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let us weep (just not in public)

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Two days ago I lead an interment ceremony for the ashes of a man who’d died on my hospice watch.  The widow and her children met with me at the burial site a week prior so that we could talk about their wishes — who’d be there, who’d speak, what my role would be, and so on. On behalf of the family, they asked me to read aloud their remembrances … because they thought that they wouldn’t be able to speak for fear of crying. Naturally you’ll weep, I thought to myself, you’re saying good-bye to your dad, putting his ashes in the ground; why wouldn’t you weep?

What is it, I wonder, that makes so many of us reluctant (afraid? ashamed?) to show tears in public, even in front of people who’re close to us and who share our sadness. Why do people wear sunglasses and veils to hide their tears. In some cultures, the role of chief mourner — repleat with crying and lamenting — is taken up by people other than the bereaved themselves. In others, people can be seen to wail and cry and beat their chests in agony over the loss.

Why apologize for crying, or wishing to hide tears, this most natural reaction to sadness, loss, and upset? Someone posted this on Yahoo® Answers!:

How do I stop crying in public? Sometimes when I am really emotional about something … , I end up crying. I know that crying is a natural thing and that it is a way to relieve stress, but how do I stop myself from crying in public and postpone it until I get home? I hate crying in front of others — it feels like I’m displaying some weakness. I just find it extremely humiliating. What can I do to prevent myself from crying when the tears are about to flow?
What would say to her?

17 responses »

  1. I don’t know. I’m grateful to you for bringing up this topic. I rarely cry at all, and am certain that as a male in the United States, that’s what people think is “strong.” But frankly, I don’t feel strong holding it in all the time. And I’m also tired of worrying about “weakness” in general, but haven’t quite figured out how to act and be something “more healthy.”

    • thank you for disclosing your dilemma, nathan. It runs deeply and is not limited to North Americans. Having been raised on post-war (WW II) Germany, I too was told in many ways that “boys don’t cry.” In fact, my role models didn’t cry much either — probably because they’d no tears left. All the more reason for me/us to weep today … and to teach our children accordingly.

  2. Peter, I would say to her – cry with the same abundance and joy with which you laugh for it is better to love deep and cry at the loss than to not have loved. Tears dry and time passes yet it seems a shame not to give ourselves fully in our grief when the opportunity presents itself. However, as I write these words I know that I tend to bring my happiness out in public with me and take my sadness on a solo journey in privacy. I understand this mostly because people tell me – “you are so optimistic!” Yet, I know I have been on a journey of confusion, despair and soul searching to find this place of hope and possibility. So as I say these things to her, I also say them for me.

  3. This is such an interesting question, Peter. I am a crier at things that sometimes leave me baffled. And yes there is some sense of “embarrassment” at crying in public. I think generally the expression of emotions makes other people uncomfortable in our culture and we respond to this general sense of “don’t go there.” We are afraid to express and afraid to disturb.

    I think we are culturally not versed in the subject of emotions. I love it when I hear parents say to their kids “it’s okay to feel sad, it’s okay to cry, everyone does sometimes. I think many of us have been given to believe there is something wrong with us if we feel sad or cry, that it’s some kind of failure.

    Thanks for going here Peter, interesting bit to chew on.

    • I’m at ease (now) crying publicly. It’s working at hospice that freed me of the last remnants of hesitation. Sitting at the bedside I’d weep freely: not routinely, but frequently. And not because of death’s presence, but because of something someone said or did to stir my heart right then. Similarly I’d weep while touching or holding relatives, also in support of my beloved coworkers.

      Sometimes I’d stand alone outside the backdoor as the hearse pulled away — weeping for all beings touched by this death. And always, I’m pretty sure, for another part of me that had died or was near death. There were times when I’d stand in the hallway, having left a patient’s room, with tears streaming down my face. Inevitably, a nurse or counsellor would catch me, and we’d be silent for a moment, and, thus cleansed, continue to do our work.

  4. I feel that often I won’t cry because I am wary of the response I will get, which is more often than not… discomfort, avoidance, embarrassment, someone trying to ‘fix it’, or a very short lived ‘there, there, don’t cry’. All in all the message is generally that it is not acceptable. So I suppose I feel safer keeping it inside or weeping in private, rather than feeling that I am rejected by others. To open myself emotionally with another and then not be ‘received’ by them is somehow a worse option for me. But this is not the way I want to live.

