“Jesus wept.” John 11:35
If Mom were still around, she would have turned 91 today. This is my first time sending her birthday wishes since she died in 2013; my first blog post dedicated to her. Today also marks the first time I’ve cried about her death.
A couple of days after Mom died, a friend canceled flowers she intended to have delivered to the funeral home when she found out I wouldn’t be there and, instead, picked them up from the florist and brought them to my home, 14 miles from where she lived. It was my friend’s kindness, not Mom’s death, that brought me to tears.
Mom cried often, which seems odd since she discouraged others from crying. Maybe she couldn’t handle our pain on top of her own, but not being able to cry around her sowed more pain. When I cried as a child, she looked to Dad to send me to my room. He pointed to the staircase and I knew to go. “We don’t need crying around here,” he said.
When Dad wasn’t emotional gatekeeping for Mom, he’d come to my room and close the door. He’d sit on the floor with me, apologize for being stern, and talk about what bothered him, and he’d sob.
Around the time I turned 10, Mom didn’t have backup anymore. Our family bought a motel in a resort town. Dad moved there to run the business and to run away. My mom, brother, and I stayed put at my great aunt’s house, which was in the next town over. I cried many nights about Dad being gone and alone, but now I think it was good for him. He was free to cry.
Since Dad wasn’t around, Mom used guilt to stop me from crying.
She called me ungrateful and said, “You should be thankful your life isn’t as bad as mine was at your age.”
She told me I should be happy she hadn’t done anything stupid, insinuating suicide, because of my crying.
She threatened to send me to a boarding school. She said, “You might be happier away from here. Maybe you wouldn’t cry so much.”
I stayed in my room most of the time when I couldn’t find a school activity to attend or a friend’s house to hang out. When I cried, I went in my closet, closed the door so Mom wouldn’t hear me, and lay on the floor holding a pillow.
After she died, it was hard to cry over her. My husband John and I still tear up about my dad being gone, but we’ve never talked about missing Mom, not even once, which makes me want to cry right now.
I can’t help but think about what a counselor said 39 years ago, “Until you make peace with your mother, you’ll never be at peace with yourself.”
I wondered why he told me something he had to know I couldn’t do. He heard the stories. What was he thinking?
It seemed impossible to make peace with someone who cried only out of self-pity, never compassion. “Only” and “never” are unwavering words, but I only witnessed Mom cry when someone hurt her feelings, which meant she cried for herself, and then she punished the person. She didn’t know what else to do with herself and her emotions, I guess.
Even though we only lived blocks apart, we were estranged for more than a decade at the end of her life. She never called after that, never returned messages I sent, and only reached out once to one of my two children after our breakup. She never let on that it bothered her that we had no contact, so I tried for it not to bother me either, and I never cried about her death.
Until today …
John and I are mending a relationship that’s much like the one I had with Mom. Until the last two years, I cried in my closet. Until the last two weeks, I didn’t know his mom slapped him when he cried, which explains why he wanted me in the closet. He never told me about his mom, nor did he associate her actions to his strong negative reactions toward me when I cried.
It wasn’t until hiding my emotions almost killed me that I had to deal with them … out in the open … whether he wanted me to or not. Whether I wanted to or not.
I’ve literally come out of the closet. I watch movies, listen to music, and read stories that are stirring. I pray God breaks my heart for what breaks His, and I mean it. I hear friends’ heartaches and I really listen instead of shying away or trying to fix them. I share mine too. I’m finally not afraid of heartbreak and being sad and crying because they’re not what fueled my depression. Not feeling my feelings did that.
John gives feedback on every blog post before I publish it. He mentioned that I wrote in my first paragraph I was dedicating this blog post to Mom and that a dedication typically tells what is good and honoring. I choked on my water when he said, “Don’t dedicate anything like this to me, okay?”
We both laughed before, you guessed it, I cried. I said, “It’s so hard to write about her.”
Right then, he and I recognized this is my dedication to Mom. I’m finally willing to talk about her – to stop pretending I’m indifferent, to stop acting like she didn’t matter to me, and to stop saying I don’t miss her. It’s time to dredge up the pain that’s keeping me and my kids and my grandkids from having a connection with Mom. Death isn’t what ends a relationship. Burying our emotions ends it.
Both of my kids shush our grandbabies when they cry – they pacify them, send them away, or get strict with them. I respect and appreciate so much their care and discipline towards their children, but lately I’ve had an urge to advise them about their children, and to tell them the same about their own emotions,
“Let her cry.
Let him melt down.
Leave him in the middle of the room to bawl
To his heart’s content.
Don’t send her away this time.
No apologies for their tears or yours.
He gets to cry right here.
So do you.
Scoop her up in your arms.
Hug him tight.
It’s okay to cry.”
I don’t mean cry in the middle of a restaurant or Target or a movie theater. Take that child outside. At home, though, we all need a space and time like the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: … A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; …”
Where do you go to cry?
I hope we all have a safe place right in the center of our lives and living rooms, and at least one person who will let us cry as long as necessary.
In This Together,