People often scramble for tissues on my behalf, searching purses, pockets, drawers and the like for something to dry my tears and wipe my nose. In fact, this began the day Caemon died when we received fellow mourners in our tetris-shaped “privacy” room and has not abated since. Anytime people catch my eyes glistening or voice quavering, they begin the manic search for something to daub away the pain. I hardly bother. It’s like trying to mop up after Hurricane Katrina with a Swiffer: pointless.
I prefer to allow the tears to stream down my face in whatever pace or volume necessary to get through the worst of it. Tears fall on my clothes, the ground, photos of Caemon, forming pools and paths. Where they land doesn’t concern me; I just have to get them out.
But then there’s the snot, and everyone knows what I mean. A good cry always involves snot. Perhaps this is what the tissues are for. It’s not the tears but the snot people are concerned with. I take a cue from my dead son on this one and wipe my nose when necessary on whatever is handy (a sheet or pillowcase, Timaree’s shoulder, etc.). Clearly there is some regression happening during these periods and I become a disgusting snot-nosed toddler.
Sleeves are always handy, but if I’m bare-armed, so be it. Skin is not as absorbent as a good sleeve, but no matter. Some bouts are so drenching I remove my shirt altogether and use it as a towel, wiping it all away in one utilitarian motion like a boxer between rounds, then ball it up and toss it toward something that may or may not be a hamper. I shuffle to the dresser, pull out another wearable tissue, and wait for the next onslaught.
Some cries are like soliloquies, and others are more like slave spirituals. Some lack sound entirely. Some are for him; some are for me. Each one hurts like hell. Emotionally these moments are excruciating, but the physical toll is equally taxing: back spasms, cramps, headaches, dehydration, all byproducts of the daily spitting out of bottomless sorrow. Rest between cries becomes essential.
Some days I can’t take it, not one more loathsome second of it, and so I do something to avoid a downward spiral. On a good day, I can produce something positive, like the little patio fountain I built yesterday. Its soothing babble comforts me and coaxes me outdoors. On a bad day, I can drink a bottle of wine and pass out, but then I just wake up at four a.m., get out of bed, and spend an hour crying on the sofa before returning to bed to pass out again.
At Okizu, during family bereavement camp, there was an epic three-hour-long group discussion involving 8 couples who had all lost a child to cancer. Some were pretty far out, fifteen years being the longest, and then there was us, not even 3 full months removed from Caemon’s death, and I noted the similarities and differences between how we cried. The poor men didn’t cry at all; they sat stoically while their wives wept and told their stories, most projecting a resolve to do something or make something productive out of their tragedies. The women cried more readily. I made a point to not look away when someone cried. I looked them right in the eyes and let loose my own silent tears. The staff there came prepared with strategically placed boxes of tissue every third chair, and by the end of the session, our hands clutched tattered and soggy balled-up wads of white fiber, the pitiful emblem of the “Sad Parents Club” to which we now all loathingly belong.
I remember that I once went two years without crying. At the time I felt like I had spent so much of my childhood crying that I had become impervious to life’s woes. Imagine the hubris in thinking I had seen or felt it all by nineteen! Now that I’m a seasoned crier, I know that these tears don’t come from nothing, nor are they pointless; they’re plentiful because of how profoundly I love and miss Caemon. Given this, I honor every tear as an expression of that exquisite truth. I never apologize for crying.
Safety advisory: crying in the car is great for getting it out. You can be loud, curse, wail, sing out those sad songs, and it feels safe—even freeing—but bleary eyes make for distracted driving. Pull over during the worst of it.