Colleen M. Doumeng
What NOT to say to someone who is grieving and crying ~
Please don’t say that.
Tears are just one of the many ways we release our sadness. Tears are a pathway to our inner healing. Tears help us relieve stress and sadness and are signs of authenticity, courage and strength.
Tears are a part of who we are. They are an outward expression of inner pain. Tears are a miraculous gift we have been given that are available to us as part of our ability to heal from within. Unexpressed tears don’t go away – their sadness remains in our bodies and hearts.
I was taught as a child not to cry. In fact my father would say classic things like this to me, “stop crying or I will give you something to cry about.” Or, “stop crying, it was just a bike, you lost it, get over it.” Or, “stop crying, he broke up with you, big deal, you’re 16, do you think he’s the only fish in the sea?” Or, “stop crying, so you didn’t get that job or get into that school, who cares, what are you going to do cry about it all night - move on, knock it off and go watch tv.” “Babies cry, are you a baby?” Ugh. (I think I saw my father cry twice).
Recently a dear friend said that she was feeling a host of emotions around her retirement from her job and mostly wanted to cry. I asked her why she wasn’t allowing herself to cry – her response – “I am afraid if I cry I won’t be able to stop.” I reassured her that of course she would stop crying and then I asked her, “Have you ever met someone who never stopped crying?” “No.” Right. So, please don’t stop your healing short by suppressing your tears - let your tears out. My invitation to you – find some time and sit and cry, five minutes or 30 minutes - you decide. I personally like to cry in the shower. Remember, you are healing when you allow yourself to cry.
Another fried of mine was diagnosed with cancer and said to me, “I want to cry a lot during the day but I won’t let myself cry so I hold it in. I need to be tough, I need to be strong, crying means I am weak and I am not, I am a fighter, I am going to “beat” this disease.” And, “I don’t want my spouse to see me crying because then she will start crying, I can’t take that.”
I get that…people believing that crying is a sign of weakness. I was taught that too growing up and from well-intended people in my life – parents, friends, coaches, teachers, managers, even one of my doctors. When I was diagnosed with cancer, as the surgeon was telling me my diagnosis, I started to weep …his response, “I know this is a lot but crying isn’t going to help you right now, you need to stay strong.” Interesting the things people say ...
Some of us were raised with the permission to cry and some of us were not. Some of us were taught it’s ok to cry in private and never in public.
What I am discovering about myself is that all those decades of denying how I was truly feeling is much worse than crying. I have no problem crying now. In fact, what is coming up for me is that sometimes I find myself starting to cry for no reason. It comes out of the blue because I wasn’t even thinking about my loss… hmm… What I am learning is that the “loss” is always there.
In my grief educator course we learned that in some grief support groups there is often a rule. Everyone needs to grab their own tissues. Have you ever noticed that when someone begins to cry we hand them a tissue? Again, another well intended act of comfort but it also sends a message of “hurry up and stop crying” and/or “I can’t handle your tears because they are triggering my own sadness.”
I get that we often feel helpless in the face of suffering of those who we are close to and want to help. A simple act of kindness like sitting quietly with someone who is suffering and just listening to fears and feelings, witnessing their tears, makes the person who is suffering know they are not alone. If you are invited into that space, and this person feels safe with you to be just as they are in that moment, please know that you have received grace.
Tears are a symbol of life. They are a part of who we are and what we feel. We can trust our tears.