I can only remember my mother crying twice, and they are vivid memories. They were moments when she let her guard down, when her emotions were too great to contain, and when her heart was broken.
I was 5 years old the first time I saw my mother cry. We were posing for pictures on the porch taking a family photo as the tears rolled down her cheeks. It was the only time I can recall taking a picture as a family with my mother, father, and older sister. That was the day we started our adventure as a family of three traveling from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Erie, Pennsylvania, where my sister and I were raised. I was 9 years old when my mother let tears stream down her face as they closed the casket at my uncle’s funeral.
While I was raised in a loving, supportive family, we did not really share our emotions. I learned that there are certain times when it is acceptable to express sadness and cry. I became a person who choked back my tears and only cried when I was alone or watching sad movies. Anger, frustration, fear and amusement were emotions more likely to be expressed, but sadness was something we kept to ourselves.
I never gave much thought to hiding my emotions and never thought it was a problem until 2020. That year of social distancing gave me the opportunity to engage in self-reflection and time to examine relationships with friends, family and especially The Boy. Like so many families, my son and I spent a lot of time together, as I assumed roles of mother, teacher, personal chef, fitness trainer and playmate. To be honest, it was occasionally overwhelming!
The past 31 months have been filled with laughter, a few challenges, boredom, stress, anxiety, and even sadness. But I had been masking, suppressing, or hiding my feelings of stress, anxiety and sadness from The Boy rather than acknowledging how I felt. Some days I showed him only two opposite emotions, happiness and anger.
About a year ago, I saw myself reflected in my son. We were playing a card game after we received some disappointing news. After losing the game, he went from being playful to angry in the blink of an eye. In that moment I recognized that anger was my coping mechanism and that I had taught him to bottle up his true feelings. Anger seems to be easier to express and for other people to understand. Anger feels less vulnerable than sadness. Since then, I have been working to set a better example for The Boy by recognizing and sharing my emotions in an appropriate way.
Recently my friend Dan passed away unexpectedly a month before his 40th birthday. We did not see him every day, but over the past 14 years, he has been a valued part of our lives. I was home alone when I learned of his death. I allowed myself to cry and embraced my deep sadness.
When The Boy came home he could tell that I was upset even without seeing my face. I clean and finish projects around the house when I’m processing my feelings. The aroma of Fabuloso led him to his bathroom where I was washing the floor by hand. He asked, “Mom, what’s wrong?” I burst into tears as I told him about Dan. I did not hide my sadness. We moved to a more comfortable room in the house, shared memories and talked about our emotions.
It is so important for our children to understand emotions and acknowledge how they feel. As parents, we can’t spare our kids from their feelings, but we can teach them how to deal with them.
The beginning of the holiday season is right around the corner, and it may be challenging for those grieving the death of loved ones. The National Coalition of Black Women, Inc. Harrisburg Chapter, is hosting “Healing through the Holiday” on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. Workshop participants will learn ways to cope with grief during the holiday season, determine what is right for them and their families, and learn how caregivers can support grieving children. Visit www.ncbwharrisburg.org for more information about the program and community resources to help learn ways to cope with grief and mental health.