Thoughtful Thursday: Emotion

March 31, 2011

Thoughtful ThursdayThanks for all of your expressions of concern after last week’s post.

Mel wrote a stirring post a couple of weeks ago about death. In between the time she posted it and the time I managed to read it, I sat at my mother’s bedside and held her hand as she died.

There is so much to say, so much to feel. It’s not a one-post topic.

One thing I’ll say is that her death got to me both more and less than I’d expected. During the past year as she’s been sick, I’ve been very stoic. Some of the hassles — dealing with care providers, finding ways to pay for things, trying and failing to get my mother to comply with her doctors’ orders — have affected me, enough to drive me to anger or worry on an almost daily basis for months. Conversely, the situation itself, the reality of her condition didn’t make much impact on me most of the time. Maybe it’s my Vulcan blood. Maybe I was geographically too far removed from the situation. Maybe I was too focused on the trees to think about the reason I was in the forest.

When she went into the hospital a couple of weeks before her death, I was a sweet and dutiful daughter when I was on the phone with her (which was not as often as I wanted, as she was not in a condition to talk much of the time) but all business in dealing with her treatment team. I didn’t sleep well or much, but during the day I was fine.

When they told me she was getting better and would get out of the ICU soon, I did the prudent thing and started looking into new care options for after her release from the hospital.

When I got a call that my mother had gone into cardiac arrest and they were in the process of resuscitating her, I calmly started checking flights and trying to arrange for child care while I waited for a call saying whether their heroic measures had worked (they had, at least temporarily, but she was non-responsive).

As I sat on the plane, not knowing whether she’d still be alive by the time I landed, I still managed to do some work.

It wasn’t until I got to the hospital that it started to hit me. But even then, I felt and showed less emotion than probably almost anyone else you’d find in my situation.

Intellectually, I wasn’t sad for myself. I was sad for my mother, for the suffering she’d been going through, for being on the verge of death, for not having more time to spend with her beautiful grandchildren, for not having gotten to know them as well as all of their other grandparents because of the limitations of her conditions. I was sad for my father, who sobbed next to me. I was sad for my children, who won’t have any memories of her.

Although she was non-responsive and I didn’t know whether she could hear me, I gave my mother some updates on Burrito and Tamale, as well as on DH and myself. In my head beforehand they’d been so straightforward. When I actually had to say them, knowing that this was a deathbed discussion (monologue), I kept choking up.

During The Big Talk with the medical staff — the one for which they bring you into a conference room, offer you water, and keep a box of tissues nearby — I surprised myself by crying enough that it was hard to carry on the discussion. It didn’t feel like me, like my stalwart self. At one point I shifted into business mode and it felt so good to deal with the doctors intellectually rather than emotionally. It felt like me.

Decisions were made and at my insistence it was agreed that she’d have one last test, for the sake of definitive knowledge rather than for the sake of being able to do anything. The test required her to go elsewhere in the hospital and would take a couple of hours. So, I suggested that we go out for lunch to my favorite restaurant in that city. I had no trouble eating, and I thought about the fact that so many people wouldn’t be able to eat at a time like that.

Watching her die was kind of hard, but mostly not hard. I was glad to be there.

It was going through her belongings in the days after her death when the emotions really started flowing. But once she had died, once I left the hospital for the last time, no one else ever saw me show anything except measured sadness. All of the weeping has been done alone.

Well, that’s not quite true. No adult has seen any real emotion from me. But I keep bursting out crying around the twins. In his whole little life I have never seen Burrito look so puzzled as when I was going about mealtime calmly, handed him some peas, and then out of nowhere started bawling. But the fact that I’ve been able to hold it together the rest of the time has been a little surprising, even for me.

Fundamentally I think I’m just wired to feel less emotion that the average person and to show even less that that. DH is someone who is wired to feel emotion strongly; expressing emotions too strongly used to get him in a lot of trouble, but as an adult he’s learned to express it appropriately and even to harness it.

The weird part is that although I’m some sort of robot most of the time, infertility as well as the postpartum phase (especially breastfeeding) made me a fucking mess. Mothering and emotion go together, I suppose, whether it’s becoming a mother or losing a mother.

How much emotion do you show? How much emotion do you actually feel?


20 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: Emotion”

  1. a Says:

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your mom. I think it’s completely understandable to have weird emotional reactions to that whole series of events…especially since much of it has been long distance.

    I don’t really know what someone else would think of my emotional state. My husband thinks I’m pretty cold about most things, but that I get heated up about ridiculous things. I think that it’s because I am eminently practical and when large events happen, there are many decisions to be made. Those decisions require a cool head, not someone mired in grief. I am able to put the feelings aside in order to deal with things…and then I end up sobbing when no one else is around to see it.

