Parents of lost babies and potential of all kinds: come here to share the technicolour, the vividness, the despair, the heart-broken-open, the compassion we learn for others, having been through this mess — and see it reflected back at you, acknowledged, understood.

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photo by Jenny Downing.

If I collected my tears in lachrymatory, placed them on dark wooden shelves, I would have a museum to missing you. Maybe no one would visit, but I would. Bottles of my weeping would line the walls, sun streaming through the windows. Fancy blown glass filled with oceans of grief, the tear bottles would refract the light, make prisms on the walls. Small beautiful points of your lack of being all around me, in every color except black, reminding me where you are not.

I quote the Bible to defend my mania. "You have noted my grief; store my tears in your flask. Are they not recorded in your book?"* David asks it of God on my behalf. Grief is sacred and should be hunted and gathered from all the dusty corners of you. Work it out of your muscles, squeeze it out of your eyes, dissect each event to find it, then catch the grief tears in delicate bottles with pewter stoppers. The Ancient Romans collected tears in jars, buried them with the dead. The Victorians poured them on the graves after their grief period ended. But I covet the tears I shed for you. Grief opened my flood gates.

Before you died, I only cried in anger. Those tears were more bitter than salty and I hated the weakness it revealed about me. When I was a girl, my father mocked crying. Even when I was very tiny, he would stand in front of me, and pretend to cry. "WAH WAH WAH. I'm so sad." He would laugh. Shamed, I would hide my face in terrible humiliation until I couldn't cry anymore. 

After you died, I could not control my tears. I dreamed about oceans and seas and salt water lakes. I searched for you in the water. One minute, I was holding you, and then I somehow let go. I could not find you in the waves. I'd flail my arms and search the blackness below me. You were gone. I lost you. (This was a nightmare.) I lost you again. I felt the drowning overcome me too, and woke in a panic, knowing it was my tears covering my face. I cried at night, and in the morning again. I cried all day. I cried at all emotion--sadness and joy in equal measures.

I appreciated that gift you gave me--the gift of crying. Now, I can cry when it is appropriate. I celebrate it, pour my tears out and let people see them. It is why I make the tears into art and history, a monument to my humanity, because without tears, I felt less than human.

The tears transmute sadness into adoration, emptiness into substance, absence into a being. It is the alchemy of grief. The hole that formed in the center of me when you died was the physical manifestation of absence. The hole itself became liquid, and flowed out of me, like blood. Tears are the blood of a soul wound. Keening is the physical work of missing and love. I put the curved bottle to my eyes, allow the tears to run into it. I wear the lachrymatory around my neck on a long black ribbon, to catch the sorrow that might overcome me in the market.

There is a point when you are supposed to pour the tears out, Daughter. Soak them into the grave, so you can taste my missing and know that it has the same flavor as love. But you are daughter-ash, and besides, tears are all I have of you.

Tears and ash and the memory of not being able to cry.


* Psalm 56:8 translation from the Oxford Study Bible, Oxford University Press, 1992.

What did crying mean to you before your child or children's death? What does it mean now? Were you comfortable crying in front of others? Alone? How has grief changed your ability to express your emotions?

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Reader Comments (15)

I cry nearly every day. I don't even know if I previously thought that possible. I believe my crying is hard to watch, so I mostly cry in private. In the car alone. Deeply and wailing into a towel in the bathroom to muffle the noise. And in the shower. I cry in front of others - and they in front of me - at support group, and we nod sympathy or dab our own eyes.

I melted in the corner of the kitchen floor last night, after the kids were in bed. My husband has not mentioned it.

I am used to my crying now. I don't think anyone else is. My sadness has become a given, I think, to those close to me and some wish I would move on. And I think all of these things combined have just made me feel terribly lonely.
September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJ
Beautiful post as always Angie. We lost our precious son Saoirse (Sir-Sha meaning freedom) just over a month ago at 22 weeks gestation. So the pain is still very new and raw for me. I find that I can get through the day at work 'ok' until someone asks how I am / a question about our son. Then, the tears just well up but I don't completely sob when I'm at work or in public. As J says above, I usually save the absolute heart wrenching sobbing for when I'm alone or with my partner. Then, I feel 'safe' enough to just totally let go. The other day I had an ok (relatively speaking) day at work and then I got in the car and without any warning sign at all, I just started sobbing - I mean hysterically crying to the point I couldn't see properly so I pulled over. I guess it's always there; just lurking below the surface; ready to spring out at any time.

I’m trying to socialise and to see friends, but what I find is that it’s a bit of an effort because talking about the normal, everyday topics is hard work. It’s exhausting. I don’t want to spend the whole time talking about Saoirse because I feel that’s hard work for other people, but pretending that everyday things matter right now is draining. I get to a point where I just want to go – to run to the car and get home so I can sob….again.

