Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Considering Tears

I am not traditionally one who cries.  In fact, previous to this week, I think I have cried only a few types of tears, which I have conveniently listed in order from most frequent to least frequent.

Tears of frustration
Tears of exhaustion
Tears of remorse
Hormone induced tears
Tears from physical pain

Oh, how blissfully unaware I was of the incredible depth and range of this perfectly natural, physical human reaction.

In fact, oh, how blissfully unaware I was of so much.

And then, on January 14th, 2015, my world changed forever.  Mostly it changed in one really big way: my beautiful niece - known affectionately as Princess Ty in our home - died.  I would try to say it in a prettier, easier to handle way, but the harsh reality I had to break to my sons just can't be sugar coated, and it feels like I am hiding from it when I try to say it any other way.

There is so much about that night that I want desperately to forget.  I truly pray that the pain and fear will fade, although I expect it to be a terribly long process.  But there is also so much about that night and the ensuing week that I desperately want to remember.  I've been replaying those moments in my mind over and over again in an attempt to preserve them.  But I know my memories are fleeting, and I know that for me, writing is therapeutic, and I know that I have stories to tell - even if they are just for me to read and re-read for the rest of my life.

I also know I will probably have more to say.  Right now, the only thing that helps me is to talk about Tyler.  To tell stories about her life.  To tell stories about her death.  To tell stories about the things that remind me of her.  Thankfully, Kirk is an excellent listener and has thus far been willing to receive the constant flow of words.  But I have to start somewhere, and right now, I want to talk about tears.

Apparently, there are all sorts of kinds of tears.  Some I have cried myself.  Some I have watched others cry.  All I have learned from and grown from.

The first type to surprise me must have been tears of shock.  These are the types of tears that spring immediately to ones eyes with absolutely no warning in response to a giant slap in the face just dealt by a sudden reminder of the fleeting nature of mortality.  I watched as the first neighbor with whom I personally explained the loss responded first with eyes brimming with tears and second with words.  I saw the process repeated over and over again each time I blindsided an unwitting conversational partner with news they could never have fathomed.

Amy pointed it out most specifically when she showed me our text conversation from that evening.  We had been texting about the possibility of taking our kids on a joint camping trip this summer.  Amy had texted shortly after 5:00 pm: "We should go to Palisades camping!  It's so fun!"  I didn't respond on my drive home.  My next contact was to call her frantically looking for someone to take Ryder, but she was unfortunately out eating with her family.  The next text, and many after that, were Amy's offers of help and comfort, and we never made it back to what now seems like such an inconsequential conversation. When your world goes from planning a camping trip to receiving the news that a little girl is gone, those are tears of shock.

Perhaps the most common tears I saw were tears of empathy.  These tears flowed freely on Michelle's front lawn, cried by ward and neighborhood members connected to Tyler, Michelle, or me in various degrees.  I saw them again at the funeral, cried by those who couldn't help but imagine the loss of their own precious children.  I watched our Bishop cry these tears as he bore his testimony during the special Sunday service held for those who needed to express a testimony of the Lord's plan for each of us.  I saw him cry them again as he spoke of the Plan of Salvation at Tyler's funeral.  These are the tears referred to in the commandment that we "mourn with those who mourn."

Then there are tears of gratitude, a type I learned personally to cry.  The list of things for which I am grateful and which caused tears to spring to my eyes is incredibly lengthy, and the specifics are already fading.  But here are a few:

  • Purple ribbons tied around the trees, mailboxes, and lampposts in our neighborhood
  • The crowd of people singing hymns and primary songs on Michelle's lawn for three straight nights
  • The women who received inspiration while decorating the cultural hall for the luncheon (and decorated with snowflakes without prior knowledge of their significance)
  • Visiting teachers and neighbors who took over Adam's birthday cake 
  • Peczuh Printing who ran copies of Tyler's program with absolutely no notice during their busy Sundance Film Festival schedule and refused to accept payment for the 295 copies of the program
  • Nick and Diana's light display honoring Tyler
  • Amy and Janene for including my boys in the acts of kindness by bringing them teddy bears to remind them of their Princess Ty

Similar to those are the tears of love.  I remarked to Kirk one morning that my cold heart simply didn't know how to receive so much love.  Continuous outpouring of love and concern via email, Facebook, and text messages sustained me when it seemed nothing else could.  I know it was the same for others.  My sister Lisa told me she installed Facebook on her phone because reading the messages and seeing the pictures others posted helped her feel comforted.  Then there were the hugs, the rearranged work schedules, the meals, the flowers, the prayers.  Some of the love shown wasn't even related to Tyler.  Kirk and I had gone to the young men's basketball game to watch them play with purple bands worn in tribute to Tyler.  I watched during the 4th quarter as the entire team threw the ball to one somewhat awkward boy who was the only member of the team to not score.  They passed to him 9 plays in a row, setting screens and clearing a straight path to the basket play after play until he finally made it.  Even their love for each other made me cry.  I told Kirk that people needed to stop being so nice to each other.  I just couldn't handle it!  I have recently learned that an outpouring of love can cause me to cry.