    My dad has been dead for almost 20 years, and I still cry occasionally because he would have adored all of the grandchildren he never got to meet.

  2. TwoKayaks Says:

    You’ve been through so much and there is still much to go through.
    I’ve been told by many (colleagues, friends, supervisors, etc.) that I am difficult to read. I don’t show emotion easily and people never know what I’m thinking. When I was coaching volleyball, on the inside I would be exploding with excitement, but I would never show it on the outside lest I give something away to the other team’s coaches. I always get asked, “What’s wrong?” when I’m perfectly happy. I don’t have a “happy” natural expression.

    When someone very close to me was killed, it was me who retrieved her blood stained clothes and jewelry from the plastic bags the hospital packed them in, laundered and folded them. No one else from our family could/would do it.

    I think some of us (introverts especially) learn to compartmentalize our feelings and, as a defense mechanism, lock them there until it is “intellectually safe” for us to let them out.

  3. BB Says:

    I am so sorry hon!

    My husband just came back from visiting a friend (half way across the country) who went through a similar situation. Even though the person who passes away is releaved, it causes so much pain to the ones left behind!

    The closest passing away I have seen is of my grandfather (10 years ago), while I was a million miles away. I don’t think I had ever cried as much as I did when he passed away. It just felt like my heart ripped out of my chest – he was dearly loved!

    Generally, most people who know me… have never seen me cry or know of me to be this rough and touch female who is always marching ahead w/o shedding a tear (and unfortunately, this includes my parents – “unfortunately” because I really don’t think (especially) my Dad and I have ever connected on an emotional level). Very few people (a few friends) and my dh have really seen my emotions.

    I grew up being told that only a wuss sheds tears and you are not one – which probably made me choke up a lot emotions. I have probably processed more emotions as an adult than I would have ever thought were possible. IF and motherhood brought out the most emotions off of me (just like you said)!

  4. Heather Says:

    Wow! We sound a lot alike. I don’t like to cry in public. I try to avoid it like the plague. When I’m in a situation like you were in, I will deal with the facts and details that need to be worked out calmly and deal with my emotions later. In some ways it’s good. It’s good being able to work through what needs to be done. I don’t think anyone should think about anyone harshly if they’ve never seen the tears. Everyone deals with sadness differently and just because we don’t see the tears doesn’t mean they haven’t happened.

  5. loribeth Says:

    I am so sorry about your mom. 😦 I think I’m a bit like you. I tend to hold things in, & people think I am being very calm & rational. Inside, I’m in turmoil, & eventually, it all comes flooding out — somehow. I’ll have a huge cry, or an anxiety attack, or something like that. And then I’m better for awhile until things start building up again.

  6. Gil Says:

    Oh no. I’m so sorry to hear of the loss of your mom. My condolences to you and your entire family.

    Personally, I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I’m probably too sensitive and too emotional about many things. In some ways, it’s good, in others, not so much.

    Regardless, it is what it is and it’s very difficult to change that. Yet in all that emotional mess, I do tend to be able to think rationally and understand consequences and issues. So while my heart says one thing, I usually side with my head… after my heart is appeased to an extent.

    Thinking of you in this sorrowful time. Be gentle with yourself; emotions and mothers definitely DO go together. *hugs*

  7. samcy Says:

    My condolences on the loss of your mom. Not easy to do even with Vulcan blood.

    I think I am somewhat like you except I don’t allow myself to weep/cry etc in front of anyone – even myself. For too long I’ve been conditioned to be “the strong one” in my family and altho I feel emotion VERY strongly, the only emotions I will express freely are anger and happiness. Sadness? That’s to be fixed and taken care of. It does however build and build and build in me until it explodes – sometimes in spectacular fashion (last year March for instance on the day I found out my GIFT had failed AND I fetched my fathers ashes from the airport)

    I wish I would allow myself to express and “feel” the sadness too. I HATE that I think it weak to show it. Cos I do *actually* believe that it’s stronger to be abel to show it.


  8. Well, I’m showing emotions now. The thought of you crying makes me cry. I wish I could have been with you. At the very least I am abiding with you now, as you serve peas.

    I’m pretty much a shower of emotions. However, my emotions are fairly even-keel these days. No dramatic highs or lows, and that’s through conscious effort.

    In fact, when I *do* feel spikes of sadness, I second-guess myself. I check in to see if I’m really expressing what I feel or if I’m doing what they do in movies.


    Big Xs and Os to you.

