Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


The inevitability of tears

  • 02 November 2010

You're standing in a circle of women, chatting about winter boots or a place to get good coffee, when someone asks you a simple question and grief hits you over the head like a baseball bat.

Suddenly you're sobbing, the school bell is ringing, children are streaming out of the building, and people you barely know are looking at you with kind eyes and rubbing your shoulders.

At least, that's what happens to me.

When my grandparents died earlier this year, I barely cried at their funerals. While reading aloud at my grandmother's, I glanced out at the congregation and saw my grandfather's face shiny with tears, looking up at me so gentle and trusting with sad brown eyes like a spaniel's. My voice cracked, but I'm a good girl so I held it together, finished the reading, and quietly sat down.

Eight weeks later, at his funeral, I silently wept; I couldn't be the only one racked with sobs. I avoided everyone's eyes. As grief ballooned in my throat I looked through the glass wall to the birds outside and watched them flit between the grass trees. As I lost myself in them, the tears slowly ebbed.

There were no glass walls at my mother's funeral, no little birds to watch. I had been staying at my father's house. Most of my clothes were at my house but I couldn't remember what I owned and couldn't think what to send for. So I found a funny old black skirt and borrowed my sister's leather jacket; I wore ugly shoes. We sat in the front row of the church, six hundred people behind us, and every time I moved the jacket creaked.

When I started to weep and raised a hanky to my face, the leather shrieked and groaned. The sound ricocheted around the great emptiness and I felt twelve hundred eyes drilling into my back; six hundred people saw that I didn't know how to dress for a funeral; six hundred people pitied me. So I lowered my arm and sat still, eyes straight ahead as the snot and tears ran silently down, and like a child in church played all the games I knew to make the time pass.

After a year, or maybe it was