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You Can Laugh or You Can Cry

Written by: Ali Ferrara

“You can laugh, or you can cry.”

My coworkers and myself said this to each other and the people in our lives often when I was working for child protective services. We saw such horrible things. Our hands were often tied when we wanted to help. It was heartbreaking work. Rewarding in many ways, but heartbreaking. I could write on and on about my time there, the amazing strength and commitment of the social workers who are still there, and the brokenness of the whole system. But, alas, that is not what this is about.

“You can laugh, or you can cry.”

We said it often because needed to give an explanation for our strange, and often dark, sense of humor. Even if you walked in the door to work there, a naïve little girl from middle of nowhere Pennsylvania, trust me, it wouldn’t last long. You would get a little twisted too. It’s not that we laughed at or about a child who was hurt in anyway, but we found some strange ways to laugh, that is for sure.

“You can laugh, or you can cry.”

So we laughed. We couldn’t cry. There was work to do. And if we started crying, we might never have stopped.

I don’t know about my coworkers at the time, or the many social workers who have walked through those doors since then, but for me, I took those words and started applying them to my whole life. Humor became my number one coping skill. My most used defense mechanism. Humor can be a great way to cope, but it can also be an easy way to bury your true feelings to stay numb and avoidant. Humor got me through a lot, but it also held me back sometimes. But I was getting by just fine, really.

Then Mira died. My sweet, perfect daughter. My only child. My most wished for role in life- mother- forever altered. My baby, gone. Missing her, an ache that never ended.

“You can laugh, or you can cry.”

Clearly laughing was not an option anymore. There was no humor to be found in this. No quirky, dark, or twisted sarcastic comment to ease the sting and reality of a newborn’s death. No funny comment to defuse the tension could be made when you watched you daughter take that last breath.

“You can laugh, or you can cry.”

So, it is crying this time then. If it is one or the other, it is time for tears. Endless tears. Yes, there was great joy in Mira’s life and blessing in having ever known her! But there were only tears in her death.

I lived in this world of “or” for so long, it didn’t cross my mind that it could be false until one day in Hobby Lobby. My husband and I were shopping for something or another, and we found a cute fox. Since Mira's planned nursery had been a woodland theme with a focus on foxes, we now saw foxes as her special symbol. We acknowledged the vast amount of fox items already in the house and smiled. We wondered aloud if at almost 1 year old, she would have liked her fox themed room and gravitated to those toys. Would she be able to make her opinion clear? Our hearts felt heavy, wishing we didn’t have to wonder these things.

And then, I made a joke. I said, "What if Mira is up in Heaven exasperated, saying “Mom, I HATE foxes, enough with the foxes!”" Joe laughed and assured me that Mira would like whatever we gotten for her out of love. We laughed at the idea of her hating foxes from Heaven. Then we stopped and stared. We were joking. I had made a joke about Mira. A joke about our dead baby. Surely that was not okay. There must be something wrong with me. You can’t cross that line. Laugh OR cry, and this was a crying situation.

After the shock of the moment, we relaxed. I acknowledged out loud it was nice to laugh and joke about her. To feel some joy thinking about her in the current moment, not just what was. It didn’t change how much it hurt that she was in Heaven instead of here with us, it didn’t change how much we loved her, it was just another way to include her in our lives.

That moment was a big lesson for me. I learned the power of AND in a new way. I could laugh AND I could cry. Of course, I would never joke and laugh about Mira’s death, but I could joke and laugh about the sweet girl I loved so much.

I didn’t have to use humor to bury or hide the pain though. I could cry too. I could laugh remembering how she did flips at her 12 week ultrasound, and I could cry thinking about later ultrasounds when she could no longer move so effortlessly due to the complications. I could laugh that our dog loved tummy time so much when I was pregnant, and cry that he had night terrors for months after we came home without the baby. “And” instead of “or” in the sentence opened up a world of possibilities.

I would go on to learn in the coming months and years how much more “and” could do to help me appreciate both the joy AND sorrow of Mira’s life/death, as well as the joy and sorrow in our lives in general.

As Joe and I have been battling infertility and begging to have a healthy baby someday (please soon), there have been many, many tears. Then a couple months ago, I got a call from an unknown number I thought was the fertility clinic, so I answered. Instead it was a craft store that had shipped me some vinyl for my projects wanting to ensure I received it and was satisfied. I assured them I was. Since we had been struggling with billing and patient care at the fertility clinic, I said to Joe, “Well that craft store has better customer support than the clinic!” Joe laughed and agreed. I added, “I got my vinyl in 5 days, but that baby I ordered from the clinic 4 months ago still hasn’t come!” Joe and I laughed. It may be a bit distasteful to laugh about infertility, but that joke opened the door for me to feel more comfortable with talking about our infertility. It normalized it a bit. It was so needed.

I used to only know how to laugh about pain. Then I got knocked off my feet and only knew how to cry. It takes time, but when you are ready, the whole world can open back up when you embrace laughing and crying together. Feel joy. Feel pain. Feel love. Feel anger. Feel it all. You don’t have to pick.

You can laugh AND you can cry.

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