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Losing My Ability To Cry

I do not think I know how to cry anymore.

Doesn’t that just sound ridiculous? How can someone not know how to cry?

I don’t think I do.

Trauma does bizarre things to human beings. Every single person reacts differently to it, and yet, we all share similar recounts of the damages. Like war heroes, we share our battle tales with each other and nod, knowingly, at the painted pictures in our collective minds. Those who do not know the experience seem to believe that losing someone is not nearly as life-altering as it really is.

The media portrays death and loss like small moments in our lives. We lose a person to death, there is a funeral, a “get-together” and then it’s a two-year flash forward to a person who is fine, if not better off. She smiles, softly, at the fond memories of her past but is otherwise completely and totally fine.

While I cannot speak for everyone, that is total and complete nonsense for me.

I’ve always been a crier. My Mom used to love telling everyone that I never cried as a baby and have been “making up for it” as a teenager and adult. I was always very emotional. Crying when I was sad, happy, and especially when I was angry.

After my husband died, I cried heavily. I cried for what felt like a full 24-hour period. The only times I was not crying, I was sleeping. I was not eating, drinking, or experiencing life—just crying.

I cried for weeks. The moments would ebb and flow, but I would cry. I would cry so violently I would lose my breath and throw up. I would cry so roughly that I would burst vessels in and under my eyes. I would cry in the day or night— if I was awake, I was ready to cry.

But something happened after the first few months and I cannot begin to tell you where I lost my ability to cry, but it is gone. I cannot tell you the last time I cried. That is not to say I don’t feel sad. I do. Often and frequently and all the time. However, the act of crying, rather, that act of pure and simple relief from tears rolling down your face is gone.

There are pieces of literature that used to be able to send me over the edge no matter where I was or what I was doing. Some are pieces I’ve personally written about my husband’s death, others are pieces related to death in general. Today, even those meaningful, sometimes morbidly dark pieces cannot even flick the switch.

There is something very robotic about feeling as though you cannot cry. Something that makes you feel inadequate as a person—the very nature of humanity (for me) is to feel empathy, sympathy, and the wide range of emotions that come along with our psychological minds. Except, as much as I spout their necessity for all, I don’t have them.

Death turns people. I don’t like using phrases like “I feel like a zombie” or “I’m a shell of a person”—but they are poignant to some degree. I do not have the same vibrancy as before. It’s not like I don’t feel happiness, sadness, anger, etc.—it’s more that the emotions feel very shallow. There isn’t much iceberg underneath, although I still float through the sea.

I also find this inability to let go in almost all avenues of my persona. While sadness is the most obvious, I don’t laugh like I used to, either. I don’t understand frustrations or anger—social interactions bewilder me as if I did not have that part of my mind anymore. I watch others interact like museum exhibits, studying their behaviors, body language, speech as if they were an instructional video on the how-to’s of life. It does not limit itself to interactions for which I am not involved, either. I have had arguments with others, things that should feel degrading, violent, emotional, and yet I am left staring into the void and wondering why my verbal boxing partner is crying. I get perplexed by their emotions and cock my head like they are the crazy ones for releasing their pain.

I did not come to this realization overnight, although I may finally be putting into words the shallowness that I feel. It is a new trait that I find myself despising. I have never been this way. I was always the first person people would approach when they needed sympathy and comfort. I was always the confidant, the hand-holder, the silent but strong listener. Now I sit confused, like an alien observing this wild, emotional world.

Is there even a way to get back what I lost? How can someone who has stood on the brink of total collapse manage to return to normalcy as if nothing ever occurred? Can there possibly be a normal emotional balance for me or will I live as a person who appears complete but is lacking so many pieces?

Death does so much more than make you cry and feel pain. What death has done for me is infinitely worse; Death has made me unable to cry and feel at all. Death has stripped me of my basic human emotions. It has beaten and broken them into hollow and pale imitations.

The more experienced grievers, who have weathered life long after loss, will say it does change. But you will be hard-pressed to find any of us who say it gets better. It never gets better—it only gets different. The longer you live after you lose the harder life really becomes. When everyone has stopped bringing frozen meals, when others have begun to move forward with their lives—you remain chained to loss like a slave. Every single day, sometimes every hour, you are reminded of it.

Those less experienced will say the first year is the worst. For me, this was not true at all. The first year was easy. People shared in my grief that year. They shared messages of concern, sent food and letters, offered help and comfort. The milestones (the first birthday without him, the first Christmas, the first anniversary of his death) were all easy to manage because I knew I was not alone.

The second year (and I imagine, every subsequent year) has been incredibly difficult. Those well-meaning loved ones have moved on. They are like the woman above, smiling wistfully when his memory comes to them. Their humanity has not been mutilated by his death; their emotions are even-present and strong.

I cannot say I fully envy those who were less close to my husband, because I know that I got to see all the greatest (and worst) parts of him. I got to love him and be loved by him in the strongest way. But I do have jealousy towards them for one major reason:

They can cry.

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Survivor

My husband was killed in 2015. There, we got that out of the way.

He was a few months out from turning 34 years old. I was a few months out of turning 30 years old. Our daughter had just turned four years old. Our twin sons were about to hit the one-and-a-half-year-old mark.

We were three weeks out from signing the closing paperwork on owning our first home. It had been almost ten years since he came home from his military tours to Iraq. We had been together for six years. We had been married for three years.

On May 22, 2015, while riding his motorcycle to work, a man assumed there was space between two on-coming cars and turned left.

That space was my husband.

There are a lot of things I choose to believe now. A lot of pieces of me that changed and cannot be unchanged.

When someone dies in such a sudden fashion, you have no choice but to create scenarios and assume answers. Unlike losing someone to cancer or old age– there is no period of knowing death awaits you. You do not get the chance to sit down and say, “I Love You” or ask, “What do I do now?” Even trivial things like computer passwords and the knowledge of where they store important documents is lost to you.

The only thing that spontaneous death leaves the living is a sense of utter and unimaginable loss. Your sternum attempts to become concave, your eyes widen, your throat seizes. It is as if your physical self is imploding and exploding all at once– expelling every last ounce of energy and using every sense it has to try and find the person who is now gone. This is when you cry the most; the tears that come are violent and they cause pain to your whole body. They weaken you to the point of almost killing you. You scramble, both physically and mentally, to find someone or something to hold onto– a desperate hand grasping out in the blackest night and finding that there is nothing there but more darkness.

I’ve written about my husband many times. At the one month mark, the six-month mark, and the random day for no reason. On our children’s birthdays and on Christmas, on our anniversary and on his death-aversary. But I very rarely write about grief. How it can consume your every single breath and how you will do literally anything you can to escape it. I once remember telling someone that had the children not existed, I very well might have cuddled up next to him in the hospital and died if I could have forced myself. Grief does all that it can to take no survivors, but the biggest joke of all is that we are the survivors in a void where all we want is not to be.

If I look back now at the woman that stood up at that funeral and spoke so calmly, at the woman who managed to do her hair and make-up that morning, at the woman who smiled when she heard the roar of a motorcycle outside timed just right during a moment of silence, to the woman who took the deepest breath and sang acapella to the sky—that woman is my hero.

That woman is me. I have survived and I will continue to survive every single moment of every single day for the rest of the life I am so fortunate to have left. I will survive for my children and I will survive for him.