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.