I recently attended calling hours to support a close friend who had suddenly lost her cousin to cancer. When I arrived, I joined the end of the receiving line and proceeded to view the television monitor which displayed a memorial of the deceased. Several people behind and in front of me were quietly talking amongst themselves.
After a short while, the line turned into the large viewing room. It was then that I noticed a young woman sitting towards the back of the room by herself. I watched as she slowly bowed her head and started to cry. She searched her pockets for a tissue. Just when she realized she had none, an older woman walked over and sat beside her. “Here, Jamie,” I heard this other woman say as she offered a handful of tissues.
They spoke a moment and then Jamie started to sob. The older woman put her arm around Jaime, who buried her head into the woman’s shoulder and released her feelings. I caught the older woman say two words to Jaime. The words were, “I’m here.”
I turned slightly so as not to stare. But I couldn’t help realizing something new as it related to crying. I had personally experienced one person crying on another’s shoulder in the past. However, this time was different. I learned something from watching Jaime and this other woman. The woman’s words, “I’m here” were showing another benefit to crying that I hadn’t seen until now.
Though there’s a taboo or stigma that crying shows signs of weakness, that it’s embarrassing and draws attention, there are benefits to it. Weeping counters grief’s often raw, deep cutting, pain. Crying is normal and therapeutic. Crying stabilizes and should be welcomed. Like a volcano that waits to erupt, the body often waits to let go of the emotional energy that has built up at time of grief. We surrender tears in an effort to surrender the pain, tension and bottled up feelings. We also let go of stress and toxins when we release tears.
Furthermore, the body goes from an electrified and energized state to one of calm and relaxation. Breathing returns to normal, the heart rate slows down and the body becomes quieter. And it proves that old saying; you do feel better after a good cry. It’s one of the best things we can do when we are upset.
These are all benefits to the person crying. But what I realized by watching these two women was not about Jamie; it was about the other woman. Besides the benefits for the person doing the crying, it has benefits for the person who is consoling. What I witnessed was the older woman taking a position of strength. She acted as the caregiver and in that moment of Jamie’s helplessness, she was the one who could be leaned on. That’s important because at some point we all want to be of service in these circumstances. The other woman was able to fulfill that role. And I could see she was doing so with honor.
The two sat there in a conversation that used no words but said plenty. One person said, “I’m out of control.” The other answers, “I’m in control and will take care of you. You are important.” Then, “I need to let go and be submissive now.” The other states, “I am strong for you and think nothing less of you.” Finally, “I feel nothing but pain.” The ultimate response, “I feel strong and capable to carry you to the other side of this time.”
Crying brings people together and allows for relationships to deepen. A bond forms between letting go and holding on. It’s in these moments that crying makes all of us feel better. The act of crying gives the person who cries an opportunity to let go because someone else will be there to catch them. And the “catchers” are there with arms open wide, honored to serve in a time of need.
When someone is grieving, we often will say, “Let me know if I can do anything for you.” When someone lets out their tears and feelings within our arms, we answer that call. It’s not a pleasant time, but what an honor it is to keep vigil with someone who is temporarily out of control and out of hope.
When Jamie’s feelings subsided, the two women got up and went off to visit an older gentleman and his wife across the room.
As for me, I reflected more on what I witnessed while working my way to the family at the end of the line.
Eventually, I reached my friend. Upon seeing me, she said how glad she was that I was there. She threw her arms around me and her tears started flowing a little harder. There was silence as she held onto to me, quietly weeping. As we embraced, I simply responded, “I’m here.”Tags: grief, hope
Great observation on your part and I must commend you for your analysis during times of grief and how you used your observation and put into practice what you learnt and realized was the thing you could do to make a difference.
Hey Tony: Great article and one that validates the power of our presence and comapanionship to those who are grieving.