I have never cried this much in my life before but I guess that is because I have never been through something so horrendously sad and devastating as this before. And I hope I don't ever have to go through this pain again!!
September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMissy
My relationship with crying has changed since Sam's death. I didn't cry much before Sam's death, on occasion, but usually out of frustration or anger. Now it seems so trivial, those tears I shed before. I cried every day for months after he died. Heavy, deep sobs that would leave my eyes puffy and red and leave me physically drained. I almost think I cried a lifetime of tears because it's like my ability to cry has been used up - I don't cry much anymore. And little things don't make me cry because nothing seems as sad as his death and the life he never got to live.
September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMonique
In the years before baby loss I would cry occasionally. At a sad movie, when I was upset about something etc. Through the years of TTC and failed fertility treatments, negative HPTs and watching people propegate as easily as bunnies I would cry at home alone at night when I couldn't sleep. When my daughter died in Feb at 32 weeks, I never thought that I could stop crying. I guess I haven't really. I cry every day, usually the gentle tears that wash down your face, but every once in a while those deep bone wracking sobs that leave you with snot all over your face and hiccuping to get enough air. You know how Eskimos have 100 words for snow, the baby lost should have 100 words to describe tears.
September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGrace's Mom
I've always been the kind of girl who would need a good cry to let my emotions out every once in awhile when things got on top of me. Since Finley died that has taken on a whole new level. My crying involves wracking sobs, physical yearning for my son, pain in my shattered heart. Sometimes I just sit and think about how empty my life feels now when I expected it to be so filled with his presence and I allow myself to cry. It isn't fair that he isn't here.

I can totally imagine a room full of tears...like a shrine to our lost babies.

Sending you lots of love,
September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa
Crying is a reflex now, like a sneeze. I never know what will set it off: a song, a flower, something in a book, something my older son says. If I'm at the coffee shop or on the street and feel it coming on I have to make a decision: run to the bathroom or behind a tree or just let everyone see? These days I usually just cry openly. I mean, I've got a damn good reason; why should I be ashamed or embarrassed?
September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth
We lost our dear baby girl Chiara Astra on August 13th at 22 weeks gestation. I delivered her the folowing night. It's been 3 weeks now and I cry all the time: when I wake up each day, when I go to bed at night, when I am walking at 5 in the morning, when I hold my 2 year old son, when someone asks about our baby.

When I sit in front of our air conditioner, it is loud enough that I imagine it drowns me out. I cry the loudest there. I cry in the shower. I wail in the car and I say all the things I need to say that I cannot say to anyone.

I have always been able to cry, open to crying, but now it is not a choice. The tears are coming. I cannot hold them in.

Thank you for this post. I love the idea of the walls filled with bottles of tears, and the light reflecting through. Isak Dinesen (author of Out of Africa) said that the cure for anything is salt water- sweat, tears or the sea. I hold on this. I do not expect I'll ever be cured of this terrible loss, but I do hope to be able to bear it better with time, to integrate Chiara's life and presence into our family and to not feel so raw and exposed as I feel now.
September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAurelia
my tears were hot- like they came directly from the heat of my heart, or my soul.
they poured out of me, never ending, and literally dehydrated me.

i cried before losing them, and i cry for other things now, but there is not a thing in the world that causes those hot tears other than the sorrow of losing my daughter and son. years later, they come less frequently, but when they do come, it is from that same place- hot and free-flowing straight from my core.

my daughter, and my son, were both wet with our tears as they went into their coffins. i didn't mind that, and in fact i was comforted by it- little fragments of our love, lost, dried on their burial clothing, with them forever.

you asked how grief has changed my ability to express my emotions... i feel like losing a child is one of the worst things that can happen in a life experience. like going to hell and back, and that's changed my outlook, and the things that get an emotional response from me now are different than before. it gave me a perspective. made me harder (stonier) in some regards, softer, more empathetic, in others- no rhyme or reason to any of it. its not a bad thing, to have access to the full reservior of human emotions- although i would trade it any day to have my children alive and back with me.
September 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterss
Like many others I cried tears of frustration or anger before losing Eva. Although there was a time when she was in PICU that I cried tears of stress and worry and fear that my little girl would die. And then she died. And in the months after her death I cried and cried and cried. Every day. Wailing. Sobbing. Open mouthed and ugly. And as the months passed I still cried every day but the quality of the ctying changed. From sobbing to simply tears and from snot trailing all over my face to sniffles and polite kleenex. And still, the tears come, unbidden, almost daily. For every day there is someone missing. And that missing is so all-emcompassing that there must be tears. Perhaps to fill the hole of absence. I do not know.

My emotions have changed in that I feel deeply sorry for true sorrow and cry for others easily. However, no longer am I able to give sympathy to people who I feel don't have true sorrow. I know, who am I to judge others' sorrow but it's there anyway. The judge in me that seperates true sorrow from the bullshit. And my tolerance for bullshit has gone down the drain.

