Today was Easter Sunday. I was in church, attempting to be a part of the happy celebration, when my emotions poured in like a tidal wave from behind, washed over me suddenly and with great force. Tears let loose and I was aware of my strained face which bore the brunt of trying to keep the dam from bursting completely. If I didn’t maintain containment I would soon become a “scene”. You know, the kind of car-wreck of emotion that sometimes happens in a church pew where everyone wants to watch without looking like they’re looking. Rubber-necking without the rubber neck. Everyone loves to see a disaster unfold. The messiness is awkward though, so the clean-up tends to be swift. One can only handle emotional messiness for so long. Especially in a public setting. Leaving my seat was unthinkable. That would only attract more eyes, more attention and more curiosity. So, I remained. Quiet and cemented in place.
As the tears dripped from my eyes and made tracks on my cheeks, I wiped them away swiftly so as to not call any attention to myself. People would begin to wonder and make assumptions about me. They might think I’m repenting from years of being backslidden. Or maybe I have finally realized my brokenness and I’m ready to walk to the front for prayer. Perhaps the message of salvation has just revealed itself to me and I am crying from relief at the long-awaited epiphany. What issue is big enough to shed tears over? A divorce? These are the things people conjure up when encountering emotional wreckage from a distance. I have speculated in such situations myself so it’s not hard to imagine someone else jumping to conclusions about my mysterious tears.
What I really wanted to avoid was that “knowing” rub on the back or the “It’s okay dear, let it out” comment from the well-meaning woman with the look on her face that says “I know your pain, I’ve been there” veiling her curiosity in concern. I didn’t want any sympathy. No prayers. No comments or solutions or bible verse statements. I didn’t want my precious, very real emotions to become tainted by insincerity or sloppiness, even if intentions were good. I wasn’t in the mood for listening to another’s tale of woe only to trump my own. I didn’t want to know about counseling and I most certainly didn’t want to hear that I should try to forgive myself since Jesus already did that in advance by dying on the cross and rising again on Easter Sunday.
What I wanted was to be alone in the crowd, to embrace my feelings and carry them with me for a while. I didn’t want to dismiss or be dismissed. Not this time. I just needed to dwell in this place, give my emotions space so I could figure out what going on.
My tears came upon me so suddenly that I had to backtrack to recollect what the trigger might have been. Emotions are curious that way – the body responds to them before the mind knows what’s happening. It didn’t take me long to suss out what had caused my emotional eruption. In fact, it was glaringly obvious.
It was Easter Sunday. Duh!
Historically, this has been a difficult holiday for me. I think I have been shedding Easter Sunday tears for twenty years straight now. I thought I was over it. Apparently not.
I won’t go into all of the details and bore you into tears, but I’ll sum it up like this: Easter Sunday twenty years ago was 3 days before my mother died and the last day that she was at home. Easter Sunday is the day when she wanted to talk to me and the day when I didn’t give her the chance to have a conversation. In short, I selfishly squandered the last chance I had to talk with my mother in exchange for an afternoon nap. I was 18.
Now, sitting in church, I accidentally recalled that afternoon nap from twenty years prior. It showed as in a flash in my mind, so vivid and so very unwelcome, not to mention inconvenient, as far as timing goes. A moment later I was ambushed by a tidal wave of emotion.
I believe I can sum it up in one precise word: regret.
I will admit a tendency to minimize my feelings. For example, when I recall a sad story from my past, my inner dialogue goes something like this: “That certainly sounds like a sad story complete with all the dramatic characteristics of the quintessential sad story narrative. I bet if you told that to someone they would feel sorry for you and your sad little life. But’s that’s all it is. A sad story. It doesn’t mean that you ARE actually sad or that you have to react to it. So, let’s not sit here and whine about it all day, wearing your sad story like it’s some kind of badge of honour, as though it makes you special or different. You’re just like everyone else. Everyone has sad stuff to deal with. Get over it. It’s time to move on.”
As you can tell, my inner dialogue can be quite brutal and has no patience for whining of any kind.
Since I don’t want to be a whiner, I typically shut the valve to my sad story and I move on, just as my inner dialogue instructed me to do. I suspect my inner dialogue is just repeating what she heard from other people, though. She’s getting her material from society at large.
There is a certain amount of time allotted for serious grieving, say, one or two years, but after that time has passed we are supposed to get our act together, dry the salty tears from our faces and go out into society as fully healed, well-adjusted and productive humans. Should things take longer, well, there are services, pills and well-written books to help. After a point, if there is still an issue, one learns to keep it to oneself.
After church I slipped out quickly and walked to the nearby cemetery to visit my mother’s grave. I sat alone by her stone in the sun and pondered my thoughts for a while.
My emotions had definitely taken me by surprise. The truth is that my feelings are real and like a crying child who just gets louder the more you ignore them, my emotions are starting to reach a deafening level. Maybe I should silence the annoying inner voice. A muzzle would do the job. I’ve seen them work quite effectively on dogs.
Or perhaps not. Sitting on the stone, I decided that I had better start accepting my emotions and put a stop to the minimizing habit. Perhaps it’s time to start listening. I think this will continue to be a long road for me. I half suspect that this is a journey I’ll be on for a lifetime. Part of it will be learning how to accept the scar that I bear from my experience. Some things just don’t go away. They leave a mark, and that’s okay. I have lots of scars. I don’t pretend that I’ll be able to make it out of this life unscathed.
“It’s better to feel pain than nothing at all.” These lyrics came to me while I was perched atop the gravestone. I take a small amount of comfort in the feelings that I feel. At least I’m feeling something other than numbness. The scar reminds me of my mistake and what I lost, but also that I used to have something, too.
A few minutes later, Mark drove up to the cemetery and stopped to let me climb in the van. He asked how I was doing. I broke down again. Speechless. He silently handed me a Kleenex and put his hand on my leg to let me know he was there. That’s exactly what I needed. No solutions. No appeasements. No minimization.
He gave me more in that silence than he could have ever given me in words.