In middle school, the only thing that dominated my life more than acne was Wham!’s smash album, Make It Big. The seemingly ceaseless wailing of the saxophone solo on their hit ballad Careless Whisper transports me back in time. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, can mourn better than a lovesick teenager. Of all the lovesick teenagers in all the lonely bedrooms, I was the grand champion in the art of wallowing. If I close my eyes now, I can see it happening. Let me set the scene for you:
A pile of snotty Kleenex grows higher and higher. The passionate lip syncing only stops long enough for me to shove another Chips Ahoy in my gob. Anticipating the end of the song (you know, the part that sounds like scatting robot babies), I stand before my record player waiting to lift the arm and place the stylus back in the proper groove. The vinyl crackles and the ceaseless wailing begins again. Cue the cookies and Kleenex.
Unfortunately, I’m no stranger to sadness. My mother passed away from breast cancer when I was 16 and, in a plot twist that would have made a Greek tragedy look like a rom-com, my sister passed away suddenly just a few months later. I can’t imagine the human brain is capable of holding that much sadness in at once. That’s why our bodies are designed to expel our misery via snot, tears, and the occasional guttural moan. The stress eating gives you enough energy to keep the process going. Without cookies the whole system gets jammed up. At least, I think that’s how it goes. Science class never was my favorite.
When your mom and sister die people expect that you will cry a lot. There is an unwritten understanding that there will be tears. Your sadness has an open invitation, no RSVP required, come as you please. In due time, you start healing and your life slowly goes back to some semblance of normalcy. Everyone kept telling me it would take “about a year”. I don’t know why they do that. Perhaps it’s to make you feel like the stabbing pain in your heart will one day go away, but I’ve discovered there is no expiration date on grieving the deaths of your beloved kin.
I did eventually get back to normal, as you sometimes have to, and it may have been at that year mark when the pain stopped being so raw. Who can remember 27 years ago? Point is, I got back into life. There just came a time when I didn’t need to sob every day and the main discussions between my friends and I no longer began with a plaintive, “How are you doing?”
When my tumor came to town four years ago, it seemed to me that the trajectory of my sadness was expected to go in a different direction. Sadness at the time of diagnosis was expected. We were all sad. Friends, family, and acquaintances felt it. Hell, even the pest control guy might have shed a tear or two. It was a tough time, but once the treatment plan was in place it almost felt like my sadness had to stop. It seemed like then I had to be the “hero” and I had to “fight”, but all I wanted to do was let my salty tears run into the pint of dairy free ice cream I was binge eating.
I can’t say the pressure to be heroic came from the people around me. Sure, some of it was the doctor’s way of rooting me on, but I tend to think it’s mostly just an innate desire to live, a shot of emotional adrenaline to offset the physical struggle I needed to endure. After my surgery, having had a good chunk of muscle removed with my tumor, every step I took made me feel superhuman. As I progressed from walker to cane to physical therapy to standing on my own two feet again, I could understand how glorious the Hulk must feel when he crashes through a wall. “HULK SMASH! HULK DOWNRIGHT GIDDY!”
When I was celebrating tiny victories it was a little easier to feel immortal and forget my body’s need to expel the sadness. It was during my recurrence, a little over a year after my surgery, that involved a year on Tamoxifen followed by a year on oral chemo, when I rediscovered the art of the wallow and all its splendid benefits. My teenage penchant for binge eating cookies graduated to binge watching dark dramas. And, while my need for soul aching music stayed the same, the artist du jour didn’t. How I wallowed was the insignificant part, though. The only thing that mattered, now that I was no longer a self absorbed teen, was that I gave myself the permission to do it. During times of strife, a well placed wallow is as essential as oxygen.
Give yourself the permission to grieve and let yourself decide what deserves to be mourned. Your wallow is like a silent, fervent, sacred prayer to your soul, pleading yet hopeful. It begs for strength and patience while it promises an eventual fresh start. Don’t deny your sadness its moment. Eat the cookies, blast the tunes, bathe until you’re a prune, shake your fists at the gods, let the tears go. Then, when you’re ready, realize that wallow made you a little more badass than you already were and live accordingly.
*Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.