The Beauty of Falling Apart

It’s striking to me how often we try to “keep it together” for other people, or for ourselves, when all we really need to do is let go, and feel, and hurt, and crumble. We live in a strange society that honors the “strength” of grieving people who don’t cry, who are “brave,” who “move on.”  I’ve always felt in my heart of hearts that all of that was so wrong. So why did I fall for it myself when Mom died?

On the day of Mom’s memorial service, I busied myself with arranging pictures, and greeting guests, and worrying over whether or not there would be enough seating for all of the family and friends who were coming. The funeral director kept asking me if there was anything I needed, and I kept shooing him away, asking him to please just check on other people, people who needed checking on. I was fine. I was strong. And I had a memorial service to run.

As the service started, I sat quietly, holding my fiancé’s hand on one side and my Dad’s on the other. I kept telling myself not to cry, this was not the time, there were people watching. I remember a specific moment when my brother was speaking, when I suddenly and fully understood that I was at my mother’s funeral. Whatever we had decided to call it, whatever led up to this day, Mom was dead, after all this time. I breathed deeply, and wiped a quick tear from my face. It just hurt too much to think about. I stepped up to the podium, and began my eulogy, my last love letter to Mom. I choked back tears as I finished speaking, returned to my seat, and tried to remain calm.

The funeral director then invited anyone who wanted to speak to just stand up where they were, and say whatever they wanted to say. I got nervous. I was afraid there would be silence, crickets chirping. I was so wrong.

People, some of whom I hardly knew, stood and spoke. They wept openly as they shared how Mom had impacted their life, helped them to love themselves, and encouraged them to reach for their dreams. I bit my lip for the eternity that people kept standing, kept talking, kept crying. When the funeral director said a closing prayer, I was just so relieved that I had made it through the day, and that it was over.

But it wasn’t. I didn’t realize that there was an odd kind of reverse receiving line that happens at funerals. I was stuck there as an endless line of people poured out of the chapel to hug and cry and hug some more. Men awkwardly clasped my hands and muttered condolences. Women I recognized as Mom’s friends kept telling me how wonderful Mom was, how proud she had been of me and of my brother. I know I should have been grateful, but I have never felt so trapped.  All I wanted to do was maintain my composure, get through this awful day, and get out of that building as soon as possible.

And that’s when something amazing happened. Somewhere, on the other side of the room, I heard someone crying. No, sobbing. Loud, wracking sobs, like you hear in movies. I looked past whichever person was gripping my hands just then, and I saw Tony.

Tony had long been a close friend of the family, and had been with us through many of the medical and emotional challenges we had faced during Mom’s illness. He was absolutely wrecked, unable to speak or breathe, so deeply and viscerally affected by Mom’s death. I pushed through the line of people then and fell into Tony, joining him in his despair. Together, we cried. Hard.

In that moment, as I was trying so very desperately to “keep it together,” Tony had fallen apart.

He had been a strong enough man to let down his guard, allow his emotions to wash over him, and really grieve. Publicly, loudly, and honestly. During my darkest hour, while I tried to hide from my pain, he threw open the door, pulled me in, and shared that grief with me.

I have never told Tony how much that affected me, how it gave me permission to stop being so “strong” and just cry. This is how it is with death and with grief. The people who affect us most may never know what they have done for us. I had been so busy attending to the public business of the memorial service that I hadn’t allowed myself a chance to attend to the real and personal business of grief and tears, of love and loss. Tony gave me that gift, by showing me how to fall apart.

There are still days that I struggle with allowing myself to grieve as fully and openly as I need to, even around my closest friends, my family, my husband. I question how people will react, what people will think of me if I really just let go and be very, very sad. We all struggle with this. It is normal, and it is difficult. And the best thing we can each do is find the Tonys in our lives, the people who are unfailingly comfortable with their own emotions, and share our difficult moments with them. Beyond that, all I can hope is that when my friends are in their own dark places, I can be their Tony, and be strong enough to fall apart with them.

Photo Credit.

17 Comments:

  1. myk said on March 11, 2010 at 2:39 pm ... #

    absolutely beautifully expressed. thank you.

  2. Marty Tousley, CNS-BC, FT, DCC said on March 11, 2010 at 3:16 pm ... #

    Amen, Alisha! Thank you so much for this lovely post.

  3. Marty Tousley, CNS-BC, FT, DCC said on March 11, 2010 at 3:20 pm ... #

    Oops! The link to my name in my previous comment is broken. My Grief Healing blog is here: http://griefhealingblog.blogspot.com/

  4. Teodora Garcia said on March 11, 2010 at 3:32 pm ... #

    Thank you Alisha!!!!!!!

