The 'Ugly Cry'

The 'Ugly Cry'

Recently I shared a Saturday afternoon with Eugena Maguire, a delightful social worker and parent coach, as we recorded a conversation for her "Unpacking Depression" podcast.

Our conversation stretched over the course of the afternoon - one of those delicious meetings that could go on and on for hours. We were talking about my experiences with depression, and one of the topics that arose for us was tears and sorrow:  how our are tears and sorrow met - or unmet - by those around us?

Eugena made an insightful comment about 'the ugly cry' - how our times of intense weeping are labeled 'ugly' for their raw messiness. I was struck by her insight and told her, "Wow! Someone should write a poem about that."

And so today, a week later, I took up the mantle, and took a shot. In writing this poem, I could feel our collective shame around tears, and dare I say trauma - all the ways we apologize for our sorrow, and the depth of our longing for places of safety where our sadness can be met.

I can still feel the plea, the soft note of panic in my son's voice as he would whisper in my ear, "I don't think this is a place where I can have my tears."

May we all have places where we can be sad, where we can cry our tears.

The Ugly Cry

When my teenage son was a little boy
and sadness or fear welled inside
He would take me aside and whisper,
"I need a place where I can have my tears."

Without words or knowing he knew
whether there was welcome, a place to shed his sorrow.
When there wasn't, his tears remained, inside, unshed.

When we cry at school
or cry at work
or cry in public
We say, "I'm sorry."

I'm sorry for crying.
I'm sorry for getting upset.
I'm sorry for not keeping it together.

I’m sorry for being emotional.
I’m sorry for being hurt.
I’m sorry for hurting.

I'm sorry for burdening you.
I'm sorry for making you uncomfortable.

Our sorrow becomes a double sorrow
and our shame becomes a double shame –
The sorrow of being sad when it's not okay to feel sad.

When the tears finally come
and our pain becomes physical –
dry heaves and dripping snot,
a face contorted in sorrow –
it's called an ugly cry.

Now our tears are not only a weakness to apologize for
but something more:
a thing devoid of beauty,
a Grendel at the gate.

Ugly, the dictionary says, arises from Old Norse
Rooted in a fear or dread of something
It heralds something “horrible or frightful in appearance.”

When did crying – the particular ways we shed our sorrow –
become something horrific?
A frightful appearance that we dread?

The last time I had an ugly cry
My friend Ash watched from afar.
Later she whispered to me –“Oh, Karly, those faces you made”
With such reverence that I wept.

A sorrow that is unseen shatters.
But a sorrow that is seen becomes beholden.
The dread scatters, and in its wake, we find beauty.
A flower blooms in the bright beating heart of sadness
And in our sorrow we abide.

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