|Written for a contest
You Can't Tell Me How to Feel
By Penny Hoprich
So many times I've heard folks with all good intentions trying to comfort a grieving friend or loved one. "Don't cry, now. You know Mama wouldn't want you crying." Or, "Whatever you do, don't break down in front of Daddy. It'll upset him. You have to be strong for him." I've heard, "Quit that crying. You're just going to make yourself sick." There's also this one. "He/she's in a better place." That may be true, but it doesn't stop the grieving person from feeling his/her loss.
Here's one that really sends me through the ceiling. "Why's he crying and carrying on so? He didn't come around when she was living. He didn't care anything about her. What's he even doing here?" They don't stop to think feelings are real. There's a reason for these feelings. It may be feelings of regret (with reason), but they're still real, and have to be dealt with. Sometimes we cry for what should have been or we remember times when relationships gone sour, were like they should have been. This kind of pain hurts just as much as the pain of losing someone we're very close to. Actually, I think it hurts worse.
But let's go back to "you have to be strong for...".
When my 39 year old husband died in 1981, within a couple of hours, friends and relatives had filled my house and yard. There was hardly standing room in my home for two days. Every time I turned around, someone was telling me how much they loved the children and me. They promised me that if I ever needed them, they would be there for me. And they held true to their words until the funeral was over. Then, one by one, they filed away to their private little worlds with their families, responsibilities and problems, where they've been ever since.
After the funeral was over and the shock started wearing off, the reality of what had happened hit the children and me. But none of us knew how to accept it. I thought I had to be strong for the children, who in turn thought they had to be strong for me. So, we all four walked around for weeks like zombies. Of course, we thought we were doing the right thing. But anyone who had been through this could have told us that we were hurting ourselves and each other. We should have been sharing our grief, instead of pretending it wasn't there.
Each of us handled our grief differently.
Lisa, my 11 year old daughter, suppressed her feelings for several weeks, then one day at school, she started having difficulty breathing. I rushed her to the doctor only to learn she was suffering from anxiety and depression. She had been afraid to show her feelings or talk to me about them because she, too, had been advised not to worry and upset me.
Jimmy, my 14 year old son, turned to drinking and rebellion because he didn't know how to deal with the fears, anxieties and feelings of anger he was experiencing. Before the funeral, he had been told that since he was the oldest, he had to look out for his mother, sister and baby brother. Anyone that had been through this could have told him to pay this advice no attention. He was too young for so much responsibility.
We were sitting in the den one night, pretending to watch a movie on TV when John Boy, my 6 year old son, burst into tears.
"What's wrong, Sweetheart?" I asked.
Pulling him into my arms, I said, "Come here, and sit on Mama's lap."
As I choked back my own tears, and wiped his tears from his face, I started talking softly to him. "Son, I think I know what's wrong. Would you like to tell Mama about it?"
At this, he started screaming, "I want my daddy. I want him, now! I want my daddy. Oh God, Mama, I'm so sorry. Little men aren't supposed to cry. I'm sorry, Mama, I don't want to upset you. Ever since Daddy died, when we would go out to the playground at school, I'd wait 'til everybody else was playing, and I'd climb over a fence and sit under a tree and cry for my daddy, so when I got home, I could be happy and make you, Jimmy and Lisa laugh."
By this time, Jimmy had run fast as he could, to the bathroom, so we wouldn't see him cry.
My daughter was almost hysterical, as she ran to John Boy and me. The three of us held each other for what seemed like ages, while the oldest, stayed in the bathroom and cried alone. But at least, he cried and got rid of a lot of frustrations, but not enough. It took several years for him to learn how to deal with his feelings.
After he was grown and married, he was still harboring those feelings. He had reached the point where he couldn't go on without getting it all out in the open. It seemed he was angry with the world, with me at the top of the list. I realized what was going on, and decided it was time he got it out. I told him to do whatever he needed to express his feelings. I told him this was his one and only chance of a lifetime to curse me, throw rocks at me, or whatever he felt he needed to do.
He immediately started yelling at me, and telling me he hated me because his daddy died and I didn't. He told me just how angry he was with me for the way I handled things after his daddy died. He said he did everything he could to get me to punish him severely, because he felt that was the only way he would ever be able to get those tears to come that had not been shed in grieving for his daddy. He hated me for everything. Then he sat down and sobbed. I let him cry until he had cried out. Then he looked at me, and said, "Mama, I really thought I hated you until I said it out loud. I don't hate you, I love you." He's been on the mend ever since, and he's shown me nothing but respect.
Grieving is getting over a loss. If you physically lose a limb, you have to doctor and dress the nub. You might scream with pain at times. You might grit your teeth and grin and bear it, but you still have to give it time to heal. Some times, you might even need help from others.
Feelings are real, and should be treated as such. It took the death of my husband, and the near destruction of my three children and myself, to get me to realize this.
I've learned that the best thing for us to do when someone is grieving, is simply be there. We don't always have to say something, or even do something (of course, there are times both are needed). But let that person grieve in the way he/she feels the need. After all, it's his/her feelings. Those feelings can't be turned off until they are dealt with.
I rest my case.