One of my students came to class crying. No one tried to calm her; no one seemed uncomfortable by her tears. They hugged her, explaining that her cousin had just passed away; and most importantly, they let her cry.
I immediately thought of a former American student who came to class in tears because her cousin had died in a car accident. As I compared their situations, the only similarity they shared were tears. When my American student cried, the room was filled with an immediate sense of hysteria – a jumble of questions: “What is wrong?” “Are you okay?” “Why are you crying?” No one knew what to do, or what to say. When my student eventually composed herself, the room magically transformed — from sympathy to laughter, then onward to the daily lunch menu, anything to ignore the pain so that tears would not fall again.
It reminds me of my mother’s death. People suddenly became afraid of me – I was a fragile glass that if touched, may shatter into pieces. When I cried it made people uncomfortable, so I stopped crying. And after a few months, people stopped asking how I was doing — there was an expectation of moving forward, of growing up. Yet storing these confused, conflicted emotions makes the grieving process that much more difficult, and sometimes stops it in its tracks. It forces people to grieve later in life, a delayed grief that I expect Cape Verde doesn’t experience all that often.
In Cape Verde, when an individual dies, the family wails. Loud, long wails that fill the entire house, the entire village, for days. The family normally dresses in black for at least three months, if not an entire year. In addition, after three months another service is conducted to remember the loved one.
The first time I heard wailing I was scared. It seemed extreme, shocking, and uncomfortable, yet it’s real – it’s a release of pain followed by a time of reflection and a preservation of memories. Family members aren’t forced to get back to work, or to cover up their sadness. It’s natural. It’s a process. It’s essential.
Sometimes it’s best to let things be.