Making Meaning of the Madness

Chapter 6

Laughter and Tears

Misery comes readily enough;

why deny its relief?

Journal: Feb '95

penny image

Survivors of severe loss sometimes add to their burden by placing unreasonable pressures on themselves. I am speaking about those who believe laughter in the face of death is disrespectful. My son would be very unhappy if he thought his father believed that. I am certain he is relieved to know I still find humour in life.

 To deny oneself a good laugh at a movie, joke, human situation or whatever seems to me a waste of opportunity. Laughter takes pressure off and gives momentary relief from unhappiness. It provides a support source to help us endure. Many months have passed, but I recall very clearly how wonderful it felt to laugh the first time after Jeff died. And I remember the sense of relief it brought, however brief. I will always be indebted to the friend who gave my wife and me that opportunity, and to the other friends who later stepped in to help us find humour. Discovering laughter could still be a part of our lives was very gratifying. 

 To help return some youthful laughter to our lives, eight months after Jeff died we accepted a fifteen year old international student from Taiwan as a boarder. Doing so was one of the best decisions we made with respect to healing. Carol and I needed a positive focus, and we needed youthful giggles and exuberance to return to our household for we feared coming home at the end of each working day to a sombre and often very sad house. So we welcomed Amy. She and her sister (who coincidentally lived across the street) provided us much needed spark. We could focus on teaching English to Amy, helping her with homework, including her in our travels around the Lower Mainland and generally accepting her into our family. I could tell by the light in her eyes what we gave her was appreciated, but what she gave us was so much more.

Carol cried so much that Judy recommended 'Preparation H' for the swelling under her eyes. Thank God for some humour!

Journal: Jan '95

 Aside from a few abbreviated bursts, I did very little crying in the immediate period after Jeff died. I think I was still concerned with control, and I think denial was a huge factor. How could our son’s death possibly be? Even at the funeral home during visitation there were no tears, just profound disbelief.

How do I work through the memories of touching you at the funeral home so cold, knowing then as we said goodbye there would never be another greeting? I don't think I fully accepted the reality of your death. I talked to you as though you were asleep, and I walked away stunned, but not crying, unable to grasp what was happening. I was not yet understanding that never really is forever.

Journal: Sep '95

 Men have a good deal of trouble with tears. Much of that we bring upon ourselves. Perhaps we are too concerned with being in control. Perhaps we are misguided. Perhaps we have watched too many testosterone movies that teach us real men don’t cry. I think that is a shame because when tragedy strikes we find ourselves in a morass of confusion. Our whole being is devastated, but we don’t know how to give vent to natural emotion.

Sometimes I wasn't sure if I was crying for Jeff, for myself, for others who were hurting, for the kids we taught, or for the kindness and love being shown us. Sometimes I felt guilty and selfish because I felt I was crying for the wrong reasons.

Journal: Dec '94

Not crying for the past two weeks has begun to bother me. Why? Didn't I love my boy?

Journal: Jan '95

Suddenly today while driving home from the dump I realized Jeff would never again be coming home. I had to pull over to the side of the road for fear of hitting the ditch. The reality overwhelmed me-no more contact, golf, tennis, visits, laughs, stories. The last time he and I were together he finally beat me at tennis. He was very contented with himself. It was an amazing relief to suddenly cry uncontrollably. My despair at realizing his and our reality seemed to take until today to hit me. The mind is such a strange thing. I had been talking rationally for days about his death, using the words dead, death, suicide, freely-but not really comprehending the depth of the words.

Journal: Jan '95

Still not crying. Just shaking my head in disbelief every time one of the visions comes. How does one comprehend all that has changed in the past few weeks? Jeff and Dad both gone.

Journal: Feb '95

Found myself unable to stop crying on the plane home from Toronto. A movie triggered my emotions.

Journal: Jul '95

 At times it was more NOT crying that bothered me than crying itself. I thought I should be doing more and was feeling guilty I wasn’t. I was starting to beat myself up about being unfeeling. I was beginning to curse the years in the police force, wondering if the emotions I’d suppressed had robbed me of the ability to feel. I was beginning to wonder if not crying was a sign I didn’t love Jeff as much as I thought. (One of the aspects of grief that tortured me the first year or so was my inability to control irrational thoughts, especially when tired.) Then the trip home from the dump opened the flood gates and washed away guilt for the moment.

 At this point it is all well and good to understand how needless some of the guilt was, but I enjoy now the advantage of time, the great healer.

 I have noticed on a number of occasions when particularly unhappy that eventually my emotions build to such a point that I end up crying. Each time this happens I definitely feel better afterwards. The tension has increased, often without my knowing it, to a level where it demands release. The ensuing tears are a safe outlet. Thankfully I take that route to release my emotions and not one that would be destructive.

 Just as we require laughter in our lives, we require tears. Life is not a “soma” bath, but it is a lottery. We can know bounteous joy, but we can also know unspeakable misery. We hope for the former, but we should understand few escape this world without the latter. We need to laugh when there is something to celebrate. And we need to free ourselves to cry when life pulverizes us. 

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