It was effortless, really, the way the tears rolled down my face. In the six days since my breast cancer diagnosis, I have not really cried. I have been a StrongBlackWoman in recovery for nearly twelve years. And even though I vowed not to play the role of the superhuman sister who hides her emotions behind a brick wall, old habits are hard to break. I’ve had a hard time connecting to the grief that I knew was there. I shed a few tears here and there, but never for more than a minute or two.
In part, it was because I was still in shock. But there was something else: I don’t want to be comforted. I don’t want anyone trying to staunch the flow of my tears once they start. Grief tends to make other people intensely uncomfortable. And often they try to deal with their discomfort by shutting down its source. I don’t want anyone trying to cheer me up so that they could feel better, especially not with meaningless cliches like “God won’t give you more than you can bear.”
I need to grieve, and not because I feel hopeless. My mother is a 20-year survivor of a Stage IVB breast cancer. Mine was caught much earlier and I have no doubts that I will fully recover. I’m already picking out the soundtrack that I will dance to when my doctor pronounces me cancer free. But the path to being cancer free is a really arduous one. It is going to disrupt every facet of my life and at a time when life seemed to be on the upswing after several years of major losses and transitions. It will be physical and emotional hell, not only for me, but for my family as well. And for that I need to grieve.
So this Sunday morning, when the tears finally began to flow just moments after I sat in the church pew, I didn’t fight them. I let their cleansing power work, giving release to the grief and anger that need to escape for my healing journey to begin.
Photo credit: Detail of Mary Magdalene crying in sculpture Entombment of Christ (1672). “Sépulcre Arc-en-Barrois 111008 12” by Vassil – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons