What do you do when the only person you’ve ever been able to fully express your emotions with, can’t be there anymore. Stop Crying.
When you spend your whole life adjusting your personality to filter your emotions, it must be a special person who succeeds in unprogramming that trait. A harsh father, years of military service, being a father myself and decades as a business owner and executive taught me well how to swallow my emotions (anger being the hardest to stifle as one would expect when suppressing one’s emotions). Generations of men going back to, I would imagine, the beginning of the human race, have taught their man children to suck it up, stop crying, swallow those emotions and be a man.
Of course it’s all bullshit. Men are just as prone to cry over sadness and loss (or even joy) as women. In that regard we are far more alike than most are willing to admit. The difference is in the upbringing and the environmental training that’s taken place in the rearing of our man children.
Most men do cry (or want to really really bad). And because of our upbringing it makes us feel weak, vulnerable and ashamed. I’m happy to see that trend diminishing. But I’m an old soldier. A tough guy. In my youth I was prone to settle differences with my fists and in my young adult years, I had the steely eyed gaze of an explosives carrying, sharpshooting combat engineer, slipping nearly effortlessly into the light engineer rebirth of modern warfare.
I knew what people thought and felt, so I knew where to set up my ambushes. I felt what men feared, or what lazy men would avoid, so I understood the predator’s game better than most. I used my shame and vulnerability to my benefit, swallowing it whole and seeing it for what it was–a veil of manliness, thin as paper and just as easily pierced. When I went into the private sector, this knowledge served me well, allowing me to know what customers wanted before they did, what competitors would avoid and exploiting it, and negotiating with a firm conviction and persona that was constructed freshly with each new encounter. Don’t try to guess how S.L. Shelton will react in a business meeting, he changes with every new encounter. It served me well.
This understanding, however, did little to make me feel like a whole person. In fact it did quite the opposite. Over the years I began to feel like a hollow husk of a man, shaped by nothing but pure will and drive, and unable to feel real emotion…or so I thought. You see, because I had deluded myself into thinking I was the master of not only my own emotions but of everyone else’s, I had simply created a slightly thicker veil over my feelings. Inside, I was a broken, cynical, bitter old bastard.
One person changed that for me. It was abrupt, painful and cathartic. I had to accept somethings in the loving of someone special. What those things were are of no importance, because it could have been anyone and any situation, any past, present, dream, drama, distress…it could have been anyone. But it wasn’t just anyone for me. It was my Gretel; my Diane.
There was a spiritual crisis going on in her life long before I met her. When I decided that I loved her, that crisis spilled out onto me with the full force of a lifetime of pain, confusion, shame, victimization, and a litany of horrors, real and imagined. It was a lot. And honestly, the old, gritty bastard almost pulled up camp to soldier on to the next adventure–but instead, I stayed. And it changed my life.
For the first time in my existence, I was able to fully embrace someone for everything they were. It was a simple decision (not an easy one but a simple one). All I had to do was decide to stay…to commit fully. And so began my first and only whole heart relationship. She knew everything about me as I knew everything about her, and we stayed. We were strong for each other when we could be, enabled each other when we couldn’t be, and grew to be one unit–inseparable, strong, creative and motivated.
There was nothing I couldn’t share with my Gretel. No emotion came to my heart that she wasn’t aware of and no emotion passed through her that I wasn’t keenly aware of.
What do you do when the only person you’ve ever shared every emotion with, suddenly can’t be shared with. I’m afraid. I’m afraid I’m going to lose my soul mate. I’ve done the research, talked to the doctors, seen the statistics…I know what the chances are and frankly they aren’t good enough. The pain of uncertainty, the fear of losing the only person I’ve ever truly and completely loved is absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever endured–but I can’t share that with her. I can’t tell her how horrified I am at the idea of not having her beside me; how every hope, dream and joy is tied to her and will die with her if she is gone. If…god damn it. I can’t even let myself think beyond IF.
She needs to believe the treatments can work, and I need to tell her, show her I believe it too, lest she lose her will as things get hard. But my fear, my agony over the odds, especially when looking into the beautiful face I first fell in love with, makes that a challenge I am not sure I can contend with. In fact, I’ve failed miserably in recent weeks, crying openly in front of her even while trying to disappear from her sight to do it.
The old “man-child” training is trying to kick in…stop crying, suck it up, don’t be a pussy. And for the first time in my life, it’s critical that I obey. But I’m having difficulty doing it. With the slow decline of health, mood, finances, and willpower, I’m finding it harder and harder not to just take her in my arms and sob like a child. The question I can’t face, the one that hurts more than all others “what will I do without her” is the one that makes all the others so hard to deal with. Strength stealing, anger and oppressive grief is sucking the life and will from me at the one time she needs it the most. And the cruelest slight of all is that I can’t tell her–the one person I’ve ever been able to confide all in is the one person I can’t confide in this time, because it is her life I’m weeping over.
I find myself daydreaming as I zone out (something that happens more frequently these days). I catch myself fantasizing about finding that elusive trail through the nightmare, navigating her through and reaching the end with resources, joy, sun on our faces in far away lands…but then I snap awake to a doctor passing in the hallway as I wait for her radiation treatment. Or my screen loads and I see the real financial toll that’s been taken on my book sales as her illness progressed, even before we knew it was cancer. I snap out of that fantasy and I’m suddenly angry that I let myself slip there again, slapped in the face with debt, anger, grief and doubt. Stop Crying!
So I try to smile. I tell her we will get through this as we’ve gotten through everything else, and at the other end, things will feel normal again. I’ve never been good at looking at the short game…the details on the ground. That’s always been her strong suit. I’ve always been the long game guy, big picture expert, seeing the world from 1000 feet above and adjusting the pieces on the board to shape all possible outcomes. Now that 1000 foot view is showing me something I don’t want to see and there’s nothing I can do about…and worse, I can’t stop my mind from thinking from 1000 feet above. So I have to stop crying and put a smile on my face so she can win her ground game…the short game…the battle of inches, not miles.
And I let myself fantasize again–because that’s the 1000 foot view I want to see.
S.L. Shelton is the author of an Amazon Bestselling Political Thriller/Action Espionage Series, (The Scott Wolfe Series). Follow him here on WordPress, on Twitter @SLSheltonAuthor or Facebook. If you feel the desire to help, you can make a contribution at the GoFundMe that their daughter set up, or buy his books.