Lest you think I walk around weeping all day, allow me to reassure you that I don’t. Most days I don’t cry at all. Every day I smile and laugh—even on the days that I’ve got something to cry about. It’s my promise to myself.
Life is a journey, and as we all know, from time to time, the tears will fall. I learned a few things about crying over the past year, and here are my three most valuable takeaways.
1. Crying can be about more than sadness. When the library threw away my book back in February, I cried from anger, but I also cried from fear. It bubbled to the surface and announced itself with a honk as I blew my nose: what if Matt is forgotten? Facing fear is so much easier when you’re already crying, and that was one I managed to come to terms with.
In 2022, I had the experience of losing a long-term friendship. In hindsight I realize that it was over for the other party long before I became aware of the situation. As I caught sight of my reflection in my puddle of tears, I became aware of how foolish I felt. What a burden it must have been for that other person to have me prattling on and on as if…you know…we were friends! There I was, completely clueless for however long, full of warm & fuzzy feelings that were NOT reciprocated. It hurts to be a fool, but nobody avoids it forever.
I cried on at least three occasions from pride. I know it’s kind of weird. But I went to a lot of my niece’s musical performances during 2022. When I would see that kid up on stage, completely engrossed in the music, playing a solo with such mastery—I kept bursting into tears. I was just so proud of that kid! I wanted to stand up and shout, “Did you hear that?? Did you see how amazing that performance was?? That’s MY family up there!” Fortunately, I didn’t do that, or we’d be talking about a different type of tears because I’d be banned from future performances.
2. Crying might have nothing to do with you. I was talking to a woman at work about a training request, explaining what we could offer to her. Over the course of a lengthy conversation, she told me about her friend’s daughter, who had recently lost her husband in an accident and been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and has two school-age children. You guessed it, we both started crying. Do either of us have cancer? No. Are we widows? No. Have our parents died or been diagnosed with cancer? No. But just thinking about how difficult life must be for that young woman, worrying about her children, fighting cancer—it was enough to make two people who don’t even know her cry.
I think it’s perfectly valid to cry when a sad event doesn’t impact you personally or has nothing to do with you. It means you’re human. It means you have empathy. It means that you are distressed by the pain of others. Part of being grateful is lamenting the woes of others. The next logical step is doing your part to help other people, to participate in your own way to make the world a better place. What you do in your own little corner of the planet is important.
3. Crying follows its own path. I’m approaching my mid-50s, and I’ve done a lot of crying. I’ve also done a lot of yelling, frowning, laughing, and fainting. As I age, I find that I have some control over things that as a younger person I always assumed I couldn’t control.
As a younger person, I thought that there was no way to control emotions—you feel what you feel, and that’s it. As an older person, I’ve learned that you can feel an emotion, but you don’t have to let it run roughshod over your world. You can control what you say or the expression on your face. You can identify that emotion and then evaluate it; you can reframe the situation you’re in to make it manageable.
When I was younger, I would faint almost every time I saw a needle. They would lay me down for bloodwork or immunizations. As I aged, I learned that some of that syncope was my brain charging ahead with fear and anxiety. I started learning relaxation techniques; I started practicing ways to talk myself into a different mindset. Instead of, “I’m afraid I’ll pass out,” I told myself, “I’m ok, I can handle this.” I'm proud to say that I sit up for all my bloodwork now.
And yet. And yet, with all this meditative self-talk and emotional preparation, I found myself unable to stop crying during grief group on my son’s birthday. It’s the sixth birthday without him. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but that night the pain felt so fresh. You’d think that maybe I’d cry a little bit, and then be able to talk about whatever we were discussing. But I could not. The tears just kept streaming down my face; I used up an entire packet of tissues. I couldn’t really talk at all, just managed to choke out, “I don’t know why it’s so hard tonight.”
Nobody minded a bit; nobody thought it was weird; nobody was uncomfortable. And our kind, wise facilitator said, “Sometimes that’s what needs to happen.”
So, friends, that’s where I’ll leave you, with perhaps a fourth lesson. Sometimes crying is what needs to happen. Let it be your guide to your own emotions, to your place in the world. Let the tears run their course. Afterwards, you can lift your head and keep moving, your strength reinforced, and your soul replenished.