A Shoulder to Cry On
I must be a good listener because people confide in me--A LOT. Standing in elevators and lines, riding on buses or flying in planes, waiting in doctor offices or at the DMV, people trade a few pleasantries with me and then suddenly they start revealing personal stuff I'd rather not know. Private matters like surgeries and illness they have experienced; rebellious or wayward children who plague their life; or sexual exploits which would cause a sailor to blush. Often during such exchanges, they become very emotional and require a hug, a pat on the back, and the assurance that it will be okay. I wonder if I have a tattoo across my forehead that says: 'Shoulder to Cry on'.
Broad shoulders run in my family. Both of my brothers have wide, muscular shoulders. Being raised on a farm, we earned our brawny shoulders the hard way. We bucked hay bales, hauled manure, raked and hoed fields, wrestled large animals, and built fences. But perhaps my brothers and I really inherited our wide shoulders, not from our strong, hard-working dad, but from our teeny, 4'6" mom. Every time I visit my widowed mother in Arizona, people approach me to say what a kind lady she is and how lucky I am to have her as my mother. I always agree that I am indeed a lucky daughter and when the stranger turns to walk away, I whisper, "Who was that?"
Mom responds with: "I don't know, someone who talked to me at the grocery store." or "….at the doctor's office," or "… at church."
During a recent visit, my mother had an office desk and credenza listed for sale in a local, on-line classified ad. A complete stranger came to the house to look at the set, which she eventually purchased, but she stayed for three hours visiting with my mother about all her worries and problems.
I know my mom has great listening skills and high-quality advice. I relied on it heavily throughout my childhood and youth. The junior high school years were an especially traumatic time when my mother gained her best shoulder-to-cry-on experience.
I appreciated being on the receiving end of my mom's absorbent shoulder. Nearly 29 years ago, I began to comprehend the importance of a mother's shoulder from another perspective. When I had my first baby, I realized how much a small child depends upon a mother's shoulders for comfort and protection. It's a great place to hide eyes, feel safe, or catch a nap. Additional understanding of the importance of shoulders to cry on came during the years I was a Nursery Leader. Being in charge of a room full of toddlers every Sunday, I soaked up more than tears on many shirts, jackets, and dresses. I learned to never wear dry-clean-only clothing around little ones seeking a safe shoulder.
After the nursery job, I was called as a Young Women's President. That was a period of teenage tears sopping my shoulder--adolescent angst produces puddles! Often the last girl delivered home from an activity sought private attention. I spent many hours in the front seat of a minivan listening to the woes of youth. One morning, one of my Young Women appeared on my doorstep at 5:30 in need of a wide, soft shoulder to sob out her sorrows on; my pajamas were soaked that day.
Currently, I serve as a Ward Relief Society President. Now in my fifth year in the position, I've lost track of how many tears have waterlogged my shoulders. Wide, absorbent upper joints must be a prerequisite for the calling. Perhaps I should start wearing blazers and blouses with shoulder pads for additional saturation capacity. I have been in charge of 25 funerals over the years--that's a lot of potato casseroles, Jello salads, and tears.
My phone rings multiple times a day, my doorbell chimes several times a week announcing people who want to chat. Death, divorce, illness, accidents, unemployment, family feuds, and neighbor disagreements, are typical subjects of discussion. Mostly, I don't have much advice to offer, solutions to proffer, or guidance to give, just these soft shoulders, an embrace, and a heart filled with compassion for the suffering.
Yesterday, the appeal for a shoulder to cry on came from 3,000 miles away, but was closer to my heart than most requests. My daughter, who lives in Baltimore, called in utter despair.
"Mom, I'm in the Emergency Room at the Maryland Medical Center." came the familiar voice across the miles. "I lost the baby!"
"Oh, no! I'm so, so sorry, Dani. Are you okay?"
"There was so much blood and we just didn't know what to do. I called my doctor and he said go to the hospital. Kelly drove me here as quickly as he could, but it was too late."
"I'm so sorry, but are you okay?" It is impossible to absorb the tears falling on the other end of a phone call; even willing, capable shoulders can't capture virtual tears. My arms longed to hold my sobbing daughter. My heart ached to pull her tight and let our tears mix together over the loss of the child who would have been my first grandchild--a child who was absolutely wanted, patiently waited for, and perfectly planned.
After regaining her voice, Dani said, "I think this wouldn't be quite so hard if we hadn't just seen the ultra sound pictures and heard the heartbeat four days ago."
"I know Dani. I am so sad."
"We just finished painting the ceiling of the nursery the prettiest shade of yellow on Thursday and we ordered a crib and the sheets and quilt for it last week." Danielle hiccuped into the phone.
"I'm so sorry, sweetheart." My heart was aching thinking of all the plans already laid out in anticipation of this baby. I thought of my own small preparations--the cute maternity tops I purchased at the mall last week. I had addressed the package to Dani last night with plans to drop by the post office on Monday to mail the gift. My own excitement about this baby was packed in that box of maternity clothes with a pacifier laid on top. I wouldn't be mailing it on Monday. That box will go on a shelf along with all the plans for the baby we expected in the spring.
"I don't know what to do, mom. How am I going to go back to work? I just told Principal Manning I was pregnant on Friday and now on Sunday I'm not."
"Everyone will be sad with you, Dani. Just tell your principal you had a miscarriage. I'm sure he will make arrangements for your classes and allow you a few days off."
More tears across the miles. More sense of loss. More realization of altered plans. "I love you, Dani. Are you and Kelly going to be okay? I'm so sorry this happened."
"We'll be okay. Thanks Mom."
"I wish I could be there for you, Dani. I love you."
There is more to being a shoulder to cry on than saying words across a telephone connection. It involves a personal presence, a physical touch, eyes meeting, and spirits mingling to express love and offer empathy. As much as I ache for my daughter and her loss, I am hurt that I can't be there to help her carry this burden of sadness. I long to ease some of the load of sorrow from her shoulders onto mine. Sharing the weight of distress is truly what a shoulder is for.
Today, I need a shoulder to cry on.
P.S. NOTE, I HAVE HAD TWO MORE FUNERALS BETWEEN THESE TWO POSTS.