I’m not sure if it’s a new trend in our culture, or just something that I’ve only recently become aware of, but more and more I see the push–the encouragement–to cry. To be your “real” and raw self. It always gives me this strange kind of feeling, like I’m somehow being non-authentic by not feeling the need to shed tears. If I was prone to guilt I’d probably try and muster up some crocodile tears for the cause. But instead I’m always left here–dry-eyed–wondering if it’s just one more behavior that separates me from the norm. Not abnormal because my life is free from sadness or hardship, but because I’ve never been a crier, not even during my little-girl years.
If I was going to express an emotion, it was much more likely to be a voice raised in anger than tears shed in sadness. While for others crying seemed to be a releasing of emotions, it had (and still has) the complete opposite effect on me. Physically, there’s always the resultant headache, foggy head, depression, and fatigue. And mentally, the harder I cry, the more sorry for myself I feel. It somehow becomes a giant pity party and instead of bringing relief–or better yet, a solution–all it does is encourage more pain.
Part of the Scenery
I have nothing against criers; in fact, I grew up with one (and later raised one). My sister was a copious crier; she could shed massive amounts of tears, release the emotions, wipe her eyes, and then carry on. It wasn’t ever a big deal, it was just her. In fact, to this day, should the tears commence the conversation continues in spite of them. Almost like they’re part of the scenery. Interestingly, during my “dark night” I shed more tears than in all the rest of my years. During her “dark night,” she shed none.
See, the thing is, the tears just aren’t there. Well, that’s not entirely true because there is one exception: really joyful happenings can easily trigger a salty emotional reaction. (Selfless acts of kindness and animal rescues get me every. single. time.) But other than that, I’m not suppressing them, they just aren’t often there to be shed. Even when it comes to death. Because somewhere, deep inside, my soul remembers. I actually think a lot of us have these soul rememberings; these things that we just know intuitively without having to be told. Things we can’t even necessarily prove, but that we understand all the same. I’ve had two of these knowings for pretty much my entire life.
The first: Things will work out.
And the second: Death isn’t so sad.
As for the first, things do indeed always work out. Always.
Just Beyond Reach
As for the second? Yes, I know it probably sounds strange, and admittedly I’ve never had to gauge my reaction with the enormous loss of a child. But normally, in place of that sadness all I feel is this great sense of relief. A thank God they’re free. It’s like I remember that what comes next so far surpasses what we have now that it’s hard for me to even pretend grief. I can easily feel compassion and empathy for those left behind, but never any sadness for the departed. Or for myself. For me they’re as close as the closest memory. Which is one of the reasons why, as a general rule, I steadfastly avoid wakes. And almost all funerals. Sad to leave? I don’t think so. Bring on the joy and the boundless peace. Because I can almost remember what that freedom feels like. Almost…just beyond reach.
So bearing my typical behavior in mind, you can imagine how surprising it was to find myself dissolving in helpless tears after my gramma passed away in February. My family watched in something like horror as they saw me break down time and time again. Why are you crying? they asked. To which I could only answer with more heartfelt sobs.
Unfortunately, the crying had the usual effect: I felt increasingly worse instead of better. My loss became sharper and more acute, and I felt helpless to stop its growth. For one not accustomed to crying, a day or two was all I could take before I started sending up the fervent prayer for help. Where was my usual calm and comfort? Please God, put me back in order, I begged, as my headache and heartache steadily grew.
Peace Replaced Pain
Thankfully, my desperate prayers were answered and peace replaced the pain. Little sparks of joy appeared at the thought of her boundless freedom. I remembered whatever it is that my soul remembers; the tears dried, and my heart was soothed. What caused the glitch? I have no idea. But I was happy to recognize myself again. And so was my family.
Fast forward two months, the day before Easter Sunday. Cousins, siblings, aunts, and uncles were all gathered at my grandmother’s house for one last visit. It was bittersweet and had the feel of so many Christmases past when the house would be brimming with the mingled voices of many. Occasions that my grandmother loved. The girls weren’t sure what to expect from me. I wasn’t sure what to expect from me. Would I once again be hijacked by helpless and desolate tears? Or was my remembering still firmly in charge and the visit would be a joyful one, celebrating the life of this fabulous lady, in the middle of this clan that she’d created?
During the drive up I was unexpectedly melancholy. Not because I had to say goodbye to Gramma, but because I had to say goodbye to this house. Initially I had tried to persuade the girls and Scott that we should buy it. We could all live there together in this beautiful old home by the sea. And wouldn’t it be lovely to sit out on the porch Grampa loved so much? And live in a house that rang with the voices of my childhood? Realistically, I knew it wasn’t realistic. But the question remained: Why was I so attached to this organized pile of wood and stone?
A Sweet & Shuttered Box
The visit was wonderful, really wonderful, and I’m so glad we managed that one last “party.” And not a single tear from me. But this time, I saw the house through different eyes. I saw the peeling wallpaper, the water-stained ceilings, the flaking paint. I saw a house and yard that had fallen into slow and steady disrepair once my grandfather was no longer around to care for it. I saw that without my grandmother’s presence, the house wasn’t quite so special. It was nothing but a sweet and shuttered box, chock full of memories. Just overflowing, really. But a box just the same.
But there was more (and yes, I do way too much thinking). In an era beset with restlessness, my grandparents–and their home–stayed reassuringly the same. In a time where cars and phones and clothes and spouses are replaced at the slightest tease of a new and improved model, this house endured. In a world of constant change, in a life of constant change, this house was always there. My grandparents chose to settle into the comfort of something “old,” instead of opting for the excitement of something new. This house was home. This house was family. There was no need to improve.
I like that, that contentment. That happy-with-where-they-were. I was not only attached to the beautiful molding, the familiar fireplace, and the ancient swing-set, but also to the sameness of it all. She gave us all that steady home base, that center of family, that we knew was always there. A place to gather and laugh and eat. A place to swing on rusty swings and play in the sandbox and nap on the porch. A place for cousins to catch up and aunts to compare notes and uncles to watch games. A place for dreams to end and others to begin. I was probably only a couple of days old when I crossed that threshold for the first of countless times, and forty-five years later I’m doing it for the last. But it’s not ending because my gramma moved out, but because my gramma moved on.
The House of Blue
Wandering quietly through the rooms, telling the girls stories, I noticed so much blue. Had blue been my gramma’s favorite color? How come I didn’t have an answer for that? Blue stripes, blue floral, blue paint. Blue shutters. Blue chair. For so many years a blue shag carpet that will forever be fondly remembered for the epic electric shocks and the stabbing Christmas-tree needles that it hid so well. Blue, blue. The house of blue.
As my grandmother aged and her body started failing, she often entertained the idea of selling the house. Not because she wanted to, but because she felt she should. I’m glad she was called Home before she ever had to walk away from those rooms, and the comfort they brought her.
Before I left, not sure if I would ever pass through those doors again, I collected the many joyful memories from the dusty corners. Tucked away the laughter and pocketed the years. Said goodbye to this house that I love. I climbed into the car, packed with mementos of Gramma, and found her waiting there for me. Softly, she squeezed my hand. Be careful pulling out of the driveway, Melinny, they come around that corner so fast.
No tears. Just happiness with a splash of bittersweet. Because even though I have to leave the house behind? Gramma’s coming with me.