  9. N Says:

    I express very little. I try to, anyway. Though I try to express more now than I used to.

    And as for feeling – it depends. Both on my mood, and on what it is I’m feeling about. some things I feel very very little. Some things I feel far too deeply. It’s hard to find a good balance.

  10. strongblonde Says:

    we’re so similiar. i barely show emotion. i’m thinking back to the last funeral i attended. it was my grandmother’s. i didn’t cry at all. i was sad briefly, but mostly for my father. sad that he wouldn’t have his mother around.

    maybe it’s because of my profession, but most of my reactions are very measured and non-reactive for lack of a better word. i’m trained to not blink an eye when someone tells me that they’ve had more than 500 sexual partners. i need to remain calm when a patient tells me that they just ingested over 50 valium pills. i have to be clear in my directions of my team when we’re doing CPR and waiting for the ambulance.

    i’m the same with my family. when i had cancer there were a lot of people who were upset. i presented the information very clinically….which further upset people. they didn’t want to hear about invasiveness, tumor markers, rescue drugs. it was too much. i almost think that they would have responded better if i was a wreck. it’s hard to “comfort” at person that doesn’t appear to need comforting.

    b has told me that i’m still very clinical with the kids when it comes to health issues. m had a fever of 106. i was very calm on the phone with the doc, and i was the one who took her to the ER for testing and treatment. t has a little hole in his heart and i was the one who was able to discuss it without crying with the cardiologist. his reactions are much stronger. last week m got her fingers pinched in the door, but his reaction made me think that one of them had been amputated.

    i cried more in the post partum period than i had in the previous several years….combined. but then again, i’ve never really been a crier. i just come from a family that doesn’t show emotion. we don’t hug or kiss. i don’t tell my parents that i love them (and they don’t tell me). it’s just understood.

    holy long comment. sorry 🙂

  11. Tara (TIMO) Says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m very sensitive but not emotional. I can cry quite easily and have tears just writing this comment. I can be stoic when necessary but my insides are usually a mess.

    I anticipate being in a similar position with our grandmothers shortly (and understand that it won’t be at all similar to losing a parent). We leave soon to head back home on vacation. This will most likely be the last trip when we can see 2, or even 3, of the boys 4 great-grandmothers. For a while, we were on high alert to come back for funerals. It won’t be an easy trip in that regards.

    Thinking of you.

  12. SamIAm Says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. My father passed in September, then my mother this March, and my grandmother two days ago. With the deaths of my dad and mom, I was sort of emotionless. However, the death of my grandmother really hit me hard, and I released the pent-up emotion from the others.

    I’m glad you got to be with your mom before she passed. I was told that a person’s hearing is the last thing to go, and I was assured that even though it seemed she couldn’t hear me, my mother was listening. And what a wonderful gift for your mom to leave with – you speaking of her grandchildren.

    I understand your pain, and I sympathize with the hard road ahead. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  13. jill Says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. *hug*

    When my grandfather died I didn’t cry much. I felt incredibly awkward at the wake (had never been to one), watched a lot of other people cry, but I didn’t. During his military service though, they played Taps and performed the flag folding ceremony, I bawled (as silently as I could). But minutes later it was over.

    My dad died almost 10 years ago so I don’t remember exactly but I don’t think I cried much then either. I even sang at the funeral without tearing up.

    Weirdly though, day to day, I think I’m a very emotional person.

  14. I’m so sorry for the loss of your mom, but glad you could be with her in her last moments, that’s so important. And you never know what she still picked up from you talking to her – the night before my mom died, my sister and I were at her bedside, she was in a deep sleep, no longer able to communicate with us, and we decided to sing to her. I started, a song we used to sing together, and my mom raised her eyebrows. I will never forget that (and it makes me cry writing it down).

    Regarding your question… I’ve always been considered rational by people around me, and I don’t show emotions quickly and/or publicly, however the whole infertility saga has made me much more emotional. A place where I cannot keep my eyes dry anymore is church – I don’t go there very often, (church in France is not as liberal as in Holland), only when visiting my parents, but there’s always something about the spiritual during a service that makes me choke up (mostly when singing a hymn). It was also the only place last week, when I was staying with my dad to remember my mom’s birthday, where I cried and felt really emotional, whereas I was almost stoic at her grave or in other places. I did however cry a lot during my mom’s last days (although almost never in her presence, she didn’t want that) and just after she died – moments when my sister, who normally bawls at everything, wasn’t able to cry. But I was all business again when it came to dealing with the funeral home people, etc.

