I spent one summer in between college semesters working at a senior living facility for adults with dementia. It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. The residents and I listened to Moon River, played Gin Rummy, and watched documentaries about Kennywood, the beloved Pittsburgh amusement park. Going into work every day was more like going to see endless sets of additional grandparents.
On my last night there, I was biting my tongue through my goodbyes, determined not to completely fall apart. After clocking out for the last time, I stopped by the room of a resident I spent almost every day of the summer with and who I deeply cared for. We said our goodbyes and—even though I could have stayed another hour—I said I had to head out.
I said I had to head out because I didn’t want to cry in front of my friend. We both knew how folks came and went from the home… I didn’t need to remind her that this might be the last time I gave her a hug. Our goodbye was meaningful, albeit brief, and I was out the door… finally able to cry in the solitude of a car in an empty parking lot.
I think about this a lot—this “trying not to cry when you want to.” I’ve always been an equal opportunity cryer—happy things, sad things, embarrassing things… it doesn’t take much for my waterworks to turn on. As such, I’ve gotten good at biting my tongue. I don’t want to fall into hysterics at every movie theatre.
But every now and again, I think of my friend from the nursing home and I think about what it would have been like to stay an extra hour… to visit one more time… to cry together. And I’ve tried to retrain myself… to not have my immediate response be “don’t cry” but rather, “let yourself feel all this beauty.”
And how lucky I am to have a body that breathes in emotions so deeply.
All of this was front of mind this week as I bit my tongue and began walking down the aisle at my brother’s wedding. I was approximately three steps into my promenade, mentally tracking the path I would take next to the other bridesmaids once I reached the front of the ceremony space.
And then I locked eyes with my brother—my first role model in life, one of the truest friends you could have. Next to him, our other brother, his best man. I heard someone in the seats say, “That’s his little sister.” And the wave of emotions came.
Sometimes a bit tongue isn’t enough. I could feel the color rushing to my face and the instructions of where I was supposed to stand jumping ship in my mind. “Don’t cry; don’t cry; don’t cry.”
And as this programming played out in my mind I had to ask why. Why hold yourself back from feeling big feelings? Why deny yourself the full range of human emotions? Why not let yourself get swept away in the beauty, the joy, the love that is your big brother’s wedding?
It’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling. It’s okay to laugh when you’re angry or cry when you’re happy or scream when you’re sad. That’s valid. The way you feel? And act? And respond? It’s all valid. And however you respond is exactly right. Promise.