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.