I’m so happy I can cry again! For more than a year after Brian died, antidepressants kept my emotions “level” – but level is not my idea of living. I want to feel the whole gamut of emotions. I understand so much better now the wise words of Kahlil Gibran: “Joy and sorrow are inseparable… together they come and when one sits alone with you… remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”
Joy and sorrow really are opposite sides of the same coin. The relentless drive in our society to medicate us out of grief and pain can also rob us of joy.
One of the possible side effects listed on the particular antidepressant I was taking (Citalipram, a generic of Lexapro) was “lack of concern.” I wondered what that meant, but understood when a kind reader told me she decided to get off the same medication when her beloved dog died and she felt a “lack of concern.” She missed the tears, the deep feeling of being truly alive; she felt “back in life” again once she was off them.
I have always been wary of medication, so under medical supervision, I gradually weaned myself from my antidepressant. Not only did I start crying again, but I’ve felt my heart swell at the beauty of an orange sunset, a pink-etched fragrant rose, or snow-tipped craggy mountains. I’ve felt joy at my beautiful granddaughters’ sunny smiles and sweet kisses. I’ve felt the Spirit more strongly and more often. Feelings are such an important part of life – all of them! They are part of the gift of being human.
I know I’m one of the lucky ones. Many people have a chemical imbalance so severe that antidepressants mean the difference between living a reasonably happy life and living in the depths of dark depression. I would never suggest that everyone can or should throw their antidepressants out the window.
A nurse named Marsha encouraged me at the time I began taking mine – a few months after my second son, Brian, took his life. She said, “I believe in medication. One has to take care of one’s mind and body as best she can. You do what you have to do at the time and then you make changes as necessary. If you were bleeding you would apply pressure and a protective dressing. You have been emotionally bleeding. You are in the dressing stage. When your wound has healed more you can remove the protective dressing. Peel it off slowly as your doctor will advise. When the time is right you will know when to make your change.”
For me, the time was right last spring to begin removing the dressing. I’m taking the natural supplement “SAM e” again, and it seems adequate to keep me balanced.
The Gift of Feeling
I’ve had many experiences this summer – both joy and pain – that I’ve been glad to be fully present for. Now, as autumn colors paint the landscape in bright reds and yellows, I’m living through the second anniversary of Brian’s death and I want to feel all my feelings. I’ve worked on his picture history books, had a “remembering Brian” dinner (spaghetti, Brian’s favorite) taken flowers to his grave, and I’ve cried. I’m glad I know how important it is to give ourselves and others permission to cry when we need to.
Supporting Each Other in Our Need to Cry
A woman named Nancy wrote about a friend who understood her need to cry: “I was in a state of deep grief; a friend of mine came over with two shopping bags filled with boxes of tissues – all kinds, colors, scented, and unscented. We put them everywhere, all over my apartment. It made me laugh for the first time in weeks. And it was exactly what I needed… Her gesture told me that she understood my need to cry and she was offering the only comfort she could think of. It was a gift I will never forget” (from Invisible Acts of Power by Caroline Myss, P. 167).
Crying for or with others can be an incredible gift. A woman named Brenda, numb and empty after surgery, told of her friend’s gift of tears. The operation was necessary to save her life, but robbed her of the baby she had wanted for years – and left her with no hope for a child in the future.
She said, “Then my dearest friend, Laura, came to visit. She sat at a chair by my bed, held my hand, and cried. She never said a word. She just cried… I patted her hand and told her, ‘Shhh. It’s okay. Everything will be all right.’ Still not saying a word, she continued crying. She then stood up and told me she loved me, kissed my cheek, and left… It wasn’t until several weeks later that I realized that Laura was the wisest woman I know. During those first few days of shock and despair, when I couldn’t cry, she cried for me. She had held that space while I endured the numbness and pain of losing a child. When I did cry, I knew I had the support of a friend. No judgment, no expectations. Laura didn’t expect anything from me. She came to cry for her friend. I will always love her” (from Invisible Acts of Power by Caroline Myss p. 166)
And how I love all the friends and family members who cried with me and for me when my son died. There was no way I could have known at the time, that I was entering a new phase of life, an even richer, more aware time.
Sensitized to the Life-Preserving Gift of the Scriptures
How can I explain how much more I feel of life, how much deeper my life experiences seem since I suffered the heart-wrenching loss of my son? For example, my relationship with the scriptures has been enriched more than I can say – I search them and feast on them, I cry with gratitude over their messages; I grasp onto their promises like a drowning man grasps a life preserver. They are my life preserver! And my bridge back to joy.
