I Can’t Cry But I Can Write

How to start? I feel like I’ve been holding all this close to me so long that I don’t know how to let it go. I’ve had a year of tremendous loss. A grandmother, an uncle, an aunt, a friend, a father-in-law, an elderly couple I considered family. All of them departed this earth in the last year or so except for my father-in-law who passed several years ago, and I never mourned for him properly. Some circumstances were natural and anticipated, others were violent and shocking, only one (my grandmother) had a sense of closure. And there are others, people who are no longer in my life, friendships I mourn. There is all this grief and I don’t know what to do with it.

I never considered myself to be emotionally shut down. When I was a teenager my father was deeply involved with an encounter group that held week-long retreats sequestered in the mountains. I had little choice but to participate and I became a superstar at emoting on cue. I learned, both from my mother with whom I fought, and from the groups, that you are not released until you wail and yell and weep and collapse into a damp pile of tears – until you perform to the facilitator’s/parent’s satisfaction. You have not learned your lesson. So I did and I was congratulated for being “in touch with my feelings” and “so evolved at a young age” and “way ahead of the game”.

Years later I find myself holding onto this sadness and unable to cry before I become cripplingly self-conscious. I think being in the center of the encounter group circle, my process examined by 30 other people, changed me. When I rarely cry now, even totally alone, it isn’t long before I notice my mind, distant and watching, commenting on how I look. Can anyone see me? Is this display of feeling strong enough? Is this the appropriate reaction? When can I stop?

Then I question why I am crying. Is it so someone can approve of how much I am feeling? Is it to garner sympathy? Is it genuine? It’s enough to stem any tide of raw feelings.

A woman in my community recently had a health scare and I watched dumbfounded as she shamelessly gathered her community around her, arranged for healing circles of prayer and used social media to keep a stream of support flowing towards her. When I say shameless, I say so not in a negative way, but rather in awe. She had no shame in asking for help, for reaching out. And why should she feel shame? More to the point, why do I?

My husband is a big sap. He cries at all movies. He cried during Shrek, which I still don’t understand. While I like to accuse him of being emotionally distant, I am coming to see that I am the one who is shut down. He seems distant to me because he can’t tell when I’m upset because I won’t talk about it. I won’t cry. I can’t. Or rather I can’t without feeling like a phony.

A doctor recommended that I seek out a grief support group but I worried that I would feel like an impostor. I hadn’t seen my uncle for years, same with my aunt. I was once very close with my friend, but it had been years since I saw her, too. My grandmother left this earth years before her body, as did Myron. Suzi, well, she was a great shock and I am left with nothing but remorse for not knowing her better and seeing her more, but she was someone else’s mom. So how can I walk into a room with people who have lost close relatives, children, parents and spouses and claim any right to be there?

Right now all these feelings are coming out sideways, manifesting as lethargy, rage, and withdrawal. Sometimes I feel like a sleepwalker. I am strong-willed, though, I can buck up and get to the gym and eat the right food, and stay away from alcohol and drugs and other pain annihilating means. What I really want to annihilate is that audience that floats above my head, that judges me if I do and condemns me if I don’t.

I don’t really want sympathy or prayers. Anyone who is alive for forty years experiences exactly what I am going through and they all get through it. I figure that if I can’t work it out with tears, maybe writing will help. I feel a little better already.

7 thoughts on “I Can’t Cry But I Can Write

  1. Grief is one of those things that catches us by surprise, and no matter the relationship, is no less real. Like Love, which grief springs from, it is an action verb, it’s a process, there is no “right” way to grieve nor a “wrong” way to grieve. Some days are good. Other times, the grief just knocks you flat. Here I am, on a trip, my lifelong dream of a trip, made possible by the passing of my parents. There is an odd sense of guilt, yet a sense that they would have wanted this for me. I sat in York Minster Cathedral yesterday, listening to the Evensong and music of that great organ filling the space and grief unloaded on me like a meteor crashing into the sea. We had so much time to prepare for my Dad’s passing, but with my Mom, it was so sudden, so unexpected, that I think the process will take a long time for all of us. She left a void that is hard to fill.

    • I miss Suzi. I come across things she gave to the boys over the years – birding vests, books, little toys – and I am awash. I felt like my efforts to connect with her were thwarted, not by her necessarily, but by circumstance. It’s hard to know what to do with those feelings. I am so glad you are on an amazing trip, you so deserve it.

      • Loved the way you chose instead of tears..as I can easily show my feelings, you can even count it as more then I should shed, When you cry you relax but there is nothing left behind and when you write you create something that might show many others that they are not alone..I always loved you so much Viv and still do..though we have never met and could never chat face to face I know we could have been perfect sisters..
        I lost my mom long ago whom I fought, whom I loved the most, whom I could give all just to hold her one more time..and nobody told me that Mothers could die!!!
        Then after 7 years I lost my grandpa..he felt me more as I was his daughter then my own father did! and then now my grandma…she was the one who was giving me strength and unconsciously I was replacing it with mom..so losing her made me feel like I lost my mom once more after 12 years..
        Was it fair? Oh yes it was! I had my mom for 24 years and my grandpa for 29 and my grandma 36…when compared to the ones who could never see their mothers, or grandparents yes I was lucky to have them for long enough to remember all the special moments and share the greatest love that parents could..
        I gone through a divorce last year and God knows..it was nothing when compared with the loss of someone you love…
        My two kids are lovely and taking the whole energy so I don’t have anytime to think of my own or of my losses or needs..How healthy is that I don’t know but life was never easy and it will never be….

  2. This was incredible because it is not a perspective that I knew existed. I am not even sure what an “encounter group” is, and I can’t imagine what you describe. (I think my life was the opposite… emotions were forbidden or ignored because I was around people who were not allowed to show feelings or didn’t have the tools to hold them. Asians. How eye opening it is for me to read your work!

    • I suspect you were not born in the 70s and didn’t experience the new-agey 80s. Lifespring, EST, the Forum, Course in Miracles, Gestalt, Primal Therapy, Rebirthing, etc. were huge and my father was very interested in all of it. To his credit, he changed the course of his life from a collision course with disaster to one that has brought him happiness and fulfillment. I just feel that the tender, and impressionable age of 12 is too young to be involved in such things. One is still innocent, why be exposed to the adult world of disfunction? There is ample time for that in the future. The “therapist” who ran the organization is the one at fault, he never should have allowed children to be involved.

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