Strong Enough To Scream
Posted by Mishi Methven on Feb 26, 2012
Strong Enough To Scream
A new friend, Kristine Y., sent me an email with the following in it:
"Why do people tell us to be strong? Maybe because they hear it in the movies in such a motivational way, it seems that it does no harm or causes no interference in the grieving process. And then, people are always more comfortable when the grieving person does not give off the sense that he or she is falling apart. If the grieving person doesn't cry and express too many emotions, we wont feel too much either. The truth is that pain can be contagious. You cant be around someone in deep sadness, and not feel it, so if we put a lid on the grieving persons emotions, we wont have to deal with them ourselves.
But at what cost do we camouflage our grief? When we shelve our pain, it doesn't go away. Rather, it festers in a myriad of ways. We need to understand that strength and grief it together. We must be strong to handle grief, and in the end, grief brings out the strengths we never knew we had."
This could not have come at a better time, because for the past few days I've felt like the carefully constructed facade of "being ok" I've worked on for the last several months, is crumbling rapidly and I feel guilty about it. I keep avoiding making social dates because I don't feel like people want to sit down and just listen (again) to how broken I feel right now. I have a much easier time communicating my despair in blogs or emails than I do in person or on the phone. There are certain people that I can open up to, but most of the time I resort to crying only in therapy…or with Aimee late at night…or in the shower…or on walks. Even with people that I feel most comfortable with in the whole world, I don't like to fall apart. It's that silly word "strength", isn't it? That word that makes us feel as though to fall to your knees and sob will make others uncomfortable, will show your weakness, will create a scene. How we're taught when something horrific happens, to never talk about it lest we make others uncomfortable. Leave it in the past. The way that if you see someone out in public, a stranger crying, you just walk by, averting your eyes. How you say simply to someone who has returned to work after their husband died, "I'm sorry to hear about your husband". They respond with, "thank-you" and you follow-up with, "So, the meeting on Thursday will deal with the reconciliation of the 2010-2011 fiscal budget and…" Essentially brushing off this great tragedy. But it's okay, because they don't want to talk about it either. How sad that we've created this fear of showing emotion to one another. So many times on my walks I've wanted to show up on a friend or family members stoop, and just collapse in a puddle of tears. But I always stop myself. I feel like they wouldn't want me to "ruin" their day by doing that. That they wouldn't know what to do or say. That I would make them uncomfortable. That once I started I wouldn't be able to stop.
I've always thought the Christian way of grieving for people after they die in North America is fairly inhumane. You're supposed to go an sit through an emotional funeral service, say goodbye to your loved ones in 40 minutes or less, and then turn around and host a bunch of people at your home with food and chit chat. I can't tell you how many times I've stood at one of these "receptions", watching people greet one another with hugs and say over and over, "I haven't seen you in ages! How are you, what's new?". There is little talk or thought of the person who died, no space is created for tears once you step outside the designated "funeral" space. And once the funeral is done, your public show of grief is supposed to be over. You get three days of bereavement for the death of a child or spouse, and you're expected to go back to work, school, life, as though you're completely healed. In reality, you are never healed. You are never the same, you just learn to walk around with a huge hole in your heart and a mask over your face.
All these thoughts are starting to flood me because Stella has had a very slow week. We've had several times during these last 8 months when we've wondered, "is this it?", but that's not what I'm feeling right now. What I'm feeling is just profound sadness for what little my daughter has left. What little of herself, and what little time. Her speech has all but disappeared over the last 9 or so days. It's been the hardest part of her cancer so far. Without the ability to communicate verbally to us, we are, for the most part, stuck in this unbelievably sad and maddening vacuum of frustration. We keep trying to guess what she wants, but she just stares at us with her big blue eyes, unable to even tell us if we're right or wrong. I keep asking myself if I'm going to be strong enough to get through this next part--- the part where it's going to get very, very, bad and then Stella is going to slip through our fingers.
I had a nightmare last week that shook me to the core. In the dream, Aimee and I were at the zoo having a beautiful day with Stella--- just like we always used to. We got to a small hut-like area and a gentleman there held his arms out to our Stella. He took her and told us to come back for her in 45 minutes. We waved good-bye and Stella smiled and happily followed the man inside his hut. Aimee and I grabbed a drink and then returned to the hut. The man met us at the back door and handed us an urn full of ashes. "Here she is", he said to us. I woke up in a full anxiety attack, and it was hard to control and compose myself because the dream is truer than I often let myself think. One day soon---maybe in the next 8 weeks--- all we will have left of our Stella is ashes. How can I ever reconcile the thought of not holding my daughter ever again? For the rest of my life never feeling her warmth, smelling her head, letting her smile fill my heart. It's too much to bear.
I decided today that I am not going to be able to get through the foreseeable future without being able to grieve publicly, openly and loudly. I am not going to be healed three days after Stella dies. I am never going to be healed. I am not going to be able to control the flow of tears, the screams, the despair. I am not going to want to be hugged and coddled and pitied. I just want to be seen and heard as I lose the person I love most in the world.
And it is not because I'm not strong enough to stay silent and stoic. It's because I am strong enough to know what I need…and what I need is time, tears and truth.
Naptime for Sam & Poppa