbing has been reserved for close friends and family members (you’re welcome).
At some point early on in this process I realized that I was crying near people with some regularity, and started keeping count. I even had a couple friends who I would text updates to. It was likely horrifying or at least annoying for them, but it somehow amused me. “Today I cried near 7 people. I got some bulk crying done, because there were four people meeting with me during the intake at the rehab, so I was able to cry at them all at once. Great time saver."
We are now more than 8 months into our new lives and you’d think that things would have settled down, but honestly it doesn't feel that way. Pulses of frustrating and sometimes disturbing experiences, medical and financial news still manage to take us by surprise fairly regularly. As a result, I get to continue to practice my emoting. Waaaay less frequently and dramatically, but still pretty regularly. And it's evolved. Yes, crying can evolve!
I pride myself on my adaptive skills; I hardly ever cry publicly these days, and it takes quite a wallop of bad news to get me going. I feel that I have grown into my role. Just today, I was telling my daughter about this week’s visit to the VA, where after hours of tests they once again told us that they have nothing to offer Pat.
I bragged, “This time I made it all the way out of the room before I cried!” Then I added, “…and this time I made it out of there without any yelling or profanity!”
To which she responded, “This time????”
I did say that I was comfortable with emotional displays, didn’t I? And I did mention that I’m a New Yorker…