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You Only Cry For Yourself

Living next door to us in Western Australia, Mum used to make an annual trip across the country to visit my sister's family in Victoria. After her death, that pilgrimage became my responsibility. Actually, I should say 'our' because I didn't go alone. My wife accompanied me, as my soul-mate, a sister-in-law, an auntie to the children of the Victorian branch of the tribe, and something more. Before her passing, Mum had handed over some treasured heirlooms to my wife, along with a profound, somewhat intimidating declaration: "You are now Head of the Family." This seemed strange at the time because my sister was eleven years my senior and should have been the one to receive this honour. As the only male heir, I was not even considered. But the saying "Mum knows" would be born out. She obviously knew us better than we knew ourselves, and she knew what would be best for the family in general. We eventually came to understand her reasoning soon enough.

Some years previously my sister had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Within months, her husband was told he had Parkinson's Disease. The advancement of both illnesses was the slower kind, giving us all time to enjoy our reunions while accepting the inevitable. My brother-in-law went first and it hurt, surprisingly more so than when my parents had died. You see, he had always been distant, focussing mainly on business, but in those last few years we had drawn very close. The annual visit became so important for both of us, and when he died I felt both relief and regret. Whereas he was free of the suffering, mine had just begun. The chapel was packed with family and friends, all mourning his passing in their own way. They had their closure at last, whereas all I could feel was that we had been cheated by circumstances and an incurable disease. It seemed we had only just started really getting to know each other and the bonding was nowhere near complete. I remember the sadness which is rekindled as I write this, a tearful farewell to my brother-in-law and my very dear friend. This is my reminder of the influence he had on my life and the good times we shared in it. I will continue to weep for his passing, but only because I miss his company. The rest is just a thought away, brought to life each time I play the kind of music we enjoyed together, when I reminisce on games of cards and golf, and chat about the past with his children. When I cry now it is still for myself, but the tears I shed are in deep gratitude for the simple privilege of having known him.

My sister followed him eighteen months later. By then I thought my past experiences would help me to cope better, and they did. I was less consumed by thoughts of dying than I was philosophical about life and how it has a way of making everything right in the end. My sister was free of the pain and would be, in her belief, reunited with her husband. As for my wife and I, Mum's handing over of the reins suddenly made sense. We had little time to express grief - that would come later - because we had my sister's family to consider. With both parents gone, it seemed we had been adopted as surrogates. We were able to give them support, comfort and reassurance, all thanks to our past sadness and what it had revealed to us in terms of understanding how to take positive motivation from a seemingly negative reaction.

Many situations bring on bouts of crying. Perhaps the hardest to cope with are those periods of introverted depression, the overwhelming conviction that life no longer has anything to offer. Rather than being the final straw, I am convinced this is the mind's plea for selfish consideration. It was for me. Having a nervous breakdown was bewildering and frightening. I didn't know why I felt the way I did, why I was unable to see beyond the self-pity. There were no answers that I was prepared to listen to and I pushed away anyone who tried to help. Once again, I was in that all-consuming darkness, haunted by my own thoughts and fears, and I continued to feed on misery that was fast becoming a necessity. My nearest and dearest, however, didn't give up on me, and once I'd cried to the point of exhaustion I found myself in a place of quiet and simplicity. It was so weird - one minute plagued by ghosts of past and present, the next seeing the soft glow of a new future set out before me, a warm pleasant world just waiting for me to fill it with my heart's desires. Then I responded to those who had stuck by me. I asked what I could do, where I could go and how to start living again. It worked for me. What I built from that awful experience was in respect of my personal needs, and although I couldn't see it at the time, I now know those elements were mainly unselfish. Maybe that was my problem after all, the reason I had the breakdown - I had become so self-centred that I was neglecting my responsibilities to the people in my life who really counted. Without those tears of loneliness and despondency, I might never have realised that. Certainly the crying was painful, but it was also a revitalisation and I'm truly glad of it.

I hope I have not bored you with all of this, and I can understand if you believe that, despite my confessions, I still can't appreciate what you may be going through. It's perfectly true - I can't. I am not you, as you are not me. We each have our own reasons for feeling the way we do, our own need for crying. But please bear in mind that crying can be both a result of your problems and a solution to them. When you cry for yourself it is over something that really matters to you. Make the conscious effort to discover what that something is, put it to rights, and those tears will have been worthwhile.

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