I spent the first 2.5 decades of my life holding back tears whenever I wanted to cry, at least in front of people. When my sister died, things changed a little (pretty much everything changed, actually). Some of it was in a good way (well, a lot of things changed in a good way—it just took a while to realize it), and one of the things I changed was the way I feel about crying and tears.
My mom and I had an entire conversation about my sister last night, and neither of us cried. We were drinking wine too, and those two things together are usually a surefire recipe for tears (not always in a sad way). It’s actually kind of sad, in a way, that we can talk about her now without always evoking tears. We talked about crying in general too, and how we both have a memory from elementary school (3rd grade for me and 4th grade for her) when the teacher spoke to us about being rude…and we cried. Because we were both wusses, and we also didn’t usually do anything that called for that kind of attention.
It’s strange when something like this comes up—crying. And it keeps coming up for people around me in different ways. It made me think of the Memorable Cries I’ve had throughout my life, and one of these memories really sticks out to me right now.
A few years ago, my friend Kyle, whom I’ve known since approximately age 4, would sometimes stop by my house on her way home from work. We would sit on my couch and drink wine and talk. This is nothing new (well, the wine part is newer)—when I was a kid, I used to take my mom’s bedside phone (it had a cord) and stretch it into her closet, where I’d sit in the clothes basket and talk to Kyle for hours. I honestly have no idea what we talked about, but it was a regular occurrence. At that time, we decided instead of saying ‘goodbye,’ we’d say the name of a kitchen utensil or appliance. We still sign our emails that way a couple decades later.
On one particular evening, we sat drinking wine and chatting, and somehow we started talking about my sister. Kyle obviously knew her too. On this particular day, we wound our conversation around toward the story of the night Jen died. It was a story I had embedded in my brain (still do), and sometimes when I’m alone, I like to revisit the details and events and cry and make sure that the story is still real even though time continues to pass.
Kyle asked me what actually happened to Jen on the night she died, and all at once I realized that no one knew the story. My family did, obviously, but all of the people who knew Jen in our community didn’t really know–or they knew the rumor mill versions and didn’t know what was real or true, or what we, the people in the story, went through on that one horrendous night. I really wanted to tell my friend what happened that night—the chain of events—that were probably difficult to hear (and most likely I shared way too many details—Kyle and I both tend to do that when we’re storytelling). I realized in those moments that I had spent the last few years pushing people away from the story—being angry because no one understood what I went through. I resented that it would be selfish of me if I wanted someone to be able to understand—because then that meant they’d have to experience loss too.
That evening, Kyle and I sat on the couch with our wine, and cried for as long as it took me to tell the whole story. Neither of us tried not to, and she told me if I didn’t want to tell her about it, it was ok. But I wanted to.
It was surely my most memorable friend-shared cry. It made me contemplate the roles other people played in Jen’s/our story, and what role her story played in their lives. Sometimes I wonder if writing the story from my point of view would do something for people who read it or for myself. Would it help my newer friends understand me better, or help my/Jen’s old friends fill in the blanks of the story?
I don’t know—but nowadays, instead of telling my story of Jen, I usually just spend time with friends on the days that are most meaningful to me in relation to her, even if my friends don’t know about the occasion. It softens the feelings I’d have about my sister if I were alone (and probably prevents some tears), and it usually helps me bring her up and tell a story about her life that doesn’t involve tears at all, but just keeps memories alive.
I used to get jaw-aches from holding back tears, but now I’m just a little more weepy when the occasion arises, and I appreciate that sharing pieces of stories (happy or sad) is what connects us to our friends and people we care about.
What is one of your most Memorable Cries?
Do you try not to cry or just let it happen when you need to?