“If someone cries in front of me, I consider it a gift.” , a friend told me one Saturday afternoon.


Every third Saturday of the month, I receive this gift during the monthly meeting of The Compassionate Friends. I am honored to receive it.

It’s quite common to hear oh she is so brave! when the broken-hearted person appears controlled and poised in the face of grief. How is someone supposed to feel when their heart is broken?

And yet we continue to admire those who do not show their grief in public, who receive condolences as though the occasion were a pleasant Sunday afternoon blabber. He was so brave. I was proud of him. He didn’t break down, not once, and so on and so forth…we hear people say.

Really, whose benefit is this tight hold on our emotions? For the griever’s sake? For the sake of the consoling friends, who may be afraid of being swept into their grief?

Crying tears is not just for those that lost a loved one.

If a little kid says May I cry or should I be brave?, how should the mother react? There is conflicting feelings about crying. It is difficult to allow children the freedom of tears because most of us were stopped from crying when we were little. Our well-meaning, but misinformed, parents may have distracted, scolded, punished, or ignored us when we attempted to heal our childhood hurts by crying. Some of us were stopped gently: “There, there, come on, don’t cry,” while others were stopped less kindly: “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about! So stop it….”

You probably read somewhere that crying is somehow good for us. William Shakespeare, for instance wrote, “To weep is to make less the depth of grief.” The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote about a woman who learned her husband had been killed. “She must weep,” the writer said, “or she will die.”

According to Dr. William Frey, a biochemist and director of the Dry Eye and Tear Research Center in Minneapolis, Minn., one reason people might feel better after crying could be because they are “removing, in their tears, chemicals that build up during emotional stress.” Frey’s research shows that tears, along with other bodily secretions like perspiration, rid the body of various toxins and wastes. Dr. William Frey compared the normal moisturizing tear with the tear caused by emotion and found that stressful tears contained ACTH or adrenocorticotrophic hormone. ACTH is a hormone associated with high blood pressure, heart problems, peptic ulsers and other physical conditions closely related to stress.

There is just one word of caution about crying.

People who cry easily should feel glad they’re in touch with their feelings. But if they’re crying a lot in response to criticism, they should try to get some counseling. This kind of crying is an alarm bell of a far deeper hurt; it could signify a loss of self-esteem that is triggered whenever anyone says anything negative.

Probably the best advice of all regarding tears comes from Charles Dickens. In Oliver Twist, Mr. Bumble, the parish beadle, is a less than sympathetic character. But he’s got the right idea when he declares that crying “opens the lungs, washes the countenance, exercises the eyes, and softens the temper.

So when another friend wept in front of me today, I understood the gift of healing.

Have you had a good cry lately?

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