DRIVEL: Opinions and Reviews

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Tears and Money Shots:  The Obscene View of Grief ©2004

[All cartoons from]
Exhibit A:
fter my mom died, my sister-in-law said we should sit up front well in advance of the audience at the memorial.  If we had to walk the gauntlet too late, she said ‘Everyone will be turning and checking for red eyes.’   Yup.  She was right.  The creepy voyeurs, leering at engorged conjunctiva.  Looking for telltale signs of passion.

Exhibit B:
Famous image of the 20th century:  Jackie Kennedy with her sheer black veil fluttering over her grieving face.  Like a negligee, a peek-a-boo babydoll of a hat, coyly blurring eyes instead of nipples, keeping the public gaze decently off the last remaining bodily fluid still considered obscene:  Tears.

Everything is out of the closet but grief; every emotion and emission recorded, close-up, in slow-mo.  Grief is still expected to be vented unseen—in the bathroom, if necessary, the only place a publicly grieving person can flee to add their brine to the excreta.  (During my divorce, I wept buckets into paper towels in office washrooms.  Other women circled and offered sympathy before I mopped up and resumed the charade that I felt nothing.  I did a good job because an older co-worker had the staggering cruelty to say to me,  “You don’t seem very upset.”)

[Image: Inside This Shell of Mine —Nancy Bright]
Aside from offers of absorbent products, what do we have to offer each other?  My mother was a pragmatic girl (a palliative care RN) who finally told me a safe place to grieve was lying on the floor.  She said that on the floor, ‘there’s no place to fall.’   She was right.  My body would collapse from the howling and it would curl itself up on its side on the wood floor like a salted slug, and the floor would not drop me.  I still feel the smooth wide boards of the kitchen floor against my cheek; its cool bones against my heated ones.

Why was I learning all this so far into adulthood?  Sex Ed in public school has kids doing song and dance routines about Masturbation and Ejaculation [great stuff!]– but still nothing about managing emissions of tears?   Where are the manuals and classes like the ones for Sex Ed?   Is any human exempt from curling up on the floor with grief?

Where are the brochures, the workshops, the textbooks, the pundits?  We dial 911 for clergy —usually unprecedentedly— and they sure don’t advise on the best place to weep.  They offer abstractions and frequently pre-printed ones.  On the other hand, after two miscarriages in a row, a recovery group I called told me to drive to the shoulder of a very noisy expressway, pull over and shriek my head off until I was exhausted.  Now that’s more like it!  (The home version of this is to stand in the shower, turn it on full force, and howl into it, letting it all wash down to the ocean.)

What is it with grief?  Isn’t it obvious that it’s marketed in porn style?   Take a tragedy of any kind and what the media wants on page one is the wet, spasm’d face of a griever.  It sells like titties on page three.  Journalistic prose simply can’t resist ‘the quivering voice’, the ‘trembling’ or the ‘breaking’ voice, the ‘wiping away tears.’   It is, supple reader, a form of public incontinence.   And the untutored public is fascinated and horrified by it.   They wanna watch—but not learn nuthin.  Nope.

Every other emotion is out in the open.  Anger, joy, lust, pride, triumph, amazement, fear.  Poor old grief is a homeless emotion; still something that makes ya feel vaguely un-toilet-trained.   I wonder why.

Exhibit C:
After the second miscarriage, my then-husband avoided me for three days, the time of the unstoppable weeping.  He would wake and find me already there on the sofa, a couple of hours into the tears, and would skirt around me.  I was a looping video and the reviews were terrible.  My skin still has hunger pangs from that famine of touch.

Here then, from Sobbology 101:
 [Image: Cobalt Embrace — Elise Tomlinson]
Class, there is a way to cooperate with weeping, the way we cooperate with contractions in labour.  I finally stopped gasping and fighting and instead let it take over, entirely unmanaged and unobstructed.   I learned that weeping has a function.   It’s to rhythmically force every last drop of air from the lungs, until the torso contracts, the body buckles, and the entire being knots into a single pre-birth posture.  After the peak of the contraction, the lungs take a deep full breath, like the first one after birth—and that weep-wave is over.  It’s a simple in and out, like a cycle of respiration.  During the peak of it, you think you might crack like concrete, or never breathe again.  You won’t.  And you will.

The longer you try to fight this, the more energy it takes.  Grief is a demanding dance and the soul does not let us lead.  It presses and extracts and jackhammers the pain loose from its mooring inside us; dissolves it and exhales it and forces it from the eyes, as though the images could be washed away.  When I arrived crying, my divorce shrink used to say -- “You’re leaking.”

