bereavement, chaplaincy, emotional trauma, grief, grief support groups, grieving process, pastoral care, psychology, spiritual care
Coming wisdom is that crying is a valuable tool created as a means of allowing the body to release certain emotions in a physical manner. I have known to people to hide tears for a variety of reasons, only to learn that not crying has been detrimental to that person. Yet, as this post indicates, crying might not always be something absolutely needed in the grieving process.
We mourners can’t get a break when it comes to crying or grief outbursts. If others catch us crying they might say, “Well, they don’t seem to be handling the loss very well!” If they never see us cry, they could say, “Well, I guess they are in denial” or “I guess they just weren’t as close to the person who died as we thought they were.” When it comes to how much we cry in our mourning for a loved one, we mourners just can’t seem to win.
In the past the predominate belief in grief support groups and counseling was that being openly expressive and crying without restraint was the most healthy way to vent grief emotions and the emotional pressure building up inside a mourner. Emotives who openly express their grief emotions were praised in grief support groups and sometimes held up as the model for every mourner to follow.
These beliefs caused a lot of professional and lay counselors to try to force stoic grievers to become emotive grievers. This made stoics believe that there was something inherently wrong with them and their coping skills. Stoics under such pressure can feel discouraged and incapable to grieve in the “right way.” This situation often short-circuited their grief and healing. Trying to force a stoic to grieve like an emotive mourner can sometimes even cause secondary emotional trauma for the mourner.
There is no one right way to grieve. There is not just one right way to vent the pressure of grief emotions and move toward healing. The stoic and the emotive can successfully acknowledge and vent their emotions in different and still acceptable ways. The emotive’s style of venting is easily observed. The stoic’s style of emotional venting is more personal and hidden. Both can be healthy.
Every grief is different; every mourner is different. So the measure of health in grief is not style but the results, progress and healing that take place.
My two children mourned the deaths of their mother and sister in different ways. My daughter Sarah was the emotive talking to me often about her feelings. We spent many times crying together. My son Christian was the stoic teenage male. I don’t remember him crying in front of me at the funeral or after. When I acted as the caring, concerned father asking him how or what he felt emotionally, he became even more stoic and silent. Often the answer I got from him was, “I don’t feel anything.”
Years after the accident, I found out indirectly that my son had been doing his mourning on his own terms. I got a call from his high school counselor to say how proud she was of Christian over the last semester. She shared with me that my stoic son had acted as a co-facilitator with her in a grief support group for fellow students who had recently lost a loved one. That afternoon when Christian came home, I was torn between wanting to hug him filled with the relief that he was actively working through his grief emotions and wanting to throttle him for making me worry for so long about how he was doing in his grief.
I was thrilled to find out that Christian was dealing with his loss in such a healthy way. With that news, it was a turning point in our grief journeys together. I learned that even though my son and I are different in our mourning styles, we both chose to use our grief experience to reach out and help others. In reaching out to support fellow mourners, my son and I both were healing. Crying in grief is not mandatory.
From (c) 2011, Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT in “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise” Available on http://grief-works.org/book.php. Also available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and your local bookstore. Available now for Nook and Kindle.