Monday, July 25, 2011
It's Alright to Cry
When I was a kid, my favorite album was Free to Be You and Me. I was, after all, brought up by lesbians, so it made perfect sense that Marlo Thomas and Alan Alda telling right-on politically correct stories would be a seminal influence in my early childhood development. Hits like "William Wants a Doll" and "Don't Dress your Cat in an Apron" still float through my brain at inopportune moments, but the song that always comes into my head at the hospital is, "It's Alright to Cry."
One day there was this very put together woman who came in to meet with my supervisor. She was dressed impeccably and carried herself in way that belied composure, breeding and a comfortable life. Her husband had died. He had cancer, and he been fighting it well, but then one night he had a stroke. She found him, lying on the floor of their kitchen and he was dead by the time he reached the hospital. She had come in to speak with us because she was having more trouble coping than she imagined and she needed to reach out. You could see the discomfort. She was used to being calm. She was used to being self sufficient, the cooler head prevailing. You could see the cracks, the fragile and strained hold she was just managing to keep on her overwhelming grief.
My supervisor is compassionate and sweet. She made sensitive noises as the woman recounted her feelings. I sat slightly to the side and watched, observing how my supervisor interacted, watching responses and seeing how they were received. I could see the brink of tears and I offered kleenex. We use a lot of kleenexes. There is a basket filled with small individual white puffy pouches on the desk, like some messed up gift basket for pain. The woman said, I have been crying. I can't stop crying. I want to stop, I hate showing my friends tears. I was always so together and now I am falling apart. If only I could stop crying.
Of course the chorus of "It's Alright to Cry" comes into my head...crying takes the sad out of you, rain drops from your eyes, it just might make you feel better...
We give her some articles and tell her what she is feeling is "normal." It seems this is the protocol. Supposedly people just want to know that their intense pain is "normal" That this somehow makes grief bearable. Why telling someone that the worst loss they have ever had is average and mainstream helps to ease things I do not understand, but sometimes it seems to help. It is normal to want to sob for months when your husband of 40 years is found twitching on the floor of the house you bought together. Normal.
She settled down and my supervisor wrapped up the meeting. Of course I can't help myself, I need to interject. I need to say something to this person beyond how average and unsurprising her emotions are. So I say to her, it is the crying? Is it the crying that is disturbing you most right now? And she says yes because I can't stop it and I could always control myself before. Now I can't and I don't know what to do. So I say to her, in my massage therapist clinical voice, can we look at the tears differently. People cry for a reason. This is why it is "normal."
When something happy happens we cry, when something sad happens we cry, when something terrifying happens and when something infuriating happens. We cry. Why? When we cry we produce endorphins and lovely hormones that calm us down and that counter balance all that adrenaline and cortisol and the other bad brain chemistry that makes us feel terrible. The body needs to cry to re-balance those chemicals. Maybe if you did not think of the tears as something to be controlled, but instead as your body's way of cleaning out the crap, the pain, the other chemicals, then you could just let them flow. Then maybe you could trust that the tears will eventually stop. They will stop when they need to. It is alright to cry.
She looked at me and smiled and said, I never looked at it that way. Of course in that moment my eyes began to burn and in my head I thought, it is alright to cry, but this time I will wait till I get home to clean out all this shit.