My resolve worked surprisingly well. I was in college before I shed any more tears, and even then I rarely did it in front of other people. I never had the experience of catharsis others claim to have. Giving way to tears, like giving way to rage, doesn't leave me feeling purged or relieved. I don't strive to bottle either one any longer; when they come, they come. But giving them expression doesn't seem to help much.
James' death was the first occasion in a long time I can remember feeling like I had no say in whether or not I cried. Have I told you the story about when I learned of his death? I had been at a friend's surprise birthday party, in a cheese cave (seriously) so the phone call went to voicemail. Above ground again, I listened to Dad's message on a street in Midtown.
"Patrick, make sure to sit down before thee listens to this. James was killed today in a car accident."
Then he dissolved into sobs, and had to hang up the phone.
I suppose it was shock that made me unsure I had heard the message correctly, so naturally I had to replay it. But remember, I was in the concrete canyon of Midtown.
"Patrick, make sure to sit down before thee mumble mumble...mumble cell phone cut out, mumble mumble mumble."
I moved to a new location, got more bars on my phone and hit replay again. But I'm still in Midtown, remember? Suddenly a parade of Falun Gong followers marched past me on the Avenue. There were gongs, drums, cymbals, some species of caterwauling horn. It was like Chinese freakin' New Year.
What. the. fucking. HELL. (In other circumstances I would have found this hilarious.)
Fourth time was a charm, though by this point the shock had worn off enough that probably my brain was simply catching what my ear had heard perfectly the first time. Not knowing what to do with myself, I went on autopilot and headed off to my appointment. It wasn't until I met with my acupuncturist that I realized that trying to talk meant unleashing the torrent I had been holding back, just out of habit. It took at least three tries before I could explain why I was sobbing. She wisely sent me home. Next on the agenda was calling Brian, to explain that I wouldn't be much use to him at the rehearsal that day for the staged reading we were working on. Having said it out loud once already, thus removing any chance I had of magically rendering it not so, I was able to choke out my message after just two tries.
The month of June had many crying jags, and I realized that not only was I rarely in control of it, I was also not embarrassed by it. Certainly that must have been partly due to the fact that I was surrounded by lots of other watery messes, none of whom saw anything to be embarrassed by in their grief. It was comforting in its own weird way. (By the way, I have never been embarrassed by other people's tears, just my own.)
Then the memorial happened. For those of you unfamiliar with the silent Friends tradition, let me explain some key details. Because there is no predesignated minister, there is no pulpit, and the benches are usually set up in concentric rings, so everyone can see everyone else. One bench closest to the center is designated the 'Facing Bench'. Originally this would be where the elders sat, and today it's where the people charged with ending the worship sit. During special meetings, like for weddings or memorials, the families directly involved will sit here. The last time I sat there had been for Mary and Tony's wedding in 2006. That was nice.
I'm going to go on record here and say I'm not so sure having grieving families sitting on the Facing Bench is such a swell idea. At least in my case I didn't care for it. Suddenly I was aware of all these loving, sad, sympathetic people staring at me, wondering how I was doing, how I was going to react. The old ambivalence about tears resurfaced with a vengeance. Oh, they still came, I wasn't able to control them yet, but I felt vulnerable, exposed, above all embarrassed. I saw how this experience might be mitigated a bit in other Judeo-Christian memorials, where everyone faces in one direction. The only people who can see you crying are the ones at the lectern or pulpit, and maybe the folks sitting next to you.
Oh, except in those cases, the grieving family members are often expected to say a few words, right? So you're still visible to everyone, and you're expected to both stand and talk. Nope, that would have been worse. Scratch that paragraph above.
What brought all this on today? Well, in the past ten months, tears have come and gone according to some inner logic of their own. At times, sometimes for days, I'll feel them brewing under the surface, before they're triggered by the damnedest things. I mean Mercedes singing "You are Beautiful" in an episode of Glee was nice enough I suppose, but definitely one of that show's more treacly moments. The show hits pretty high on the treacle-meter actually. I still love it, but usually resist its more overt (read: cheap) plays for emotions. Was I really going to succumb this time? Apparently, yes. Not sure why, clearly it had something to do with James, don't ask me what, other than the general sentiment that yes, he too was beautiful, but for whatever reason that song (maybe because Mercedes was singing to all the fellow misfits at her high school and James had definitely been a misfit? I got nothin') set off the waterworks.
I had a similar experience this morning, with this song. I don't know how James felt about ELO, though I would suspect he liked them well enough. He probably even liked this tune, assuming he ever heard it. Maybe the lyrics make me think of him, especially the refrain:
Mr Blue Sky
Please tell us why
You had to hide away
For so long (so long)
Where did we go wrong?
Hey there Mr Blue
We're so pleased to be with you
Look around see what you do
Everybody smiles at you.
Yeah, there's some kind of trigger in there. I've mentioned James' relentless sunniness before, and how it often drove me crazy as a kid (maybe mostly when it took the form of teasing or hounding his older brother). I think James had some bleak periods, ones he rarely shared with me. Maybe he expressed them to Mary, or to close friends, but I fear he had the same tendency I did to hide away when things were really bad. I think it's a family trait, or maybe a cultural one. As a country we're still Puritan enough to think grief, misery, or simply low self-confidence are things to be ashamed of. Weaknesses of character. Sins to atone for, perhaps. Or maybe we don't know how to talk about them in a way that doesn't sound self-pitying.
So a peppy, upbeat song with deceptively melancholy lyrics threw me a curve ball today. Not the first time nor, I suspect, will it be the last. And more often than not now, I get embarrassed by it. Writing about it is almost as bad; woo boy, does that trigger the 'wallowing police' siren in my head (neener neener neener!). There's no denying this is all about me, after all. I think Mom, Dad, and Mary may be having similar experiences. In the days following James' death, grief tended to be a force bringing us together; at this stage, I think lately each of us feels the need to experience its greatest depths privately. I guess that's just part of the process. Funny how often that word--process--is the only answer I have for most of life's little struggles these days. It's a popular word among artists too. Getting to hate that fucking word.
Which undoubtedly is also part of the process.
Which undoubtedly is also part of the process.