The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea. Karen Blixen
A friend recently asked if it is okay not to cry as others do. I have encountered this question in the past from clients and at times from myself. Tears are curious things. They can come unexpectedly, unwanted, in torrents, or gently and softly, and not at all. And then we wonder, why?
Tears might come as a simple moistening in the eyes, or gently fall while experiencing another’s pain. They might come quite suddenly in a joyful moment, and we feel our heart burst open. We can feel cleansed after a deep cry. Our body relaxes, softens, and as we breathe and quiet, we might become aware of a larger space within. There are tears after a profound loss that can feel as if we will drown. There are also the tears after humiliation, betrayal, standing up for yourself when all you want is to be angry and confront, and then out pour the tears. Then that feels humiliating. Sometimes tears come after prolonged laugher, the kissin’ cousin of tears, with at times moving into the weeping of deep pain that had been buried or ignored. It can feel as if we have no control, and we don’t. Not really. We can make ourselves cry but that takes some practice and may be a surface experience only. We can at times hold our tears back, bite them back, but then everything else gets all scrunched up and we tighten around the tears or the loss. We can feel like we have not cried at the appropriate time, like at a funeral. Then, a few weeks later, we are watching a Hallmark commercial or a movie or listening to a song and the tears flow, sometimes gently and at times into a sob. We may not find tears at all in a loss experience as our primary feeling might be gratitude or relief.
The tears after profound loss don’t necessarily flow freely. Not for me anyway. After I learned that my baby had birth defects and would not live, I was in shock and numb. I was brought to her in the NICU and on the way there had a panic attack. I could not breathe. Then I saw her in all the wires and machines, and she was beautiful. It was only later, back in my room, away from it all, during our priest’s prayer and blessing, as he placed his hand on my head, that the tears arrived. Even then they were painful but gentle. This loss contained a well of tears that took many tear sessions over a length of time to get to the depth of the well.
After my dad’s death, I went into action. There was funeral planning, a eulogy to write, family arrangements, making sure mom was attended to. It took a few weeks, and seeing I was starting to snap at my husband, for me to realize and own that the pain was being held in too long and I needed to take the time to go to the well. It was the same after my mom’s death except the first tears came in torrents soon after her critical stroke when I knew to my core where this was headed with the difficult decisions needing to be made.
Not having tears does not have to mean one is numb. It does not necessarily mean the heart is closed. The mantra from my childhood goes, “If you are going to cry, go to your room.” It has been hard for me to fully cry in another’s presence. I have had to learn to trust that experience as it does not come naturally. My daughter is my teacher. I marveled since she was young how tears could flow naturally and freely in pain or joy. I treasured her free open expression and realized how the witnessing of her tears opened my heart. Some cultures encourage and live out a very natural robust expression. For others it is stoic. We are a melting pot of an array of expressions, and we cannot judge one against the other. And certainly, we cannot judge ourselves in our experience. At best we bring compassion and curiosity.
My response to my friend’s question? It is all okay. Tears are not required. Rather than, why am I not crying, I might ask; Is there something I am not expressing? What do I wish to express? In what way now do I want to express myself? Create? Build? Write? Sing? Laugh? In what way do I best express myself? Then, after the question, return to the heart and listen.
Tears are healing because they flow from the heart and there is a myriad of ways to express from the heart. When we do allow expression, we feel not only a deeper connection to self but to the greening world around us, to the collective whole, to sacred Oneness. In our honest open expression, we come to an inner silence, the doorway to the Divine.