A week or so ago, I was watching the news and a woman was recounting the story of a traumatic event. It was clear she was struggling with the words and when her voice finally broke and tears fell, she choked out two words…”I’m sorry.”
I thought, “What on earth does she have to apologize for? If I was in her shoes I’d be crying too.”
I watched a similar scene play out several times over the next week: someone feeling pain or sorrow, shedding a few tears, and promptly apologizing for crying. It made me realize something.
I am becoming very unapologetic for my tears.
Over the past few months of Dad’s illness and then his death, I have cried more tears than I knew I had in me to cry. I cried when someone tried to be kind to me at work. I cried when I saw Dad’s memorial card on the shelf. I cried when I noticed the Red Polls were back at the bird feeder and I couldn’t call Dad and tell him. I cried after a birthday party for my father-in-law when I realized there would be no more birthday celebrations with my Dad.
Before all this happened, if something made me sad enough to cry in public, I was just like the woman I saw on TV. I would apologize. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to cry.”
Why do we do that? Why do we think we need to bottle up those feelings and keep them hidden?
The short answer is we shouldn’t and we don’t.
Tears are a fundamental part of the grieving and healing process.
Do you know what tears are made of? I thought they were just salt water, but they aren’t.
Tears produced during emotional crying have a chemical composition which differs from other types of tears. They contain significantly greater quantities of the hormones prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, Leu-enkephalin, and the elements potassium and manganese.
Let me simplify that for you a bit. Your tears are filled with hormones, one of which plays a vital role in the effectiveness of our immune system, one is responsible for our feelings of stress, and the other produces a natural form of morphine to relieve pain.
Think of it this way: if you don’t cry when you feel pain, you can get sick, your stress level stays high, and the pain continues. If you allow yourself to cry, you can avoid illness, relieve stress, and reduce your pain.
Tell me again, why we should hold back our tears? And why should we apologize for doing something that will eventually make us feel better?
There is folk wisdom supported by scientific evidence that putting salt on a wound can help it heal.
One reason why salt water is widely used for wound healing is that it helps kill certain types of bacteria …. When these bacteria are killed, the wound site is cleaned… infection is inhibited, so that it will not spread into the other skin areas or getting worse. Killing the infesting bacteria also helps the new skin cells to grow faster and more properly. Once this proper growth is promoted, the wounded site will eventually heal. Decreasing the inflammation means reducing the caused pain. While putting salt water on the wound site will badly sting at first, it helps future painful sensation around the wound site, which is very helpful for numerous people.
I think you can draw your own parallels between tears and salt water, a physical wound and an emotional wound, between bacteria and bitterness.
While my grief has been unwelcome, unwanted, and immensely unpleasant, it is also teaching me valuable lessons about myself and about life. I won’t apologize for shedding tears for a man I loved deeply and miss daily. Apologies are an offering of reconciliation when I have done something hurtful or harmful. My tears are neither and I won’t apologize for them anymore.
Maybe you shouldn’t either.