If you haven’t seen it yet, and you need a good cry, the movie Everybody’s Fine starring Robert DeNiro, is a real tear-jerker. My kids get a kick out of movies like this, too, but not because they cry themselves. No, they like to catch me crying. Something particularly heart-rending or poignant will come on the screen and all eyes will turn to me.
“Is that tears in your eyes?” I’ll hear. Or, “Are you crying Mom?”
The last time I cried like this while watching a movie was when David and I watched The Bucket List together.
Usually a movie affects me in this way if I can identify with it. With The Bucket List of course, it was David’s 2006 bout with cancer I thought about. As I watched Everybody’s Fine I thought how it would be if I were the one to die first, how David would feel all alone, despite our eight children.
It isn’t just a good movie that does this to me. I’ll sit and cry over a wonderful book too.
This morning it wasn’t a book or a good movie, it was my own writing that had me sobbing away while I wrote.
Why do we writers do this to ourselves? Not only do we subject ourselves to repeated rejections that chip away at our self-esteem, but through our writing we continually revisit those life’s experiences that are most painful, like a child wiggling their loose tooth with their tongue. There is somehow something to be gained from that niggling pain. In the case of the tooth it is the shiny quarters the tooth fairly brings. (am I dating myself here? Does the average parens give a five dollar bill now? Is our 6-year-old hopelessly behind and economically deficient with her measly two quarters?) With writing, our reward is less sure. Sometimes it may be financial when we are paid for our work, but other times the reward is a less tangible one, one that can’t be measured.
What do I get from writing about an emotionally painful situation? Why do I keep on writing about things that make me cry?
In a word, catharsis.
And catharsis is good for the soul.
Through the years some of my best writing has been those pieces that made me cry. When I wrote a short essay about my father and started crying while I wrote it, I knew it was good. It took me several years after his death to be able to write it, however. As for my husband’s cancer experience, it helped somehow to be able to write about it while we were in the throes of experiencing it. Maybe I wouldn’t have been able to handle it as well if I hadn’t been writing.
This morning I was writing about the death of our dog Shadow a few years ago. I’m not a dog person, or even an animal person, so for me to dredge up sad feelings about a dog’s death speaks volumes about the dog itself. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about Shadow but I am revisiting this topic for consideration for an anthology of dog stories. I was surprised to find myself crying while I wrote it. It has been a couple years since her death and I never shared a real bond with her while she was alive. I realized, however, it wasn’t really the loss of a faithful companion I shed tears for, it was about the son who lost his best friend.
I completed my rough draft and typed it out on the computer this morning, with much editing to follow. It’s hard to continue feeling sad when I’ve accomplished so much in my writing this morning and the sun is finally shining through the open curtains. (We’ve had a dearth of sunshine here in Iowa this winter)
It isn’t just a good cry I need occasionally, I also need a good laugh once in awhile. And I have to say that since his cancer, my husband David and I have enjoyed more of that, too; good raucous laughter. For instance, yesterday when we stopped at the ATM machine to withdraw some cash for our hot date at the local Dairy Queen, my husband, who never uses the ATM was driving. He rolled down his window and looked askance at me. I pointed to where he should insert the card and pull it out. He wasn’t quick enough and we both started laughing as he had to insert it again. When the screen requested the numbers, he needed to get the password from me. Then when it asked what he wanted, he tried tapping the screen itself to prompt the withdrawal, instead of the square on the side he was supposed to be punching. I tried telling him that, but it was so comical to see him continually poking that screen, I couldn’t talk through the laughter. He looked over at me, confused, and starting laughing himself.
“I don’t touch the screen?” he asked through his laughter and it was all I could do to shift my head back and forth in the “no” response as my body jerked with laughter. By the time he’d figured it out, we were both laughing hysterically, tears in our eyes.
Yes, tears, the tool of catharsis.
Three years ago, David would have thought I was laughing at him and gotten irritated with me. Now, we laugh, and love, so much more than we ever did in all those pre-cancer years of marriage.
We finally got our money out of the machine and went to Dairy Queen where my niece works, still stifling laughter. When I ordered a mint Dilly bar, I heard David protest, saying something about “sharing.”
“You want to share my mint Dilly bar?” I asked, stupefied. I mean, I am all for saving money but a Dilly bar is pretty small and fairly cheap. I shared a smile with my niece, who smiled back, almost laughing herself. Who shares a Dilly bar?
“No,” he started to say, and then I remembered. On one of our first dates we’d shared a banana split, my first banana split. I was 19 years old and David couldn’t believe I’d never had a banana split before. There were many things I’d never tried and it means a lot to both of us that I can honestly say he has been the first to share many of life’s experiences with me.
“A banana split?” I finished for him, and he nodded.
I felt love for my husband filling my chest and creeping up into my throat. As we shared the best banana split that had ever been made, I felt my eyes filling with tears.
Just like now.