I was worried for awhile that I may not ever shed tears of loss.  I had seen them already on the cheeks of my sister, brother-in-law, parents, and husband.  But because of the trying circumstances of Wednesday evening, I had chosen to close my feelings off and be someone with whom the emergency personnel could communicate.  It wasn't until noon on Thursday when I read Kirk's post on Facebook that I was able to cry these important tears.  "As most of you know my niece passed away last night.  Tyler was two years old and she was more than a niece to me.  I had a chance to spend a lot of time with her and raise her as one of my own.  I was her second dad and being a dad of all boys she was my daughter.  I feel so honored to have the time with her I had.  I am thankful for the gospel and the knowledge that I will see her again.  God be with you Tyler until we meet again."  I shut myself in the principal's office at school and finally found my own tears of loss.

Kirk, on the other hand, cried his immediately.  I hope to never forget the tender emotions he displayed for nearly 48 hours after Tyler's death.  This was not something I had ever seen before from him, and it helped me to understand the depth of love he must have for me and for our boys.  But what Kirk found immediately, it took Adam a week to feel.  He did not cry when we told him about Tyler, and he refused the blessing of comfort Kirk offered to he kids.  He behaved in a stoic and reserved manner over the next few days, offering comfort to me whenever possible.  In fact, on Thursday, he gave up his afternoon recess to come to my classroom and see how I was doing.  He frequently said things like, "Mom, my goal is to make you laugh at least one time every day," or "I am going to hug you until you stop crying."  He discussed a few memories of Tyler in preparation for speaking at her funeral and and never once even paused.  Thankfully, on the day of the funeral, Adam finally found his own tears of loss.

A few times, I shed beauty-induced tears.  I looked at the things around me and just couldn't process their beauty through any other means.  This happened first when I finished Tyler's program.  Michelle and I were up until midnight finalizing font sizes and polka dot spacing when I finally deemed it ready for a test print.  I printed it at my house, then had to walk back to Michelle's.  When I looked at the final product, tears once again brimmed over my eyelids.  It was just so beautiful.  She was just so beautiful.  I opened Michelle's front door.  When she saw my tears, she looked at me with a bit of evident exasperation and said, "What are you crying about now?"  I withheld the program from her as I explained, "It should have been a birthday invitation.  Or a baptism announcement."  Some days it just hurt that the beautiful things were all being prepared for a devastating day.

I can't forget the other tears.  The hard tears.  Skye's tears as he hugged me just before leaving for the hospital and said over and over again, "Pray.  Just pray."  Michelle's tears when she got the phone call from Kirk and crumpled in my arms saying, "She's gone?  How can she be gone?  She was just here."  Kirk's tears as he sobbed uncontrollably during "Lullaby" as he watched footage of his sleeping Princess.  My mom's tears before she left to put Lisa, Brett and John back on a plane and explained, "I just want to put you all in one big house and never let you go."  

But it isn't all sadness.  There have definitely been tears of joy as well.  These tears tend to come when we sit around and tell our happy memories.  Tyler's shoes.  Her somewhat destructive nature.  Her incessant desire to be "pretty?"  These are the types of tears I cry when I look at her pictures or watch the video of her life that I was honored to compile.  These are the tears I cried when I realized the bagpipes were playing "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" at the cemetery.  These are the tears I cry when I remember that Tyler has a reserved seat for the Celestial Kingdom and that she will never have to endure the pains of this world.

When the tears come, I think of three things:

My first thought is, "If Michelle can do it, I can do it."

And my second thought is of the quote Michelle chose for the back of the funeral program.  I know that it is her testimony, and I know it is the why she can do it.  Joseph Smith said, "The Lord takes many away, even in infancy, that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world; they were too pure, too lovely, to live on earth; therefore, if rightly considered, instead of mourning we have reason to rejoice as they are delivered from evil, and we shall soon have them again."  When the tears come in force, I try to remind myself that I have a reason to rejoice.

My final thought is of my family standing shoulder to shoulder at Tyler's funeral, singing the testimony Skye and Michelle chose for us to sing.  I think of my sister who, although she sang through tears on the first verse, held her chin up and clearly sang, "And when you don't understand the purpose of His plan, in the presence of your King, bow the knee."  (listen to the song here)

And remembering that moment now I remember to be grateful for one last type of tears: the tears that come when I am filled with the spirit of the Holy Ghost, here to comfort all of us in our times of need.  I know the tears are far from over.  But I also know my Savior, Jesus Christ, suffered not only for the sins of the world but suffered also every pain we will have to bear.  I know the Lord's plan truly is one of happiness, and I know that if I choose to live righteously, I will see Tyler reunited with her parents, her Uncle Kirk, her boys, and the host of others who love her so much.  I have never seen so many tears, but I also have never felt so much love.  I know that through all of these tears, we will be okay.