    Thinking about this I am also aware that, because of illness I live alone and don’t see many people, and I do not cry (or laugh either, sadly) nearly as much as if I had more interaction with others. These expressions of emotion seem to need a trigger to allow them to come out. It saddens me to think that this is how my life is. Allowing myself to ‘cry with the same abundance and joy with which you laugh’ as Creative Potager so beautifully put it, seems to be a life of fluidity whereas keeping it all inside feels like a stagnant and rigid way to be, and not what I want for myself….or anyone else!!

  5. Sorry, forgot to put my name in the above post! I am not Anonymous, I am Fiona!!

  6. I’ve read that in the Mayan culture when a person dies they often hire professional weepers…people who can weep easily. The weepers come into the home or ceremony and weep like crazy. Their tears get the other people weeping; those who do not cry as easily. The myths say that we must cry enough tears to fill a lake so that the canoe of our loved one can navigate to the “other side”. How about sharing that story?

    PS I found your blog through Laurie’s blog.

  7. such rich replies – i weep unexpectedly and at the most interestingly different things. sometimes it happens when i am teaching and i am particularly touched by something someone has said or done. for me, my tears tell me that my heart has been deeply touched. i wonder why it seems that tears are associated with sadness rather than joy

  8. I some times wonder if I cry too easily as I find myself crying at news stories, when an ambulance drives by, reading sad things, watching sad movies it just happens the tears start to flow……..

    • Ella, I’d say: cry as much as you need to cry — what else is there if you want to live authentically. Your comments anticipates the quote I posted two days later: “The way to peace is to cry a cornucopia of tears.”

  9. I wonder if ‘enlightened’ people weep?
    I don’t know that I’ve ever met one – well, not to recognize as one.
    Have they moved past this emotion?
    I suspect they feel compassion, but weep?
    Does the Dalai Lama weep?

    Curiously, when I read Fiona’s statement: “… I am not Anonymous, I am Fiona!!” I almost wept.
    Perhaps something to do with resonating with what I saw as her determination to be Herself?
    Her courage in not wanting to hide, or to be seen as hiding behind anonymity.

  10. dear Malcolm,

    I am glad you were touched by my deliberate correction of the accidentally “anonymous” statement I had made, by putting my name to it. Having a long-term illness, often unable to get out and about, seems to often make you “invisible” to others. I have felt at times that in their eyes I almost don’t exist.
    I most certainly do exist. So, it was important to me to own what I had said and be seen, even in my vulnerability, by others. So, thankyou for noticing me!

    I have had the good fortune to hear the Dalai Lama talk in person twice, on both occassions he laughed a great deal. Given his immense compassion, I feel sure he would also have the capacity to weep. He is, after all, human. I heard a story that told of a monk in Tibet who the Dalai Lama greatly admired. The Dalai Lama explained that this monk, known as “the Weeper” was given his name because he wept a great deal, because he was so attuned to the suffering of others. The Dalai Lama was deeply inspired by the Weeper’s highly developed compassion.

    We weep when something or someone touches our heart. It can be for many reasons, but if it happens it means our hearts are open. I feel deeply that, however painful, this is a good thing. It means the barriers between us and another are down, and the illusion of separation that exists is for a while melted away.

  11. Thank you Fiona.

    As I was sitting this morning, the thought came to me – as thoughts do at those times! – that your posting was a cri-de-coeur. And that led to the thought that often my tears spring from the heart, by-passing, it seems, my mind or even a cortical/automatic response, such as occurs after physical or emotional hurt.
    So you see, we are both on the same wavelength. I was surprized because, as I’ve said elsewhere, I often wonder why I’m crying, what caused the tears. And I can often feel stupid at those times.

    And thank you for your stories about the Dalai Lama. Human and inspiring indeed.

  12. Malcolm,

    it seems such a shame that you would feel stupid, when in truth your capacity to be moved at such a deep and mysterious level is something rare and wonderful, be glad you have such a gift. : )


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