Robert L. Veninga said, “Once you have experienced the seriousness of your loss, you will be able to experience the wonder of being alive. It is a fact that once you experience pain, it sensitizes you to joy.” Yes! I’m sensitized to joy too. I appreciate it more for the rare commodity it is, recognize it better, treasure it when it sneaks up on me.
The Lord had purpose in providing for opposition in life’s experiences. I suspect that if joy and sorrow, bitter and sweet, light and darkness could simply be explained to us, our loving Heavenly Father would have spared us the difficulty of experiencing them. But only experience seems to “get through” to us. Years of talk about sorrow could not teach as much as one minute of experiencing it. Nothing teaches like experience.
Lord Byron said, “Sorrows are our best educators. A [person] can see further through a tear than a telescope.” My experiences validate his words. Perhaps we are inclined to learn so much through sorrows because in the midst of them we are so inclined to turn to the Lord.
Psalm 128:1 says, “In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me.”
Recently I asked my husband for a comfort blessing and his words turned me to the Psalms – yet again. I’ve turned to them many times since Brian’s death, reminded by the words of President Ezra Taft Benson of their great value in times of stress and sorrow. Here are some of the verses that have special meaning to me.
“It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:71)
“From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed.” (Psalm 61:2)
“O Lord my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me.” (Psalm 30:2)
“The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite heart.” (Psalm 34:19)
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
“Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee.” (Psalm 55:22)
“Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink; let me be delivered… out of the deep waters. Let not the waterflood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me.” (Psalm 69:14-15)
“For thou art my hope, O Lord God: thou art my trust from my youth.” (Psalm 71:5)
“My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.” (Psalm 73:26)
“For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” (Psalm 91:11)
“Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto thee. Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble. My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread.” (Psalm 102: 1,2,4)
“Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses… For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.” (Psalm 107: 13, 9)
“I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live. The sorrows of earth compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul. Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful. The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me.” (Psalm 116 1-6)
“I cried with my whole heart; hear me, O Lord: I will keep they statutes. I cried unto thee; save me, and I shall keep thy testimonies.” (Psalm 119:145-6)
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)
“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:5-6)
Nowhere to Turn but to Christ
I am reminded by quotes such as Elder Richard G. Scott’s that there is no other balm in Gilead for me but the Atonement of Christ and his promise to heal the brokenhearted. Elder Scott said, “Yet no matter what the source of difficulty and no matter how you begin to obtain relief – through a qualified professional therapist, doctor, priesthood leader, friend, concerned parent, or loved one – no matter how you begin, those solutions will never provide a complete answer. The final healing comes through faith in Jesus Christ and His teachings, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit and obedience to His commandments. (Richard G. Scott, Ensign, May, 1994, p. 7.)
When a sense of failure or shame begins to settle over me like a dark cloud, I try to recover my perspective by reading books like Bruce Hafen’s The Broken Heart. Brother Hafen says, “The Atonement not only pays for our sins, it heals our wounds – the self-inflicted ones and those inflicted from sources beyond our control… It is the ultimate source of our forgiveness, our perfection, and our peace of mind…”(p. 29).
Later in the book he says, “It is natural to assume that when we don’t appear to be doing ‘excellently’ the perfection process is not working. But the exact opposite may be true. Our moments of greatest stress and difficulty are often the times when the refiner’s fire is doing its most purifying work” (Bruce Hafen, The Broken Heart, p. 97). That quote reminds me of words from Henri J.M. Nouwen: “The years that lie behind you, with all their struggles and pains, will in time be remembered only as the way that led to your new life.”
So, over and over I surrender my broken heart to the Savior and claim his promises. Luke 4:18 tells of Jesus reading from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind; to set a liberty them that are bruised” and saying, “this day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21).
That scripture in Isaiah continues, “to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3). All those prophecies were part of the Savior’s mission, part of His atonement that reaches out to us each day. Only through the Savior can I find balm for my broken heart, can I be delivered from any feelings of weakness, shame or sorrow that hold me captive. Only through the Savior can my eyes be opened, can my blindness of heart be healed by the Light of truth. Only the Savior gives “the oil of joy” to those who mourn, and transforms the spirit of heaviness to praise for Him and His everlasting gospel plan.
Along the way, I give thanks for the gift of tears. They are cleansing, softening, healing; I greatly prefer them to being hard-hearted or zombie-like . When I am crying unto the Lord, my heart stays soft, my spirit is teachable, my sense of gratitude grows. I am led to say, like the Psalmist: “Blessed be the Lord my strength… my goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust” (Psalm 144: 1-2).