How many of us, as a child, stood on tiptoes and peered into a pot of water our mother was planning put something delicious into? Stood impatiently, and watched and waited for the steam to turn into little bubbles and then into larger bubbles, then into waves of very hot water? Emotions can be compared to that pot of water.
When my husband was first diagnosed with End Stage Renal Failure, I completely freaked out. What is this? How serious is this? Could he die? Would the doctors save him? What happens now?
I flipped out. Then I looked over at my strapping husband, who was scared of very little, looking frightened and pale (which is very difficult for a dark skinned Black man.) That’s when I stopped allowing myself to break.
I told myself I would never look into the eyes of the man I loved with any other than love and faith. No fear, no pain, no anger. It wasn’t allowed. I couldn’t get things done if I allowed that.
As he got sicker, I never allowed myself to show the fear and worry I felt. I pushed it way down deep. As far as anyone is concerned, I wasn’t worried and everything was going to work out.
But each time, beneath the surface, the pot of water began to warm. I put a lid on that pot. Not a good idea when you’re boiling water.
As he battled his health problems, the doctors, in my opinion, weren’t doing enough to help him. I kept calmly demanding that they did more. I wasn’t happy with how the nurses were taking care of him. I quietly, but with determination, pointed out things they missed, insisted that they check him more often and keep him cleaner. I never yelled, I never raised my voice, but the anger and frustration I was feeling was evident. That last time I took him to the hospital, I didn’t show fear and I didn’t allow myself to feel it. It was like that the entire last week. I held on to my hope and refused to show my growing fears about what was happening. The moment he died, I couldn’t even cry. I was still burying my feelings. No one wanted to see them and I wasn’t going to break down in front of people. Just wasn’t. But like a pot full of water slowing warming to a boil, my feelings began a slow bubble. Planning the funeral, I nearly lost it when someone suggested something I had no interest in doing. I nearly shouted, “No!” at that person, then I slowly rose from the planning table and held my head high as I strode to the bathroom. I went in there supposedly to cry.
Not a drop.
I wrapped my arms around myself in that elegant little area and tried again to cry. I still couldn’t do it. Even in my angry grief, I could not show my feelings.
But the water in the pot was becoming more turbulent. More bubbles on the surface. The lid was starting to shake a little.
During the funeral, the same people who gave me grief (ironically enough) at the planning session showed their real feelings towards me by not speaking to or even sitting near me. My husband’s closest relative refused to be in my space while another relative hypocritically fell over his casket and wailed like the wailing widows you hear about sometimes. But did the widow allow herself do that? Nope. Did she want to? Oh Lord, yes. She wanted to scream, but didn’t.
But the steam was rising from under the pot lid as it became hotter and hotter. After everyone had returned to their lives, I was left with my pain; two young men grieving for their father, a pile of debts, no money and a very silent phone. Weeks turned into months of this. My sadness began to give way to another emotion: Anger.
The water in the pot was now bubbling up to the top of the pot and pushing harder on the lid. This is the point where most of us as kids stood back, afraid of being burned. People didn’t know it was time to stand back from me. I wasn’t warning them either. The pain, the fright, the worry, the exhaustion, all of it was coming to a head. It wasn’t pretty either.
The pot of water was now boiling over the sides and making that sizzling popping noise on the stove.
I was angry at everyone, except my boys. They were safe from my wrath, thank God. But everyone outside of my home felt the heat of my anger.
Don’t talk me now, I thought.
Where have you been all this time?
You can’t spend time with me?
Fine. I don’t give a crap. Begone from my life. Don’t pretend you’re listening to me. I know that you’re not. Get the hell away from me. Quit driving so slow in my way. My car may be small, but it could take you out.
Lid knocked out now.
Boiling hot waves in the pot now, splashing the stove, walls and the floor. Time to add something to the water and turn the pot down some.
Finally, after my anger had pushed away the people who simply didn’t know what to do with me, someone completely expected said something to me that gave me the validation and comfort I had been seeking: You’re allowed.
Blinking, I said, “What?”
She said, “Everything you’re feeling, all of it, you’re allowed. After all, you have been through one of the most harrowing and devastating experiences anyone has ever had to face. You watched your beautiful, gentle hearted husband slowly tumble from the mountain kingdom you had built for yourselves and as hard as you reached for him, he fell. That’s enough to kill a person. Instead, you’re still here. You didn’t jump after him. You stayed in it. You showed everyone you are the Queen he thought you were. But remember, Queens can hurt. Queens get angry. Queens cry. Queens can do all of that because they love. They are allowed. You loved that man and he loved you. So, you’re allowed.”
That was what had to be added to the pot to slow down the boiling - validation. The permission to grieve, to be angry, to feel hurt and not justify it to a soul, except myself. Pots still boil, but the lid stays off of the pot now. The anger and emotions spill out when they need to.
So, to my sister Queens, I will say the same to you: you are allowed, and don’t let anyone tell you or make you feel that you aren’t. Your feelings are yours...you were given them for a reason.