Beautiful post Angie. Thank you.
September 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEm
I'm a crier. Always. Tears come too easily; as easily before than since. I fucking love this piece, Angie. That idea of tears making something physical from the invisible. Beautiful.
September 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJess
Angie, thinking about your post unearthed a memory for me. I even went back to see how all of the dates lined up :

They told us Adia Rose might have a problem with her heart, the doctor could only see 3 chambers on the ultrasound. They wanted us back in one month, and also wanted us to see a prenatal cardiac specialist. It's weird because I remembered it being two weeks between appointments but when I looked at last years calendar it was really more than four weeks of living under uncertainty for her future, not knowing if she might die. I refused to believe it. I told my husband, "this baby wants life! A sick baby could never move this much!" but we had to wait over four weeks to find out. So during this time I happened to pick up the Sunday paper and I read my husband a story about a local high school student who has been missing since 2004. The story detailed his last day, his movements from place to place, and then he vanished. His mother was interviewed. She has his room just how he left it. I finished reading the article, told my husband "that is just the worst thing I ever heard" and burst into tears.

I know I cried for that boy and his mom, but I also know I was crying for my little girl and me.

They told us in the end that her heart was fine, that she looked good, that we were free to go. A month later she died. I knew something was wrong. I was reassured, and presented with facts and anecdotes. But I knew. A mute sadness welled up in me. I carried along side of her, but I didn't cry. I didn't cry when the midwife on call told me my baby was very sick. I felt like the ground had fallen away in front of me, that I was sickeningly close to pitching headlong into a black, bottomless pit. I didn't cry when they told me her heart rate was dropping. I didn't cry when they said there was no time, I'd have to be under general and my husband couldn't be with me (thankfully I was given a block and I was awake and we were together when our daughter was born), I didn't cry when the girl who came out calling for more towels for AdiaRose wouldn't look at us, I didn't cry when the neonatal pediatrician came to tell us there was nothing they could do, that our daughter was blue from lack of oxygen, that we should stop any interventions and just hold her. I didn't cry while we prayed over her. I didn't cry when they took the oxygen tube out of her mouth... When did I start to cry? At some point in that long, long night I looked at my husband and the tears came. I welcomed them taking me over, a force I had to surrender to. I cried and cried the first weeks, month. Now almost a year later they are hard won. I welcome them like a parched desert welcomes the rain, my dry tear ducts smarting from all of the salt. I guess I cried myself out at some point. Now I feel like a dry husk. But I think of that boy in the newspaper as when I really started crying for my daughter.
September 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen
I really related to Em's description of the evolution of my tears. They changed, over time, but they never stop coming.

I still remember the day, nine months after Margot's death, when I realized that an entire day had passed with out me crying. Nine months of tears. I never would have dreamed that I could cry that much.

I still cry most days to be honest. But the tears are gentle, aching tears. Tears of longing. Almost peaceful tears.

As for your question about how my tears have changed my ability to interact with others sorrow, this is a huge change in me actually. I was never sure what to do in the face of sorrow. Now I know, people want to talk, want to share. So I look them in the eye and ask and nod and acknowledge that life can be cruel.

But surprisingly, I'm not able to shed many tears for anyone else, unless they too have lost a child. Then I can barely speak because the tears keep flowing.
September 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKari
baby taz would be 6 years old today. Forever he will be 2 days old. One of the hardest things for me was that after the initial shock and support there weren't many people who would openly cry with me. And to be honest I wouldn't let many people in to cry with me. I would cry with my then 4 year old daughter. Those that I let in and when we did cry-those times helped. Listen to the Lumineers Ho Hey-"so show me family all the blood I will bleed". Beautiful post Angie. For me sitting and crying-no words neccessary was and is the most beautiful and healing thing. I think I will catch some tears today and mix them with some ashes. BIG love and tears to all the glow momas. Lara
September 10, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlara
Hey Angie, so sorry to hear about your loss.

Really love glow in the woods and what it stands for. Can feel a real sense of comfort, support and hope.

Crying for me was absolutely necessary - to get things off my mind, also when I felt sorry for myself :) and when there was nothing else to do. I only felt comfortable crying in front of my husband and mum. At times I had to hide and cry to avoid setting them off. But as the years have gone by, I can now smile when I think of my babies, what a journey it has been. However I do get emotional sometimes when I recount my tale.
September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFunke
Losing my daughter has taught me so much about compassion for others. I understand what people are going through when they lose a loved one. This has been such a precious gift to me. I similarly grew up in a home that was not ok to cry in. My father belittled us for crying and actually showing any emotion whatsoever. I grew into a young woman with emotional issues-anxiety and depression- due to having to suppress my feelings for so long. It wasn't hard to cry when Grace died, but it was very hard for me to cry in front of family. I was taught to be strong. I had family members show up to her funeral I'm sure because it was "the thing to do." The comments made to me such as "Oh well, that's life, I guess," etc. were so horrible and unfeeling they still make me angry! I have been changed so drastically by Grace's loss. Being able to cry for myself and others has made me a healthier, happier person. If there is a bright side to losing her, I feel thankful to be able to understand and help others through their grief by literally pouring out their feelings. It is still awkward for me to cry in front of someone who has lost their child, as they are sharing their story, especially when they are NOT crying and I am. Has anyone else had that experience?
September 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersherriburkett

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