In my inner circle, sometimes the curmudgeons criticize others when they share about their feelings of pain, as well as sadness, and other emotions involving certain situations that they feel are trivial. For instance, if someone cries, saying, “I met someone who I thought was a keeper, and he | she stood me up after the first date.”
One of the curmudgeons’ favorite replies to a statement like this is, “Don’t cry over broken shoelaces.”
On the other hand, my usual response is, “If those broken shoelaces hurt that person, let him or her cry!”
I could never understand why we assign quantitative, numerical values on a person’s personal feelings and emotions. Feelings and emotions are as individual as a person’s fingerprints. Recently, I read that if fingerprints are burned off, duplicate ones grow back. This is like a metaphor for pain and/or emotions and if we alter them to fit another person’s morphsuit they don’t lessen. Instead, if you’ve read any of the research about blocked emotions, you know they cause a negative impact on mental and physical health.
I don’t need research. During my adolescent years until my mid-twenties, I battled insomnia and suffered from a gamut of gastrointestinal issues. Every remedy I tried, lied. What worked was to identify and learn how to get comfortable with the uncomfortable emotions like fear, sadness and anger without inflicting self-harm or harming others.
Pain and emotions are universal, but their intensity is different for everyone and, as such, shouldn’t be judged. To put it in context, a couple of weeks ago, I saw my neighbors constructing a handful of tents, about eight feet wide and high, in their backyard. I figured it was for a party, likely for their daughter.
Sure enough, the father surprised me at my front door when he handed me his cell number. He explained that they were hosting a prom night sleepover for his daughter and a group of her friends. He told me he wanted to be a respectful neighbor and that if the kids turned rowdy, not to hesitate to call him at any hour.
“Let them party!” I replied and meant it.
My response created a comfort zone for my neighbor. He removed his guard and revealed that it was a tough time for him and his wife with their only daughter moving on to “the next stage of life.”
Suddenly, as he unsuccessfully fought the tears, he said his daughter’s relocation to an out-of-state university was heartbreaking. There I stood, like a strong, sturdy pair of steel pliers while inside I crumbled. I realized the grief spilled over his situation could be dismissed as a “broken shoelace” emotion, especially in the eyes of a grieving mom who lost her handsome, brilliant 26-year-old son to suicide. Knowing each other only in passing, obviously he was not privy to our family’s tragedy.
The one and only time he encountered my son was in 2010 after my now ex-husband abandoned his family responsibilities and our neighbor and his daughter, who had recently moved in next door, were in our yard. We mistakenly thought they were helping themselves to our fireplace wood.
My son, daughter and I scooted out on the second floor deck. My son played the role of family protector and in his deep, distinct voice instructed our neighbor, “If you wanted wood, you could have just asked.”
In response, my neighbor laughed and explained they did not need wood, only their ball and thanked us before leaving the premises.
The man now in front of me believed my son, a genuinely good, sensitive and quiet guy, was alive and thriving, living away from home. I looked into his eyes and sometimes a familiar face transports me back to my old self in the days when I took faith for granted, when it was common and as plentiful as mosquitos in the summertime, when I was steadfast in believing only good prevailed.
Then and there, I knew that I had a choice with my grieving neighbor, this broken man in front of me. Stab him with the raw reality. Tell him to stop being a cry baby over a pair of broken shoelaces, especially in light of my tragedy. In this way, I would not only shut him up, but feel as if I’d won in the pain department and, likely, ruin his whole weekend as he would probably feel guilty over his broken shoelace grief.
The man, in fact, reminded me of my similar state of distress when I left my son behind in the classroom on his first day at preschool. I walked like a zombie to the car and immediately after I sat inside, I bawled uncontrollably because the feeling of letting go of my son was devastating, like having every single cell in my body forcefully removed with a sharp pair of tweezers.
“You know how it is. You’ve been through it,” my neighbor muttered through his tear-stained face.
Another scenario occurred to me. Nine years prior after her godmother and I dropped my daughter off for her first semester at college, I bawled during the entire six-hour ride home. Fortunately, my daughter’s godmother didn’t squelch my emotions and because I processed my grief over the separation, I felt better by the time we arrived home.
I nodded at my neighbor like one of my mentors, Cornelia, who, in fact, lost two sons had taught me through her example so long ago.
“It will be okay. Really,” I assured the grief-stricken man before he made a beeline home.
Afterwards, I forced myself to keep the painted smile on my face and conduct the motions of life, but, wow, I was drowning in my children’s bittersweet high school memories at the time when their father abandoned them. Through it all, somehow I managed to keep my head above water. Cornelia, who is now deceased, would have been proud.
Grief, like sadness, I reiterate, is not an emotion to assign a quantitative value to. My natural emotional state of being now encompasses grief. I lug my griefcase wherever I go, and somedays it is heavier than others. Louis, my therapist, who lost a child of his own, promises that the emotions and feelings will lessen in intensity. Of course, we both agree they will not go “poof” and disappear. I live as an amputee who not only has to get used to the new normal, but also learn how to manage the pain.
One of my friends attends a group for grieving parents who have lost children to death. She told me that one of the sessions revolved around the idea that, “There is nothing worse than losing a child.”
In light of this statement, the group members minimized all other types of grief, whether it resulted from losing a spouse or parent or friend and so on. And I told my friend that kind of group would not be a proper fit for me. I don’t want to wash out someone’s grief with my own. The man at my door is entitled to feel his grief from “losing his daughter” as much as I am entitled to my grief at losing a son to suicide.
K.L. Hale, a beautiful member of this blogging community, wrote a heartfelt comment to me after last week’s post. She said, “after 2 1/2 years of not seeing my sons (only because of their Air Force duties) I would think of you. Your loss put things into perspective for me. Your words leave me with tears running down my face. The beauty that you’re able to give us all is faith indeed. I’m so proud of all you have overcome to find that inner peace.”
My reply was: “Thanks to people like you, I am able to hold my head up, carry my griefcase bravely and keep the faith. What has helped me most is the hope that my pain will somehow help heal the world. You have brought this hope of mine to fruition, and I am deeply moved. So moved in fact that you’ve inspired my post’s topic for next week!”
What I also want to say to this beautiful, faith-filled woman is: “We walk these roads of sadness together, never alone as we think of one another and feel our human connection. Allow my loss to help you through this difficult time, but also validate your loss and embrace it. Your feelings of sadness are real and important, and they matter because you matter and through the process, if you have not yet found your inner peace, it will find you. Whether you choose to call it the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Goodness, it is deep within you. I promise, because I was fortunate to discover it so many years ago, and I have lived there ever since.”
Everyone is entitled to feel what they feel and experience their emotions when they want to and for however long they need to. In fact, if I can find my way out of my pain and sit with another person’s pain, more times than not, I feel better. The bottom line is, it alleviates my suffering to focus on yours and sometimes it gives me the reprieve I need. Life is hard but we’re in it together, at least for today. Tomorrow some of us that are here right at this moment will be missing, I guarantee it. So let’s hold on tight, keep the faith and allow ourselves to feel our vulnerabilities that are part of our humanness. In fact, if we practice at it, it should become as natural as tying a pair of shoelaces.