    The first few weeks after my mother’s death my emotions were not expressed in public, but in dreams (like so often, I dream the weirdest things to deal with stuff I don’t express during the day) – I dreamt about her every night. After that life’s routine picked up again and the raw emotions are gone, but it hurts when I see my son discover the world to know that she can’t experience that anymore (although she said on her death bed that we didn’t have to tell her what would become of him, she already knew how he would grow up) and I have a feeling that if I’m ever so lucky to become pregnant and give birth again, that that will be very hard emotionally without my mom around.

  15. St Elsewhere Says:

    I am so sorry to read about your mother’s passing away. Even though she had been sick for a while, death of a loved one always catches us raw.

    I have cried in public. I have cried in private.

    I am not proud of the time I bawled in front of strangers or other family, but the emotions just got overpowering. But this, thankfully, is not a regular practice.

    I am still uncomfortable about being comforted though. Aunt offered me shoulder to cry on, and tears stopped short. I am not used to it.

    I have and am still grieving for my CheekyBub, and I do all my crying alone…at random moments, or when something about her strikes me or some other memory. I have not joined my job as yet and DH leaves for office in the morning so I get plenty of time to vent my heart out without thinking of what/how the other person will react. There have been nights where I have cried alone with DH sleeping right next to me.

    But I still think I am not as in-control with my emotions as I should be…and not just the crying.

  16. Cat Says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s good that you were able to go to her at the end and say your good-bye’s. It’s a small, small comfort, but better than when someone leaves us suddenly with no time for final words. I’m so sorry.

    Through you, your dad, and the rest of your family, your children will come to know your mom. They may not have their own memories of her, but they will learn the stories about her and will know who she was.

    As for emotion, I show a lot more in the last few years than I used to. Sometimes I wonder if I actually have some kind of mental condition after all the stress (not just IF) and/or will someday just completely blow. I cry very easily when I’m alone or with just DH and more easily than I’d like (which would be not at all) when others are around. I’m quick to anger and defensiveness, particularly about pregnancy. I often don’t think I feel as deeply as others feel, but then all these tears come bubbling up, so I just don’t know. I don’t think this is something we can ever truly compare with anyone else. Like is the color I call orange the same as what you see as orange? I think we all want to be “normal” in this, but I don’t know what that is.

    Take good care of yourself and cry whenever you darn well feel like it.

  17. asc Says:

    I am so very sorry for the loss of your mother. such an intense roller coaster of emotion, whether on the surface or deep beneath. and so hard to be at a distance, without your family. abiding with you as you sort through the aftermath of this loss. xo

  18. Elana Kahn Says:

    I’ve always been a pretty emotional person, but I went on some anti-depressants in college that sort of took that away. I didn’t even cry when my father passed away…

    But now that I’m a mother, things just hit me like crazy. Who knows if it’s the hormones from breastfeeding (or pregnancy when that applies), but little stuff just really gets to me. Hearing about babies dying, watching a friend go through IVF (and praying like hell that it works), etc. I am never afraid to show emotion, and I cry when things hit me. It’s not something I really think about…it just happens.

  19. Idraena Says:

    I’m sorry for your loss. 😦

    This is an interesting question. I think I *want* to think I’m a person who feels emotions very strongly and wears their heart on their sleeve, because I’m not one.

    I remember as a child trying to choke back emotions, particularly tears, so that people wouldn’t know they’d hurt me; I remember mocking my little sister for crying so often (it really was excessive, everyone said so, lol).

    I’m always being told I’m “strong”. I have about one time a year where I freak out, either crying or being very depressed, and luckily, I have friends who love me and support me in those times == partly, I’m sure, because they know I’m being genuine when I do break down like that. I don’t “cry wolf” a lot.

    I do feel some things very keenly, though, particularly love and anything involving confrontation. I just wish I could show that more (verbally, not physically). I’ve done a lot of thinking about myself, about how I use sarcasm as a defense mechanism to protect myself from having to be honest about what I feel. I know that about myself. I just don’t know how to stop doing it.

    /Ramble xD

  20. I am so sorry about the loss of your mother. I’m glad that you were able to be there with her when she died, and were able to say goodbye. I lost my dad five years ago. I thought I would be the one who could put aside emotion when making decisions with the doctors, but I was a wreck. When I would be sitting with him when he was in a coma, I would talk to him about all sorts of things and was fine. I was terrified about the actual death. I did not know what to expect, and I did not want to be alone in the room with him when it happened, but I also really did not want him to die alone. It turned out that my mom, sister, my sister’s boyfriend, and I were all there with him when he took his last breath, and we were all touching him. I was so relieved for him that the pain was over. For about a year I would burst into tears about the weirdest things.

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