  5. Bill said on March 12, 2010 at 4:32 pm ... #

    Spoken from the heart. Authentic sharing like yours touches the hearts and others and makes it OK to fall apart. Moving into the pain is healing. Pushing it down seldom works. Thanks!

  6. e said on March 14, 2010 at 10:42 pm ... #

    as the oldest child when my father died, i experienced countless others telling me that i needed to be strong for my family. i wish that i had had someone like tony to show me it was okay to “fall apart” – to feel what i needed to feel. what a gift.

  7. Charlotte said on March 15, 2010 at 11:12 pm ... #

    Whether he knows it or not, Tony is like a real life “pay it forward.” While he helped you realize that it was okay to publicly grieve for your Mom, you- Alisha- have been my Tony so many times. You have always been there when I am having a Dad moment. I am so very thankful there are people like you with your gift of meaningful words and people like Tony for his beautiful heart.

  8. Bill said on June 10, 2010 at 9:31 am ... #

    When the time is right -as if I will know -I’ll share this with a friend who called this morning –the memorial service for her husband is today and she fears falling apart. Truth is my wife and I may well be her Tony. — Thanks as always for such heart felt sharing.

  9. Sneha said on November 7, 2010 at 7:57 pm ... #

    This is such a beautiful article. I’ve always prided myself on being strong. Crying only in private and dealing with everything by myself.
    I’ve never let anybody else other than my family see me cry.

    There were two exceptions though. The day my mom died and the funeral.

    The day my mom died, I was still numb. It set in for a moment and I got a bit hysterical but that gave into numbness. At the funeral though, I absolutely fell apart. I didn’t stop crying throughout it and looking back, I find a strange beauty in it. It feels like a testament to my mom about how much I loved her that I was willing to break down like that in front of all those people. I wasn’t worried about what other people were going to think. Or about trying to project a strong image. I missed my mom. And that was the simple raw truth.

  10. Domini Sumus said on July 11, 2011 at 6:18 pm ... #

    Thank you for this beautiful post. I recently lost my best friend and I was grateful to be in a culture where falling apart is widely accepted and expected. Here, it is the person who holds it together who is looked at strangely.

    Even a month later, I still fall apart once in a while and the grief is beautiful, despite the pain.

    http://dominisumus.blogspot.com/2011/06/mourning-with-abandon.html

  11. Esther said on February 4, 2012 at 10:54 pm ... #

    Thank you for writing about your Mom’s funeral. I lost my Mom in November 2010 and Dad 6 weeks later. The pain is unbearable and yet I too often feel as if I’m suppose to hold it together and worse, “get over it” since its been a year that they’ve been gone now. I’m glad you had Tony to help you step into your grief. I’m sorry for your loss, but so grateful you shared your Mother’s funeral with me.

  12. Suzan said on July 17, 2012 at 2:38 pm ... #

    40 years later I can still soo relate to being strong and making sure everything was going right at my Mothers funeral. It was only the next day that I began to cry and then cried for months. This kind of pain never goes away, such awesome love will always be missed.

    Thanks Alishia for helping us sort things out.

  13. Stephanie said on May 3, 2013 at 1:51 pm ... #

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story.

  14. DCharell said on May 3, 2013 at 3:13 pm ... #

    I remember being at my mom’s funeral and barely shedding a tear. I was just happy to have all of this stuff “over” and “behind me”. I remember one of my great aunts coming up to me, with tissue in her hands, instructing me to cry. I looked at her so perplexed…and I just couldn’t. I had checked out. This was beautiful post. You were blessed to have a Tony.

  15. Anonymous said on May 3, 2013 at 6:30 pm ... #

    Thank you for telling your beautiful story.It reminds us that its ok to fall apart.

  16. kate said on February 27, 2014 at 8:33 am ... #

    I thought you were reading my mindxo

  17. Jacqueline Weeden said on August 10, 2014 at 10:06 am ... #

    Its five years since my father passed.. siblings have all separated and really only care about their own little families now… My mother has met someone new and is also selfish and thinking of herself… I’m still very angry at how they have all been, not surprised though.. I keep myself out of their meetings and allow them to use me as a scape goat for being the “odd one out” I always have been anyway.. today reading The beauty of falling apart, makes me realise I’m still grieving and will remain to until the healing process is finished.. I’m not going to feel bad anymore for not being around them as they give nothing to me so why would I choose their company. Thankyou for listening.

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