“Don’t cry,” often accompanied by the immediate stuffing of a tissue in our hand to catch the offending tear should it slide from our eye, despite the command of our companion.
Seven years of grief conferences, peer support groups, books, journals, research papers, I know that these words are manipulative. Two words couched together to provide control of the situation for the person not in tears. For the soul that dared to be vulnerable, the soul that offered the only gift they had at the moment, their tears, “don’t cry” brings invalidation and humiliation. Humiliation for being weak, and for making things “uncomfortable.” Invalidation, because our tears were deemed inappropriate.
We dutifully clutch the tissue offered in condescension for the drops of our heart sliding down our face. The act of offering a tissue seems so noble, kind even, but it is a signal for the person and their heart to stop with what they are feeling and “get a hold of themselves” or my other favorite, “calm down.”
I find it funny that some find my colorful metaphors – swearing – to be offensive. I learned to swear in grief processing. “Oh fudge” does not quite cut it when one has buried a child. We learn to be okay with what we are feeling, to express it, and then to move forward through those feelings. I find the words “don’t cry” offensive, I would rather be told “fuc* off,” that is honest and clean and can be an opening into dialogue. “Don’t cry” shuts down people.
We tell children not to cry. What an awful thing. What a horrible, dismissive, patronizing, demeaning thing to say to a child. I wonder what would happen in this angst ridden world if we sat with the child as they revealed their tears in a space that was being held just for them. A safe place where they could cry out all that is in their heart and then feel the refreshment that comes with tears. They would have the opportunity to feel the joy that comes with having a creator who gave us our tears. Tears are cleansing, tears are good for our brain chemistry, tears mean that we are humans with feelings and not sociopaths who cannot feel sorrow.
Those two words “don’t cry” speak volumes about the one who spoke them, they are more a commentary on their discomfort than the soul with a tear. If you say “don’t cry,” what are you revealing about yourself? Guilt, impatience, an unwillingness to sit in messy places? Did you feel tears rising in you and you were speaking to yourself as well?
What if we uttered nothing? What if we chose in that moment to honor the tears with silence and to keep space for tears. Tears are sacred, a sacrament. Jesus wept. The writers of the Psalms soaked their pillows and couches with tears.
Tears mean we are practicing to be vulnerable, to peel off the layers of armor, tears allow a glimpse of our inner most being, it is to stand naked from the inside out in front of another human. Tears are the single gift of confidence and trust we can give another soul.
You can come cry at my table. I have boxes of tissues in every room, but I will not offer you a tissue. A dog may come and lie at your feet, or tuck their long nose in the crook of your elbow. A cat may bump their head against your head, or they may be an asshole and shove something off the table, cats decide what is appropriate for the moment. The husky is a calm soul and does not mind the tears that wet his soft domed head. The shepherd pup is starting to tap into her well of empathy and will quiet her antics to lean in and offer her weight as an anchor.
Tears are not a sign of weakness. They are words that cannot be spoken, salty words, sorrowful words, precious and fleeting.
May your tears find rest in safe places. May we become safe places for tears and tired souls.