Laughter through tears

steel magnolias

“Please don’t cry or I will too. I have a strict policy that nobody cries alone in my presence.”

This is a great line from my all-time favorite movie “Steel Magnolias.” If you haven’t seen the movie (good grief, put this down and watch it now) it’s the story of six Southern women and the bonds they develop while going through life’s joys and heartaches.

The title is clear. The women are both tough as steel and as delicate as a magnolia. While they may seem flustered, perhaps even irrational on the outside, inside they are strong enough to survive any challenge. And they experience plenty of them.

Through it all, they support one another with tears, humor, and sarcasm. Their one-liners cause you to laugh hysterically or take your breath away because of the rawness of the moment. Throughout the movie, they cook, gossip, and of course, get their hair done.

Did I mention I love this movie?

The big scene comes after the heartbreaking death of the main character M’Lynn’s daughter. All of the ladies are together immediately following the funeral.

“I’m fine, I’m fine” she screams at them. “I’m FINE!” (If you’re a woman, or if you know one, you know this never means we’re fine.)

Then comes the monologue. Remember what I said about moments that take your breath away and also cause you to laugh until you cry? This is it.

“I can jog all the way to Texas and back, but my daughter can’t! She never could! Oh God! I am so mad I don’t know what to do! I wanna know why!…  I don’t think I can take this! I just wanna hit somebody until they feel as bad as I do! I just wanna hit something! I wanna hit it hard!”

Without missing a beat, Clairee grabs Ousier by the shoulders and positions her right in front of M’Lynn.

“Hit this! Go ahead M’Lynn, slap her! Hit her!”

Their tears turn into immediate laughter and they are nearly brought to their knees.

I love how these women support each other. I love how they talk. I love how they drop everything to run to one another’s side. I love that they cry together. And mostly, I love how they laugh with one another.

It’s been a rough week at my house. My daughter recently celebrated her sixth birthday and after asking for more than a year, I caved and we gave her a bunny. A messy, smelly, adorable, cuddly, precious bunny. Within minutes we were all hooked. Ellie named her Blueberry and she loved her more than anything I’ve ever seen her love before.

Blueberry died unexpectedly this week. This is the first time my daughter has experienced a loss this close to her. She was devastated. Tears just poured down her little, perfect cheeks. For the first hour after we discovered what had happened, she just wanted to sit with me and cry. I just wanted to fix it. I wanted to quickly replace the bunny and make the pain go away. But I couldn’t do that. I had to let her cry. I had to let her experience this without telling her she would be fine. She needed to feel it.

This is the part of life and parenting that is difficult for me. I can’t stand for people to cry in front of me. When I was a reporter, I covered many stories that involved tears and I rarely made it out of an interview without shedding some myself. In many ways it allowed people to be more comfortable and provided for a better – more authentic – story to come through.

As a teacher, I have spent many days after school talking with my students about events in their lives and if they start to cry, they know I will too. It’s something they like to tease me about.

As a friend, it pains me if I can’t be there to help a hurting friend. I can’t tell you how many nights I have spent talking to a friend either by phone or text and wished that I could be there to give a hug, hold their hand, and cry together.

As a mommy, it’s even more magnified. When my children are in pain, I feel it. And I would do everything in my power to prevent them from being in pain.

But I can’t rid the world of pain. The only thing I can do is to make those moments matter.

It takes strength to grieve. My daughter taught me that. She wasn’t embarrassed or self-conscious. She didn’t hold back. She told me exactly how she was feeling. And somehow she knew I couldn’t fix things, but that she instinctively knew she could feel better if she crawled onto my lap and we cried together. A lot.

There’s a ton of information out there to help people learn how to manage grief. I’m a researcher by nature so once I knew that I wanted to share this story, I immediately began searching for articles and reading advice from experts on how to process loss and eventually grow because of it.

I had planned to share that with you. But that’s really not my style. I’m not an expert on how to deal with grief. I am, however, someone who is expertly familiar with it. I’ve experienced a lot of it in my life and the only way I know to overcome loss and pain is to allow it to move through me.

I’ve also learned that it’s just as important to let it out. And the only way I know how to do that is through laughter. I like to tell sarcastic jokes, and I love to make someone laugh. In nearly every scene from Steel Magnolias where there are tears, laughter follows. These ladies show us that while it’s necessary to cry, it’s important to follow sorrow with smiles.

As Truvy said, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

It’s hard to laugh when you feel sad, but it’s usually pretty easy to find a reason to if you try. I can find laughter in most of my most painful moments because I try to focus on the joy that came before.

For Ellie, I didn’t tell her it would all be okay. But I did encourage her to think about all the great moments she and Blueberry shared. When she started to think back, it didn’t take long before she began to smile. And then she remembered the time Blueberry pooped on me. And with our cheeks still damp with tears, we laughed.

It was the most wonderful feeling in the world. I honestly believe I will remember that moment forever. We laughed so hard and then she hugged me once more.

I think Shelby said it best.

“I would rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.”

One thing in life is certain. We will all experience pain. So, when you’re sad, cry with someone, celebrate the wonderful, and laugh until it hurts.


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