I spent two of my weekends this July presenting and speaking at national conferences for grieving parents, grandparents, and siblings. Needless to say, during these weekends I encountered more than a few people who were battling tears.
It seems like an obvious statement to say that people who had lost dear members of their family would be crying from time to time. In fact, one of the most important elements of these conferences is to provide a safe haven for grieving families to cry amongst their own; people who understand the tragic roads they find themselves on. Everyone who is on a grief journey finds a challenge in controlling his or her tears. The tears come at unexpected and inconvenient times, disrupting our lives and making those around us uncomfortable, too often causing friends to pull away from us when we need them most.
Those of us who have been on our grief journey for some time know that not only are tears inevitable, they are necessary. Those who attempt to avoid the tears may have short-term success in moving forward, but as those who have tried this will tell you, the tears and pain always resurface, usually deepened exponentially by the time spent suppressing the emotions, and often in destructive ways.
It is best to let the tears flow. It is best to “lean into them.”
The tears after all are a natural extension of the love we feel for those that have left us. The deeper the love, the more abundant and intense the grief we suffer. Often, though, we feel helpless against the onset of tears, and it is this defenselessness that breeds desperation and despair. When grief is the greenest, this is to be expected. As times moves forward though, we need to find a way to make the tears work for us. They will not stop, and they are intrinsic to our healing, but they do us no good if they continue to breed despondency and depression.
So how do we make the tears work for us?
I have recently begun using the phrase “Power Grieving” to describe one of the ways I was able to move forward through the grief of losing my 10-year-old son David. An important element of “Power Grieving” is devoting time in your day, every day, even multiple times a day, to completely giving over to the tears.
Rebuilding a new normal requires we allow ourselves to move forward, to get back to our lives and address the demands of day-to-day life. To do this, we have to find a way to keep the tears in check at times. By giving the tears their own moments during the day, where you don’t fight them, but instead mine them for their curative effects, you allow yourself to clear away some of the fog and “grief static.” You often hear people describe the onslaught of grief as a “storm” of emotion. That is exactly what grief is, but much like a summer thunderstorm that moves in late on a sweltering, humid afternoon, when the torrent recedes, the air is clean, and fresh, and the air feels lighter and refreshing. This realization is essential in making the tears work for us.
There is a term in psychology called “lucid dreaming.” It refers to the times when you are asleep and dreaming, but a part of you realizes that you are not actually awake, but are in a dream. During these times of lucid dreaming you can often control the dream and direct what is happening in that dream.
As grievers, I believe it is important to find a place in your desolation where you can become a “Lucid Griever.” What I mean by this is that even when you are in the middle of the most violent of emotional storms, if you can hold onto the realization that the tears you are shedding are good, and normal, and helpful, then the tears become more constructive in moving forward and finding a new place of peace and acceptance. If you understand, and can acknowledge that the tears are healing you, even as they stream down your face uncontrollably, then as they begin to clear you can breath deeper, and feel a sense of accomplishment as you dry your eyes and blow your nose. It gives your soul validation for the tears. It empowers you that even though you are still hurting from the loss of your loved one, the tears you are shedding are moving you forward and helping you rebuild your life.
Grief weakens our souls. It makes us feel helpless against the universe. Much of grief healing involves us finding the personal strength to know that loss is a part of life, and that we are strong enough to move forward, holding onto the love that does not die. By using Power Grieving and being lucid within even the darkest corners of our sadness, we can rebuild the inner strength it requires to claw our way back to the world around us.
So much of surviving grief is about making the choice to battle forward through the pain, to rediscover the joy of the love we still have for those we lost. Their love is still around us, and it wants us to find happiness and laughter again. A big part of that is not simply crying, but finding the inner voice that makes your tears purposeful. Be well. Be good to you. You do not walk alone.
Peace, Light, and Laughter.
Bart Sumner is a professional actor/writer/teacher whose 10-year-old son David died at football practice in 2009. In 2013, he founded the nonprofit HEALING IMPROV, which provides no-cost comedy improv grief workshops to those struggling with grief. He is a national speaker and presenter on grief. He wrote the book HEALING IMPROV: A JOURNEY THROUGH GRIEF TO LAUGHTER, which is available on Amazon.com – http://amzn.to/1fJo8mh. He writes a blog at www.healing-improv.org and has been a contributing writer for HelloGrief.com, TheGriefToolbox.com and The Compassionate Friends Magazine.