In our society today it is not always acceptable to cry. In fact, many people hand us tissues the moment they see tears streaming down our face, as if the subtext is, “Please wipe those tears away, quickly.” While most individuals would never actually tell people that they should not be crying, the subconscious does a great job vocalizing these thoughts through subtle actions, such as the aforementioned tissue hand off. I have also heard many of my staff members say to distressed people, “do not cry.” Often then say this with great compassion, and they are saying, “do not cry” because they want the person to feel better and they also do not want the discomfort of having to witness the tearful event, having no clue what to do in that moment.
I believe the reason our society can be uncomfortable with tears is that we do not know how to be with and support someone in pain. Their pain makes us uncomfortable, and can even trigger our own painful memories, which we may prefer to keep locked away.
The good news is it is easy to be with and support someone who is tearful – you do not have to do anything, you just have to be. In fact, many individuals expressing sorrow report that they prefer having a friend who can just “be there” to listen, hold them, and offer their quiet, loving presence. Most people do NOT want you to fix the situation or offer advice. I remind my staff members that they need not give advice to a grieving person unless the person specifically asks for advice, otherwise they are of more value just being in the moment with the person and offering support.
I find that when I understand my role (supportive listener) it makes it easier for me to be with a person as they grieve or cry, because I know that I do not have to fix the situation or make the person feel better – my presence with them, their understanding that they are not alone in their pain, is the most critical service I can provide.
Today, 321 days ’til 40, I will remind myself that I do not have to fear the pain of others. I can offer my companionship, compassion and comfort without worrying about mending the concern at hand. It is an honor to be trusted to sit with my friends when they are in pain and I appreciate the trust they place in me when they share the rough parts of their life journey with me.
Remember, it is okay to let people cry, it is even healthy – and as we learn to feel more comfortable with the emotions of others, we are granting them permission to express all parts of themselves in our presence, which is a gift.