The Grief of Tears…


As a stoic Scot, tears are not considered “kosher.” (How’s that for mixed cultural references?!) I tend to abide by that idea. In my defense I have several reasons to do so:

  1. I get migraines from a stuffed-up head. Even though I now have much better meds to prevent and deal with these headaches-on-steroids, my 50+ history of dealing with them has created a habit of not giving into anything that produces a stuffy head.
  2. When I do cry, I’m the ugliest of criers. Probably because I do wait eons to cry, the actual act is much worse–because tears for everything that has ever caused frustration and pain usually converge into 1 enormous crying session. The result? A stuffed-up head–see # 1.
  3. I’m a pastor’s kid. As the daughter of a pastor, I learned to pretend that I had it together. I am now so good at it that I consider this an asset. And, like their pastor parents, we PKs learn to be strong for others and only break down when we have no resources left.
  4. Because of the ugly crier issue, I prefer to cry alone. This means that I often have to wait until I get home to let the crying commence. For a couple of decades even getting home wasn’t a remedy because I had to be wife and mom when I arrived home. After arriving home, I would often forget that a crying session might be in order due to these responsibilities.
  5. I’m an American. We Americans believe in pulling ourselves up “with our bootstraps.” We’re fiercely independent and believe that tears are a sign of weakness. As Tom Hanks said in A League of Their Own, “There’s no crying in baseball.” And apparently the only places were really allowed to cry are in hospitals, funeral homes and at weddings. Even at funerals and in hospitals we Yanks live with the possibility of being called a “sissy” for crying.
  6. I grew up with two older brothers in the early 60s. Frequently, my teenage brothers wanted time to themselves, away from their demanding, whiny sister. I, on the other hand, just wanted to be a part of their “club.” If they denied me this privilege, I usually cried. They often responded with a denigrating tone, “Cry-baby!” This taught me that crying was not okay.

But the reality is that all of this is not healthy. I forget the source, but I’ve heard it said that tears physiologically have properties that heal us.

As I’m going through this contemplative Christianity journey, I’m slowly letting the “damn burst” in front of others. I still feel remarkably embarrassed every time I allow tears in public to the point where it’s difficult to breathe. But when I do, I seem to be less susceptible to life’s difficulties.

Life is now throwing me a few “curve balls” right now–ones I didn’t quite expect. And the ones that should be provoking tears remarkably aren’t, thanks to having gone through some emotional strength-building exercises. What are those exercises?


If you don’t learn to get through some emotional times once you’ve been through 7 graduations, 4 heart attacks, 3 family deaths, 2 weddings, 2 grandchildren’s births, and your best friend dying young, then you are in serious need of some counseling. In the process I’ve learned what my mother so infuriatingly often emphasized, “This, too, shall pass.” In such circumstances, I’ve learned that avoidance doesn’t solve anything (I still do it, though!); beginning to deal with it is the hardest part and tears just might make me healthier.

What causes us to be tearful?

  1. Joy
  2. Being overwhelmed
  3. A sense of unfairness
  4. Loss


You probably want to add some others, but really, if you delve deeply enough, you’ll realize that it really does boil down to those four.

We all understand joyful tears and we’re less afraid to let them fall. But I think we Americans are pretty ignorant when it comes to the others. That’s my counselor brain speaking.

When life hands you a lot of struggles at once, the overwhelming feeling can take over and we finally feel like crying because we are beyond our limits for coping with so many. A good cry can relieve this feeling and allow us to look more objectively at what needs to be done first, second and third to cope with all that is before us.

Sometimes this overwhelming feeling is accompanied by a sense of unfairness, but the latter can happen when we have tried our best and worked through obstacles and still don’t achieve what we rightfully feel should be the result. These are the “disappointed” cries.

Because Americans are so lousy at understanding the roots of our feelings and their causes, we often get angry with # 2 and # 3. Generally, this is the way we have trained our men to behave. They learn this so well that they cannot fathom why crying can be good. Many genuinely think expressing anger is the right way to respond. Let me gently suggest that crying doesn’t usually result in domestic violence, mass shootings and sexual assault. Yes, expressing anger in a constructive way is fine; if the hurt is deep enough, doing so usually provokes some tears.

Disappointment is also about loss. We tend to think of grief as mourning the loss of a significant person in our lives. Actually, it can be about anyone or anything in our lives that has been a constant for a rather long time. Loss is about change and change when we really don’t want to live with a new reality.

Right now, we are in the midst of a big change. The hubby and I have decided to sell our home of 27 years and move to the cabin and begin building the “Serenity” cabin. We will also build a garage apartment for a family member who is beginning to feel the effects of the aging process.

This home in this community mean so very much to me. This home is where we brought our youngest home from the hospital and watched our children grow up and begin their adult lives. This home is where textbooks were all over the house as I studied for my master’s. This home is where I commenced my spiritual direction practice. This home is where we had memorable Christmases and fun 4th of July celebrations.

Our back patio was a haven for our town’s young adults as they wrestled with who they really were, away from Mom and Dad. My hubby built a double-towered, custom play fort for our children at the request of the eldest son. It’s where Maizie learned to jump on a trampoline as my youngest son flipped over her repeatedly on it. It’s where we brought home a sassy Trinity and where the daughter and the DSL announced that we were about to become grandparents. It’s where we celebrated graduations, held charity garage sales and watched our teens practice their parking skills with trepidation.

But it’s even more than that. The sunrises and sunsets here are spectacular and yet, there are enough giant trees to give us shade on a hot summer night. The town is still so small that I can be anywhere in 10 minutes, even during rush hour.

The schools, including our local university, are filled with teachers and professors who actually care about students learning. There’s still very little crime here. It’s largely a community of moral people, who care if your children become responsible, happy citizens.

When we arrived here in 1992, the community could have shunned us, since we were rude Yankees. That’s what happened to us in our previous community (full of Yanks, I might add). I wouldn’t say they welcomed us overnight, but when we began participating in the life of the community, people warmly welcomed us and showed us how to be naturalized Texans.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m looking forward to a new home with trees and humidity that remind me of my beloved Virginia. And I’m already beginning to make friends there and have my eye on a particular Methodist church for a possible church home. But I will miss this home horribly–largely because I’ve never lived anywhere for more than five years.

My contemplative practices have taught me that tears are often a sign that God is near. One way I seem to get to those tears faster is to write. So, guess why I’m writing this post!

It’s time to cry and not choke them back and hope they heal this hurt. Let’s hope I’m less of a Scot about it.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 6th, 2019 at 1:00 pm and is filed under Miscellaneous. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.


  1. August 6th, 2019 | Liesa says:

    Nicely said! Praying the transition will turn out as good for you as ours was from Wheaton to Indy and then from the country house to here. You can do it and even with the help of tears!!!!!!!!!

  2. August 14th, 2019 | maryann says:

    Thank you for the encouragement and kind words!

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