Don’t Cry Out Loud

Don’t Cry Out Loud

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

Don’t Cry Out Loud

All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.

Leo Tolstoy

Why do you let him talk to you like that? I felt like saying.

My teenage brother had just mouthed off again and peeled out of the driveway in his Mustang.

“He’s going to get himself fired with that attitude,” my mom would begin explaining to Dad when he got home.

“I’m so worried. . . .”

My exhausted father showed no support.

“Would you just stop worrying? Good Lord, do you have to be upset about everything?”

My mother and I were exact opposites. I took after my father: strong, fearless and happy to take charge of any situation, while my mother was a pleaser and a server whose motto in life was “Don’t rock the boat!” She never spoke up for herself and would never dare send back a steak in a restaurant. She would rather eat around the raw parts than have to confront a waiter. In fact, her favorite phrase was, “It’s fine. Let’s not make a scene.”

My mother was a domestic goddess, and as she proudly called herself, “an efficiency expert.”

“Look!” she said grinning proudly one day when I arrived home from school. “I made a swimming suit!”

“How do you make a swimming suit, Mom?”

“Stretch &Sew class,” she announced. “I can sew anything!”

I could never even find a swimming suit that fit, let alone sew one from scratch!

My father once dropped her off at the door of a crowded restaurant to put their name on the list while he went and parked. He walked up and found her pulling weeds in the planting area.

“Shirley, what in the world are you doing!”

“Well, I was just standing here waiting, and I looked down and saw all those ugly weeds next to those pretty flowers, so I just decided to pull them myself!”

“Shirl, come out of there!” he said, pulling her out of the bushes.

When I grew up and got married Mom loved to come over and pick me up for a day of shopping.

“I’ll be down in a minute!” I would call while frantically tripping over the pile of laundry strewn about the floor of my bedroom. I would gallop down the stairs, and there she would be in my kitchen mopping the entire floor.

“Mom, you don’t have to do that!”

“Oh, it’s nothing, honey. I had a few minutes while you were getting ready.”

Actually, it was delightful having her there to help me when the laundry pile got too much, or it was time to wallpaper, scrape old paint, or do anything involved with housework. Mom ironed her sheets and folded them like tissue paper before placing them in their assigned positions in her linen closet. I remember the first time I walked into a bed and bath store. This reminds me of something, I said to myself. All these perfectly folded linens, lined up according to color. Oh yes—Mom’s closet!

Mom saved small boxes to organize her drawers (“This is the perfect size to stack gloves in!”) and never had one empty hanger in any of her closets. (“Each outfit has a hanger. You shouldn’t need extra ones if you’ve organized your closet correctly!”) My drawers looked like a bomb went off in them. I still had my wrinkled college T-shirt shoved in the bottom under the hot pink spandex pants that went out in the late ’80s.

Mom was my greatest helper, but when I wanted to have deep, transparent discussions, she was afraid to talk about her feelings. Girls of her era were trained to smile, be charming and never, under any circumstances, let anyone see them cry. As a result, my overbearing father would get upset with her, and she would drive off to the mall crying, but always in secret . . . behind her sunglasses.

Mom never learned how to speak up for herself, but somehow she knew how to speak up for me. Maybe that is the real bond between mothers and daughters. She didn’t give herself permission to follow her own dreams, but she certainly gave it to her daughter.

“Did you read Carla’s latest story?” my sister-in-law asked her during a visit. My mother responded the way she always responded to any of my work: “Isn’t she marvelous? Isn’t she talented? She could write any kind of book she wanted to! She could accomplish anything!”

The last time I moved, my mother came over to do what she had done for me all her life: clean, organize and get the task done. For some reason, while we packed and swept that afternoon, Mom started to open up.

“Your sons have been given a gift,” she said. “You are the greatest mother they could have had.”

I scoffed. “Oh, Mom, I don’t even know how to cook. I still stare at the butcher counter and ask the guy what in the world you do with meat! I’ve never even made a roast before!”

“That doesn’t matter, dear. They can eat out. Housekeepers can be hired, dishwashers can do dishes, and turkey dinners can be bought at Boston Market. But what you have given those boys is something I never knew how to give.”

“What do you mean, Mom?”

“You show them your emotions. You teach them how to feel. You share the deep things in life with them. I wasn’t much good at that, I guess. You touch them emotionally, and that is the most important thing of all.”

Seven days later Mom died of a sudden, unexplained heart attack. Like the efficiency expert she was, even though perfectly healthy, her funeral had already been arranged, paid for, and a separate checking account set up with instructions typed out in her bottom drawer. There was one more thing though, that she couldn’t have planned for: her last laundry pile. I was afraid to touch it. I was in shock, denial, stumbling around her empty condo grief-stricken and overcome with sadness. Who was going to do it? Not my brother. I had no sister, no daughter. The one who always said, “Here honey, I’ll do it,” was gone. It was my job now. I loaded the washer and poured in her Fresh Scent Tide and then fell to the ground, weeping in front of her washing machine. I sat there on that spotless laundry-room floor grieving the woman who had defined her life by tasks, but who actually had been the greatest emotional support of my life. Every time she did a load of my laundry she was saying, “I love you.” And every time she listened to my poem, story, or song and told me I could do it, she was teaching me to feel my feelings and express them without fear. The woman who couldn’t show her emotions had touched mine deeper than anyone.

Carla Riehl

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