From my 2009 Journal. Grief is a very private affair that sometimes turns public. In America we watch mourners at funerals, and if they don’t cry, we say that they are holding up well. I think Middle Easterners and my African friends have a better perspective. They set aside a time to wail and to mourn—publicly. Their cultural norm is to let the emotions out when a loved one passes away. There’s something healthy about this practice. So why do we keep back tears when we are in public?
Sometimes when you hurt, you want space to cry alone, away from prying eyes. I remember while at boarding school, crying alone or privately was nearly impossible. Someone invariably would insist on asking why you were crying and then try to fix it for you with platitudes: It’ll be all right. God knows best. Romans 8:28, etc. Or worse yet: Don’t cry! Sometimes you just didn’t feel like sharing your hurt with them, but it felt rude to say it was none of their business. All you really needed was for someone to hold you or cry with you.
My Visual: When I am grieving, I have a secret place in my heart where fire is burning and glowing and I need to release that pain. But if someone opens the door of my heart without my permission and snatches that fire, and I don’t know if I can trust him or her or not with my heart, it feels like a violation.
It is okay to protect your heart. You don’t have to respond rudely if you don’t care to share. Just be honest: I don’t feel like talking about it right now. If they care about you, they’ll respect your space. If they’re pushy, just walk away. But that fire will consume you if you don’t open the door at some point. Grief needs to be released in order to heal a broken heart.
Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord . . . (Lamentations 2:19).
How do you handle grief when you are in public and why?
I sometimes have no choice. The tears leak, especially in public, like at my doctor’s office, or when talking to a friend over tea, even sitting here writing to you. I learned not to cry – ever! – so it’s hard for me to let them out, but they are there. It sometimes feels like I’m Alice in a teacup in a storm-tossed sea of tears. I know if I can release them, the storm will calm, but I’m afraid – afraid that if I start crying I’ll never stop, so I put a lid on it. But the tears leak out anyway. And the Lord comes and I cry with Him, and somehow, that helps calm the storm some.
And I’m blessed; my doctor is a Christian and understands. He just hands me a tissue. My friends and family understand and give me more tea (tea is a wonderful healer of tears). You listen and say you’re sorry and don’t try to fix it. This ocean of tears may never completely drain, but I have the Lord, my family, my friends, and you. I’m good.
I remember when the Lord gave you a spigot in the wall of the dam in front of the ocean of grief so you could release it little by little instead of getting overwhelmed. I’ve thought of that visual often.
Yes, I remember it, too. The trick is to let myself open it. I have to be willing, because even this is a direction from the Lord.