I went to a memorial service today for a friend who passed last month. I thought that given the space of time, I would be ready and prepared. The cold morning began with a run with my friend before I settled in to work from home until the service. I had music playing in my quiet apartment and was feeling pretty great. Then I went to the church.
For a moment, I forgot why I was there. I sat with two other friends and it felt nice to greet them warmly and catch up about the beginning of our weeks.
Before the service even began, I found myself on the verge of tears. It was finally becoming a reality I had to face and one that I was still desperate to avoid. I deferred to my go-to strategy when emotions hit – I bit my tongue.
We approached the part of the service where everyone is invited to say a few words in remembrance and I felt my heart racing as I thought of all the things I wanted to say. For a moment, I scooted to the edge of my seat, eager to tell the world what this woman had meant to me but instead I found myself sitting on my hands in silence. I knew if I went to the front of the room, I would cry.
It seemed easier to sit where I was, to bite my tongue, and to not openly fall apart. Silence is always simpler than apologizing for emotion.
If I had gone to the front, I would have told the story of how we met and were instantly connected over a shared love of writing. I’d tell the story of the humorous first voicemail I received from her and how the first time I went over to her apartment the hours dissolved to minutes.
Then, I would hone in on one particular moment from one of our visits. We were talking about the events of September 11th 2001 and where she was in Brooklyn at that moment in history. As she recounted the horror of that morning, her eyes began to well up.
She apologized and told me that she must seem ridiculous as she wiped her eyes. I told her that what she calls ridiculous I call brave and honest.
I couldn’t stand up today and say all the reasons I loved her. I knew that in trying to formulate words, my eyes would betray me and so I stayed in my seat. And I bit my tongue. And I tried really hard not to cry.
I was barely out of the church when I felt myself let go, the winter wind freezing the tears and burning my skin with every gust. I wanted to yell and scream and hide in my room but more than that, I needed to cry.
On my way, I took a long shot chance and stopped at my friend’s apartment. With luck on my side, he answered and I sat on the sofa wrapped in a blanket and cried.
My friend taught me so many things – about life and love and adventure and elegance. Above all, though, she let me know that it was okay to feel. She made me want to be brave.
Sitting in my church, I didn’t want to be brave. I didn’t want to walk to the front of a room full of strangers and cry. With a few hours reflection, I wish I had. I wish I had stood up there with swollen eyes and a flushed face and I wish I had choked out the words I wanted to say and the tribute I wanted to make.
So rather I’m doing all I know how. I’m writing and hoping that someone can find this brave. And someone can know it is okay to cry in public. And someone can know that emotion is never an apology. And someone can know that they are loved.