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What's wrong with tears?

04 September 2011

I am a member of a number of messageboards for widows and widowers. A recurring theme is about showing sorrow in public. Widows writing how they have to hide their grief for the outside world and pretend they are doing fine. They smile when someone asks how they are and hide when they feel tears.

I really struggle to understand why they do this. And even more so, why is it that other widows frequently congratulate each other on being able to hide their true feelings from the world. "Today my boss asked me how I was. I forced a smile and said I was ok. I put on my happy face because I did not him to see me cry. To the outside world, it looks like I am coping well. If only they knew how my evenings are spent crying alone on the sofa." "Oh, that must have been hard for you. Well done on keeping the tears back though."

Why not tell him you are struggling? What is wrong with showing tears? We want understanding and sympathy from friends and colleagues but how can they know how to respond unless we give them something to work with?

Maybe it is because I am not English so my upper lip is not very stiff but I just don't see why so many people are trying to put on a happy face in public.

This only serves to make people think you are doing well when in fact you are not and could do with help. How can they expect people to offer help when they show them a face that says they are doing well?

I often shed tears in public. Several times a day, for a few seconds, tears roll down my face. On the days that I don't allow this, I find I usually need to have a big whailing cry later on. And they make me much more sad and exhausted than little ones throughoit the day.

And I don't care where I am when it happens. If people whom I don't know ask me where my wife is, I will tell them she died recently and if that brings tears to my eyes, so be it. I don't see why I should lie and just say: "oh she is not here tonight".

Last night I was at a gig in Swansea and I got talking to a lady at the bar. I was wearing my Salmony Goodness jumper and she asked where I bought it. I told her I made it myself and she said it was funny and did it mean anything special.

So I told her it was what Jane once said, shortly before she died and how it made me laugh because it was sweet when she said it. I said it in a kind but rather matter-of-fact kind of way. As I tend to do. And the lady smiled and opened a conversation about Jane. Exactly what I wanted. I did not cry but had tears in my eyes but that did not matter. The conversation continued and there was nothing uncomfortable about it, for me nor for her.

I am not saying everyone is wrong and I am right but I really don't understand the problem with crying in public. I also realise that there are moments when it simply is not 'appropriate'. For example, last week I was at a rehearsal for Invocal. They played a song Jane used to love. In addition, they played that song for her in the hospice. I burst in to tears when they started and I left the room. Not because I wanted to hide the tears but because they were never going to be able to rehearse the song with me wailing in the room. And it was not about me. I was watching their performance.

When Invocal played that same song again during the gig on Saturday, I sat in the back of the room and during the song, silent tears fell. No loud crying, nothing intrusive. Just silent tears. Had I hidden my tears on the Sunday before, I would have had a much stronger reaction during the gig. But managing tears is not the same as hiding and pretending you are fine.

But other than situations where tears might need to be managed, what is wrong with the truth and with tears? The more you do it, the less of it you will need to do. It will also make it easier for people around you to see when you are really doing ok or when you are in need of some extra help and/or friendship. If you never cry in public and always say you are ok, the moment you have a day when you can pretend no more, people will be completely shocked and they will not have a response for you. And you yourself will be shocked by your own outburst, making it embarassing for you and compounding the difficulty of the situation.

And finally, hiding your emotions makes it harder for people who are also grieving for the loss of your partner, be it as a friend, colleague or family member, to talk with you about it. And isn't that what most of us want? To talk about this wonderful person who gave us happiness?

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