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I’m Not Hiding My Tears From My Kids Anymore

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

By Linda Broder

My ten-year old daughter Lizzie loved the sympathy cards. For weeks, she skipped to the mailbox and carried an armful of cards into the house. It was her way of talking about her older brother, Brendan, her way of trying to make sense of his death. She’d open each card with a sigh, believing in the words of comfort written in silvery script.

Her favorite one had pastel flowers scattered across the card. “Look, Mommy,” she read. “Your tears are watering the garden of memories.” I used that line often. I tried not to cry in front of her and her thirteen-year-old brother, Zack, only letting them see the gentle tears meant for a Hallmark card.

My real tears came each night, once my husband was home and I could escape the house and stand in the middle of the street and stare at the stars. They seemed to speak to me, begging me to cry underneath their light. One night, Lizzie walked down the front steps, shrugging into a sweatshirt. I slipped on my mask of a smile, inhaling patience with a silent breath.

I didn’t want her there. I had done my job for the day. I’d stumbled out of bed when I heard the whine of the school bus turning into our development. I’d met my daughter at the bottom of the hill and carried her backpack as she chatted about the mysteries of the fifth grade lunch table. I’d run in circles with Zack, chasing the dogs in the backyard and not once looking for the darkened window of an empty bedroom.

But now I needed to cry. “Go inside, sweetie,” I said. “ I just need a few minutes.”

She shook her head. “I want to stay with you.”

I needed her to go inside, to snuggle next to her father. It was his turn for fake smiles and the jokes he’d practiced on the way home. I told her again to go inside, but she only shook her head. I bit the inside of my cheek, trying to hold back my tears. I knew they wouldn’t be a gentle sprinkling, but a storm that destroyed the garden.

I pointed towards the front door, but she wouldn’t move. Finally, I whispered, “Mommy needs to cry.”

I thought she’d run inside towards safety, but she stood there and smiled. “It’s okay.” She slipped her hand into mine and held on tight. “I want to cry with you.”

She smiled again, her eyes already filling, waiting for me to allow the tears to come. I tried to be strong, but my control shattered. Raw, broken sobs burst out of me. She said nothing, only squeezed my hand tighter. We stood together and cried, only it was so much more than tears—they were howls that echoed in the night.

We cried until we gasped for air, until our sobs faded into whimpers. She pointed to a star, a bright, shimmering one. “Maybe that’s him.”

I nodded. I searched the stars each night, wondering which one was him.

She sighed. “I miss Brendan.” She pointed to a spot on the driveway. “He used to stand there every morning and wait until I looked out the window. Then he’d give me a silly wave. A different one for each day. He’d even roll around on the ground, waving at me.”

I froze. Oh, how I wanted to talk about Brendan. Sometimes, I stood alone in the kitchen and whispered his name. But when Zack and Lizzie came home from school, I couldn’t say his name because I was so afraid of crying and losing control in front of them. Instead we talked about basketball and Girl Scouts and the meals the neighbors brought. But that night, standing outside with Lizzie, I’d been emptied of tears, and memories of Brendan had rushed in.

I smiled, picturing the way he’d make room for her in his bed whenever she was sick. “He always tucked a blanket around you.”

“Yes,” Lizzie said, jumping up and down. “Once, he put all the blankets in the house on me. I think I had ten of them!” She laughed, her hands wrapped around her middle. Her eyes widened. “When I laugh holding my belly like that, it sounds like him.”

She laughed again and I closed my eyes, listening to the sound of Brendan. I needed more. I told her about the time he had a nosebleed in class. He was afraid his teacher would see the smudges of blood on his hand and didn’t want to be sent to the nurse. Before she could notice, he grabbed a red marker and colored all over his hands to hide the evidence.

She told me about the times late at night when he scrambled eggs, standing at the stove in his underwear. He tiptoed into her room and shook her shoulder, waking her up so she could taste the most perfect plate of eggs.

“One day I’m not going to wear anything at all when I make my eggs,” he said. “Naked at the stove at midnight, stirring my eggs and scratching my butt. That’s my dream.”

We laughed until our ribs ached. Then we turned back to the stars, wondering where he was.

“Stars can sing,” I told her.

“Really? How?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know, but scientists discovered sound waves coming from them. It’s so low we can’t hear it. They can even measure their frequency, just like musical notes. It’s a symphony of stars.”

“Singing stars.” She laughed and ran for the front door. “I’m going to tell Daddy and Zack.”

I stayed outside, staring up at the singing stars. I couldn’t hear their songs, but sometimes, I imagined I felt them echoing in my heart, shimmering like the stories of Brendan, the ones I’d kept locked deep inside, afraid to unleash an avalanche of pain. But crying with Lizzie broke through that. We shared his stories until they began to shine, like a hum swelling into song.

His death had torn something inside me, a ragged hole that seemed impossible to fill. But these stories—oh, I knew now—his stories could somehow knit me back together.

The stories would sometimes come with tears. That’s why I’d pushed them away. I thought I needed to show my kids strength and resolve, to not let them see me broken. But Lizzie had seen my tears. She didn’t back away, not even when I begged. She moved toward me. She crawled inside my darkness and together we cried.

I’d learned how to be strong. But maybe there was another way—something my ten-year-old daughter taught me. Being strong didn’t mean I couldn’t show my sorrow. I could let Zack and Lizzie see me fall down, as long as they watched me get back up again. I could let them see my pain, as long as they also saw me doubled over with laughter. I didn’t always need to put on a smile and hide my tears.

Under a sky filled with stars, I could let them see me cry.


Linda Broder is the author of And Still the Bird Sings, a memoir of love and loss and the healing magic of music. She is a story coach who spends her days writing, teaching and playing stories on her harp. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Moms Don’t Have Time to Write, and Spirituality & Health.