My dear friend Roseanne came over to watch movies and drink margaritas. She told me that she and her daughter had been to the cemetery, to visit Aidan's grave. The grave is marked with a flat granite headstone with a slightly curved top and a simple inscription: "Aidan Kenneth Bradshaw, 1997 - 2012."
Roseanne continued her story: "Darlene sat down on the ground next to the headstone and we talked about Aidan and your family," she told me. "She brushed some leaves off the marker. Then when we left, she kissed her fingers, touched them to the stone and said, 'Goodbye, little buddy.'"
I felt tears beginning to burn and press behind my eyelids, and I couldn't stop them. I put my head in my hands and sobbed, grief stabbing through my chest, my lungs, my voice. Roseanne wrapped her arms around me and held me while I cried. We stood like that for a long time--me weeping, Roseanne holding onto me, holding me up, crying her own tears as well.
Eventually the tears slowed and stopped, and we resumed our conversation about pretend boyfriends and realbeverages; we poured and talked and laughed and remembered. Later in the evening she said, "I'm sorry I made you cry when I told you about going to the cemetery."
"Don't be," I said. "Crying is good." I don't necessarily understand this, but I know it's true. I know that when someone gives me the opportunity to cry for Aidan, I am always grateful. I know that it hurts, it's exhausting, it's ugly--but it's necessary.
William Shakespeare wrote, "To weep is to make less the depth of grief" (Henry the Sixth) and Victor Hugo said, "Those who do not weep, do not see" (Les Miserables).
As always, the opinions expressed in This Blog are backed up by research: In 1977, William H. Frey wrote the first definitive research book (discussed here) on the biochemistry of emotional tears. He proposed that emotional tears, which have a different chemical composition than irritant tears (caused, for example, by cutting onions), not only lubricate, clean and protect the eyes, but that they remove toxins from the body. They literally produce a physiological response that makes you feel better.
I loved that story about Darlene. I loved picturing her there, caring about Aidan, missing him, talking about him.
What I know about crying is this: when we have lost someone dear to us, there are tears inside of us. We have three options: we can keep the tears inside, we can cry alone, or we can cry with a friend. Repressing the sadness--keeping the tears inside--is only going to lead to anger, depression, panic attacks, and possibly hair cancer.
When I cry for Aidan, it's not an elegant, Hollywood kind of crying, with a delicate tear wetting my long eyelashes and tracing my perfect cheekbone. No, it is not even a bit pretty. It's monsoon-like, with wracking sobs, swollen eyes, and frowny, joggly jowls. But I don't give a damn.
And if you are willing to be with me when I'm having one of these episodes, if you are willing to hold my hand or let me smear snot and mascara on your shirt, if you are not afraid of the ugly cry, you are giving me the only gift that means anything to me right now, in this season of grief.
Sometimes a friend will say, "If there's anything I can do for you, just let me know." There's very little you can do for me that will help me get through this excruciating grief--except this: say Aidan's name to me, ask me how I'm doing in this lonely valley and really want to hear the answer; tell me a story, thought, anecdote, or memory you have of Aidan; if you didn't know Aidan, tell me a thought about what you have learned about him since he died, or ask me a question about him. You can even ask me about his death. Any of these will most likely make me cry, and sometimes this crying is going to be ugly.
It may make you uncomfortable; it may make you want to help me feel better or get over it. Resist this temptation. Rather, just be there with me. Touch my arm, hold my hand, cry your own tears--but don't try to say anything or do anything to make it stop. It will stop, eventually, and I'll look horrible and feel exhausted--but I'll also feel relief that that quota of tears has finally been released and will never need to be cried again. There are more to come--there will never be a time when I have cried all the tears I need to cry for Aidan; but you will have given me the gift of releasing a small portion of this grief, and I will be grateful.
Please: make me cry.