Men don't cry, at least not real men. I've heard it all my life. I'm sure you have as well. It's a sign of weakness; it's a crack in the armor that can be exploited by those who choose to do so. As men, we spend our lives trying to be strong. We can't show that weak side of us that might exist because, for some reason, right or wrong, society dictates that it makes us less of a man.
I have a sympathetic nature that allows me to sense and feel the pain of others. For me, this particular emotion is a love-hate relationship. It's hard to pass by a homeless man or woman and not put something in their hand or cup. It's hard to terminate someone at work, even though they have broken rules, knowing that their life, and possibly that of their spouse and kids, is taking a turn for the worse at that precise moment. It's the one part of the job that I wish didn't exist, but it does and it always will. It makes life difficult for all involved.
So, I spend a great deal of effort trying to conceal and avoid this emotion at all costs. Yet, because it wants to get out at the most inopportune moments, that is to say in front of others, its containment can wreak havoc on one's psyche and mental health. Trying to hold back tears is like trying to hold back laughter. The harder you try to maintain control, the more it wants to come out. It is embarrassing.
I have avoided a great many events and life changing moments because to have attended such would have brought my emotions out. I didn't go to the hospital as my grandmother died of cancer. I loved her so very much. She was the first person in my family during my lifetime that was going to die. When she slipped into a coma I surmised that she wouldn't know if I was there or not. That shouldn't have mattered. Caring enough for someone to simply stop and say you care, is a needed response for the both of you.
I'm sure she felt deserted by me and rightfully so. The fact of the matter was that watching one of the most influential people in my life wither away before my eyes was something I just didn't want to see. I'll never forgive myself for that act of selfishness. It only served to move me deeper into my hole.
Funerals are a normal part of our existence. Going to any funeral makes me look at my own mortality in the face of that person lying in their casket. I hate the awkward, draining, emotional moments of meeting with the family. I especially hate wakes. I never know what to say. So I try to avoid them at all costs. The containment of emotion is wrenching. Yet, it was at a funeral that I learned a profound emotional lesson.
I am a Christian, not a great one mind you, but I do try to be a good, fair, decent individual. I read the Bible and continue to do so. I have found solace in the teachings that wise men wrote so long ago.
My wife is a registered nurse. She has seen and experienced death to an extent I can't comprehend. As I have written elsewhere, she has worked very hard to get me to resolve my inner demons. She has been patient as I have many to overcome.
I marvel at her, and marvel at how she copes with her demanding job. For example, when babies have significant birth defects that can't be fixed, they are left, as they say, for nature to take its course. Sometimes the distraught parents can't be there as their child dies. Their pain is simply too great. My wife, or another nurse, will sit in a rocking chair and hold that dying baby in the nursery until its last breath. "How can you do that?" I have asked. "No child deserves to die alone," she professed to me. How true.
It is with this in mind that she has gradually made me aware of the importance of attending funerals. We started slowly. We'd always go together no matter what. Then there came the time when she had to work. I had to go alone. I had to be a man.
It was a small funeral. There wasn't a large crowd, but it was a small country clapboard church so the attendance looked bigger than it actually was. The man who had died had worked at my company for many, many years. As in many family businesses with long time employees he had worked for much of my family. Four generations to be exact. I enjoyed sitting around during lunch breaks and listening to his oft-repeated stories of working with my granddad and great granddad.
As is the case at some funerals, the minister will ask if anyone wants to say a few words about the deceased. I felt pressured to stand but just then another man got up to speak. He wasn't anyone I knew, but rather a friend of the deceased. He had a kind, round face with red cheeks and a pair of ill-fitting glasses that looked so tight around his temples that they might spring off his face the next time he sneezed.
He began slowly in halting conversation. His voice was very deep, like a southern James Earl Jones. He began, as you would expect, with an introspective into this person's life. He shed no tears. He was a man's man.
Then he held up a newspaper clipping of a column by Reverend Billy Graham. "I read Billy Graham's newspaper column every day," he said. "This was in the paper this morning," he explained. "It's appropriate for my friend on this day, and us as well. If you will bear with me, I would like to take a moment and read it to you."
In that column Reverend Graham wrote that hope doesn't displace grief. When Jesus' friend Lazarus died, Jesus went to the tomb. Then the shortest verse in the Bible is stated, "Jesus wept." The God of all of us wept for His friend who was now in Heaven with the Father. He wept because He missed His friend.
As he read the column, this man who, by his own admission, had not shed a tear for another human being in his lifetime, began to cry. So powerful was the thought that Jesus Himself had cried for another man, that it allowed him to become a human being. As he closed his remarks, the tears began to stream down his face, he said, "Today, I'm crying for my dear friend. I hope you all will show him you care and shed a tear as well."
Then another man in attendance began to cry… and another, and another. Suddenly we all let out the pent up emotions of a lifetime of holding back our tears, of trying to be a man. It was an epiphany for all in attendance. If Jesus, knowing all that He does about the hereafter, can weep for his friend, who are we to try to withhold our grief.
This group of old farmers, and one young man, found that it is all right to miss those we love. It is all right to cry for them even though we know, we hope, they are in a better place. We are left behind to try to fill the holes left by their absence and to carry on their teachings and legacy. It is not meant to be easy, but another test of the human spirit and of our faith in God.
We, as a group, learned from the death of this person and the tears of one man, that it is all right to cry; It is part of the healing process that must occur if we are to move on and be better people. The physical drain allows our emotions to balance the highs and lows of our tenuous existence.
So many moments in our life are lost in time. The test of a good life rests in what we leave behind. This day, this death, will forever be a testament to this person. Those who chose to attend this funeral are better people because of this. We can now claim our real position in life as men who, like Jesus, can cry for those we love. Good bye my friend and God bless you.