Taking a leak.  Right, doc.

[Image: Nighttime is the Hardest—Elise Tomlinson]
We can’t resist a peek at the griever, because it’s savoury and memorable to see someone feeling something.  Particularly if it’s something intense, of the moment, impossible to hide.  We actually pay for spectacles of torment as entertainment—sorry, Jesus—and we revere actors who weep on cue.  We're amazed they’ll let us see their red eyes, snot, saliva, and distorted features.  It’s the emotional counterpart of the porn finale.  With real fluids!

Some traditional cultures have a crying house, where one goes for metered time to greet, accept and express grief.  After this time, the structure that was built ritually for the occasion is torn down.  The pain it’s contained is released.  I experimented with this once, after the sudden death of a beautiful 40 year old friend.  I hid in an empty room in a friend’s home and spent four hours crying and letting every tear pour unstaunched.   For the only time in my life, grief existed in real time, unmolested by schedules or duties or pride or fear.  In four hours, the grief had poured over and through me and out.  I didn’t cry again over this soul, even when visiting his tormented widow, who also told me she had no tears left.

When will we stop telling people to go away and get it over with and not rejoin us until they’ve composed themselves?  (Go and eliminate, wipe, flush, and come back.)  What happened to honourable witness?  Grief simply asks to be seen and not shamed.  Do we retreat when we’re overcome with laughter?  If there is an instigator of the grief, then it’s the correct role of that person to bear witness.  An unresolvable grief is one in which the bomber pilot flies home to bed and never sees the eyes of the wounded, miles below.  Sometimes, it can be sufficiently healing to merely be witnessed and seen to feel.

[Image: Grief —mask by Sharon Strong]
Sobbology Coles Notes™
In a black Baptist church in the southern U.S., I went one Sunday to see what they would do with a sad person.   Amazingly, they had a healing ritual.  We lined up, the pastor heard each broken heart’s short and simple statement, and tears flowed from several people.  We walked back down the aisle to our seats, our souls on parade.  The stranger seated next to me said, “It'll be all right, sister.”  He was right.

B)  A 90+ year old woman told me during my grieving that “there are griefs you take with you to your grave.”   She was also right.  These twist the bones, leave scars, alter the features, and we walk with shrapnel in every step, like distinguished veterans.  She taught me to walk with grief as a companion, and to find grace in the refusal to deny what existed –the depth of pain calibrating the depth of passion.

C)  I lived near a catholic church when my husband left me and our little daughters.  My luxury during that time was to stop into the unlocked cathedral on the way home from work--and fill the place with tears.  It was so huge that my grief had a fitting home, one of proper scale.  The ghoulish Jesus cadaver hung at the front, life size.  I looked at it and thought, “wanna trade nails?”   Mary, goddess-remnant, was standing in a grotto off to the side, and I spoke to her like she was my mom.  I always brought a small offering and one evening, it was a piece of gum from my purse—all I had on me.  I wedged it into a chink in the base of the goddess’s sculpture and wonder if it’s still there, like the feather Heloise used to pray to after Abelard was taken from her.

To those who grieve deeply and remain open to the pain of loss, we owe much more than voyeuristic stares or jockish slaps on the back and urges of ‘chin up!’— or media cameras that feed the emotional junkies, the mind-worms, the soul-suckers.

Exhibit D:
My 11 year old daughter stumbled during a dance recital and afterward wept in dismay.   A nearby adult said to her, “Well, don’t cry!”—as though crying were the least appropriate expression of sorrow.   I wonder what sorrow turns into when it can’t remain fluid and flowing.  Perhaps it hardens and metastasizes.

[Image:  Grief Tattoo—Rick Berry]
I hope I cry regularly till I die.  Then I hope I evaporate with the tears and rejoin the water cycle, to fall as rain on the faces of the grievers.  Or perhaps I’ll return as the wood floors they curl up on.  All I know is we’ll recognize each other.  No longer grief -virgins.  (And if natural selection ain't been over-rated, no longer of any interest to the tabloids.)



If you have
a big mouth,
use it to shed light.


  Drivel archives:

Cars and Blenders:
Appliances as lifestyle statements

What's up, dad?
Buddy, can you spare a decade?

Tears and Money Shots:
The Obscene View of Grief

The Frankenfamily:
Dedicated to
children of divorce

Drama and GPS

Murkin Theology:
The all-you-can-eat-buffet as an altar of worship

SUVs and Pet Rocks: Differently Abled products

Dear Single Men