The last post I wrote on joining the Widows Club must really have struck a chord. We heard from three other people, so far, who have unwittingly “joined the club”: Jodi Tillotson Huddleston, Bill Reimers and Henny Golnick (wife of BHS’68 grad, Roger Golnick), and you can see their comments by clicking here: “A club we never wanted to join.”
Louise Good Hernandez, while not a widow, sent along the link to an excellent article by Lauren Shaw. Lauren is in fact the niece of BHS’68 grad Jan Wahler Hill (who promises to write soon!) I am reposting the entire article here, because reading it may be of comfort to anyone going through the grief process or in need of encouragement of any kind.
I am pretty sure that I cried every day for most of my first year of graduate school. Well, maybe I took off a few Saturdays and vacation days.
It was a lonely and difficult season of life, and I shed a lot of tears. I cried many, many of those tears by myself. I cried in the shower and I cried in the car. And, when I did cry in the company of others, I apologized, embarrassed of the hot tears that dared escape in the company of another.
I am definitely not alone in how I handled those tears. Since those days I have met many people who only cry alone. And, if they happen to cry in front of others, they are sure to apologize. I wonder why we apologize for our tears. Why do we feel ashamed and embarrassed by this honest expression of emotion?
I am sure that there are many reasons why we hold back our tears and apologize when we let them escape. I think perhaps we forget the message of the tears. Tears tell us something. People cry because something matters to them. This is why a mother cries when holding her baby for the first time, why a young person cries when they experience heart break. It’s why we cry at weddings and funerals, when we fight, and when we are afraid. It’s been said that there are six core emotions: happy, sad, angry, scared, excited, and tender. I have seen people cry when experiencing each of these emotions. The tears tell us that something is happening in our hearts, and that always matters.
Some people argue that sometimes they just cry; it’s not a big deal. Or, they cry over a “little thing” and apologize because the trigger for the tears does not seem to merit crying over. But the tears are still telling us something important. They are telling us that something is happening in our hearts that needs attention. If something is happening in your heart, it is crucial to attend to it. Imagine yourself tearing up because you cannot find your shoe. Normally this would not even phase you, and so you brush the tears away, look for the shoe, and go on with your day. Later the cashier at the store will not accept the merchandise you want to return. Once again, the tears threaten. Once again you hold them in, and start to label yourself as “overly emotional” or “dramatic.”
Choosing to restrain your tears while standing at the Customer Service desk at WalMart is probably a good idea. Dismissing these tears is not. These tears are an indication that something is happening in your heart. Perhaps they serve as a reminder that you are in the middle of a difficult emotional time; maybe you are grieving a loss or anxious about an upcoming transition. Or maybe nothing of great magnitude is happening, but you are feeling overwhelmed with life and physically exhausted. Either way, something is going on in your heart, something you need to pay attention to, understand, and respond to.
Another reason that I see people apologize for tears is that they fear the response of others. What if their tears make someone else uncomfortable? What if their friend does not know how to handle the tears? What if people think they are being overdramatic, or label them as needy? And these are real risks. However, there are also real risks in closing off your heart and choosing not to share what is going on. If you hole up, isolate, and hide your true self and true emotions, you may find yourself locked up in a prison of your own making. If you shut off your tears often enough, they will stop flowing, and your heart will harden. This is no way to live. You can only claim responsibility for your own choices, actions, and judgments. You can choose to live with an honest and vulnerable integrity, risking judgment because you believe that intimacy and community are worth the risks.
There are many, many reasons why people hold in their tears and apologize for them. And I know that there are times when holding in tears is the wisest, best decision. There is a time and a place for everything.
Yes, for everything, even tears. Letting those tears fall and sharing them with someone else can lead to healing. It can show us how to care for and nurture our own hearts and the hearts of those we love. It can deepen relationship and lead to encouragement and hope. So the next time the tears threaten like a thundercloud and the time and place feel worth the risk, take it. Let the tears fall without apology.
By Lauren Shaw, Ph.D.