My 15 year-old daughter Anneke landed the role of Polly in Neil Simon’s play The Gingerbread Lady. In this play, Polly’s (Anneke) mother seems intent on self-destruction, and at one point in the play, Polly (Anneke) is moved to desperate tears, wanting her mother to be OK.
Anneke was unable to perform the scene. She could not cry on stage and she was unable to access that place of sadness. Thankfully, the very thoughtful and caring director changed the scene to accommodate Anneke.
At first I was surprised at Anneke’s difficulty. After all, her father/my husband, died when she was seven, and she has shed many tears throughout the years. I have done my best to let her know that it is OK to have feelings and to cry. I have encouraged her to talk about her father and we speak about him often still. Anneke is very open and courageous.
So why did she have a hard time?
The loss of a parent is very different than the loss of a spouse. My grief was most intense the first few years after Mike died, and now, eight years later, life is good.
Anneke’s real grief work has yet to happen. Yes, her life is also moving along nicely, but there is an undercurrent of incompleteness. At age 7 her relationship with her father was aborted, replaced by a space. The part of her that should have been fed by him and their relationship stopped developing.
This space should have been filled with the growth that comes from baseball games, challenging authority, hugs, fighting and making up, and camping. It should have been filled with words like "you are the most gorgeous girl in the universe and I will do bodily harm to any young man who might transgress". This space should have been filled with the many experiences with a father that supports the healthy development of a young woman.
So, yes, she misses him. But that is too easy an explanation. It is much more than that. For a child the space left by a deceased parent does not get filled in.
Instead there are question marks. Would he have liked me? Been proud of me? Approved of me? Would he think that I am pretty? No matter what I tell her about her father, and what I am sure he would think of her now, the question marks remain.
When Anneke cries, regardless of what brings it on, it ends up about the space. It might start out as an upset over a test she hasn’t studied for, or an audition that scares her. But it ends up being about the missing reflection back to her from her father’s eyes that was supposed to help her know who she is.
So, Anneke cannot cry on command. Fine. There are worse things. She hates to cry and I don’t blame her. It is too much damn work for a 15 year- old. Someday, she will have to do the work. But not now, and not on stage.