If Cowboys Had Wept . . .

During the first months after the death of my life mate—my soul mate—I sometimes felt I wasn’t handing my grief well. I cried around others at the beginning (couldn’t talk about his death without tears streaming down my face) but later I did my grieving in private. Only I (and my blog readers) knew what I was doing to assuage my grief, so why would I think I wasn’t handling it well? Because I was weeping and wailing. In our present culture, tears are a sign of weakness, but who decided that weeping and wailing are inappropriate ways of relieving the incredible stress, pain, and angst of losing a long time mate? Such releases are necessary. Otherwise, where does the pain go? It either stays inside to cause emotional and physical damage, or it gets relieved by truly inappropriate behavior such as illicit drugs or misplaced anger.

Through thousands of movies and books, we are taught to be stoic, to hold back our tears, to be cool. Yul Brynner in The Magnificent Seven was the epitome of western cool, gliding across the film’s landscape without a single show of emotion. Cinematic heroes such as he could relieve their tensions and emotions through shooting rampages, hard liquor, and harder women. Perhaps, if these men had wept, the west (at least the mythological west) would have been a more genteel place.

Many people, when hit with the maelstrom of emotions we call grief, feel as if they are going crazy. Oddly, I didn’t, even though some of my actions and reactions would have made me a suitable candidate for a fictional madwoman. (Makes me wonder. Were those women hidden away in attics and tower rooms really crazy, or were they simply grief-stricken?) I knew I was sane, knew I was well adjusted, so any emotions I felt or things I did to comfort myself, by definition, were normal. Not having to worry about being crazy enabled me to deal with the pain itself rather than my reaction to it.

Like most people, I am afraid of pain, so I do not know where I got the courage to embrace the agony of losing my mate, to face it head on, arms open wide. But I did, and I still do. I don’t cry where anyone can see me, mostly because my tears are private but also because I don’t want to make people feel bad since there is nothing they can do about my sorrow.

And that, perhaps, is the real reason for tears being frowned on in our culture. We don’t want to be confronted with the outward show of someone’s grief because it forces us to confront our own weakness in the face of life’s (and death’s) enormity.

10 Responses to “If Cowboys Had Wept . . .”

  1. Gloria Teague Says:

    You’ve addressed something I’ve always thought about: why do we feel so uncomfortable around someone when they cry. For me, it may be because I want so badly to help, but have little to no idea how. I hesitate to approach someone that is crying because I don’t want to appear phony or patronizing. My usual reaction is to touch that person’s back, or hand, offer a genuine smile of encouragement and say, “All I have to offer are words and a hug. I’m here if you need me.” Even that seems ineffectual and insipid, to me. My step-father pounded into my head that tears are a sign of weakness. He said, “Crying makes your enemy think you’re weak.” To this day I have no idea who “the enemy” is but I go to great lengths to keep anyone from seeing me cry.

    I think your blog helps us to see that we’re all human, we all grieve, and unfortunately, not everyone “gets it”. I would never say I understand how you feel because none of us do. Each of us reacts, grieves, differently due to life experiences and our own personalities. I DO know that I empathize with you and wish your heart could be lighter.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Gloria, it is a conundrum, isn’t it? In real life, when we see people cry, we don’t see it as a sign of weakness, but of a sorrow so great it can’t be contained. Shortly after he died, I went to the grocery store where we shopped. Since we’d always been there together, the check-out clerk asked if he was okay, and I told her he was dead. She hugged me and cried with me. I’ll always remember that. Not enough tears had been shed for him, and her tears touched me.

  2. Wanda Says:

    From my own reactions to someone’s tear is I always want to help. In my life I’m a ‘fixer.’ If someone brings a problem to my notice I begin to think of ways to fix it. It’s a character trait that is sometimes terrific and just as often it’s inappropriate. Sometimes people just want to talk, to release their feelings, to simply cry, to have their feelings acknowledged.

    It’s taken me some time to come to realize this fact and be a listener instead of the ‘fixer.’ Changing isn’t easy but it is possible.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Wanda, what a great lesson to have learned! Listening is the greatest gift you can give someone. I think most of us have the capacity to heal our emotional hurts if we allow ourselves, and sometimes talking about it helps us get to that point. Advice often frustrates us because it’s a sign the person isn’t truly listening. They are focused on their need to fix, and not on our need to heal ourselves.

  3. Kathy Holmes Says:

    I’ve learned to cry and feel all of my losses – still dealing with long ago losses. They can seem so trivial but they will smack you in the face when you least expect it. I’ve also learned to recognize that sick feeling inside when I know I’m not expressing a grief I should. So when that feeling surfaces, I know it’s time to go some place private and cry. And then I feel so much better. Or if my hubby is there, I tell him, “I just need to feel this and let it go” and he knows not to try to fix it.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Kathy, so often there is no fix except to feel it, to let the pain and tears speak to our subconconsious. I’m beginnning to think emotions are how we communicate with our inner selves, the selves that exist beneath words.

  4. leesis Says:

    A spot on post Pat. And yes there were a lot of women shut up including in many an institution who were simply choking on their unexpressed grief. I have also seen women and men literally tip into psychosis because the mind can simply hold no more pain.

    And the trend that scares me the most is that now more than ever it is socially acceptable, government approved and medically recommended to medicate the pain.

    I am currently writing about this on my own blog for I believe that we are only in for more ‘disorders’ if we continue down the path of treating our pain (whatever the cause) as an enemy to be suppressed or ‘treated’.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Leesa, the medical establishment has eliminated the bereavement exclusion in its definition of depression, so now more than a few days of weeping and wailing after a great loss are grounds for medical intervention. What rot! I guess it makes sense, though. It takes time for grief to heal, and in a corporate world, there is no time.

      In books and movies, whenever someone cries out in anguish when hearing of a loved one’s death, a doctor is always there with a needle. I never did understand that. Sedation only delays the pain.

  5. The Courage to Grieve | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] Maybe there wouldn’t be so much nastiness in the world if people would just let themselves cry. If cowboys had wept, the west (at least the mythological west) would have been a more genteel place. But then, there […]

  6. Shame | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] In our present culture, tears are a sign of weakness. Through thousands of movies and books, we are taught to be stoic, to hold back our tears, to be cool. Yul Brynner in The Magnificent Seven was the epitome of western cool, gliding across the film’s landscape without a single show of emotion. Think how different our experience of grief would be if men such as these had wept. […]

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