Tears are used as a way to express our feelings. When we see tears in another’s eyes, we know there are deep feelings at the surface. We share our own feelings through the use of tears sometimes in public and sometimes in private. Sometimes we do not understand why tears are being shed and then there are times when we wonder why there are no tears when they should be flowing like rivers.
Tears can be a mystery at times. For me, it has been interesting to take the time to discover the reasons and purpose of tears. This was not a topic I just decided to investigate and study on my own. It sort of just fell into my lap and I found it interesting. There have been times in my life that people have asked why I was crying, like when I watched the birth of a baby for the first time as a nursing student. The beauty of birth and a new life reminded me of creation, new life, and love; a sight that not only brought tears to me eyes but took my breath away when watching that miracle!
Tears came at other times when I laughed so hard that I started crying! The laughter not only caused tears, but my side hurt so bad that I wanted to stop laughing but found it so difficult. A couple of years ago, I was helping my son, Brian, put a swing-set together for his daughter’s birthday. He went to the shed to get another tool that we needed while I was putting parts of the swing set together. I heard Brian make a strange sound and when I looked up, he was dancing away from the shed. A black snake made it’s appearance when the door was open. It was not the snake I was laughing at, it was Brian’s dance and fast paced movements away from the shed and across the backyard! He stated over and over “I am done! I am done! That’s it for the day!” There had been several challenges to overcome with putting the swing set together and the snake was one more thing to deal with! After a break, we did finish putting the swing set together and I continued trying to hold my laughter and tears.
The topic of tears does not come up to often but they are something we see and experience, sometimes more often than we like. This past week several people have made statements or comments about tears that have caused me to stop, think, and ponder. Maybe we need to investigate and learn more about tears. One of my seminary professors, Daniel G. Bagby, wrote the book, Seeing Through Our Tears: Why We Cry, How We Heal. This book is one of several I use when teaching grief and bereavement classes and has been very helpful in understanding our tears. He has dedicated a chapter to each type of tear with in depth explanations of each. The book is a great resource.
Tears are found in every person, at every age, and every stage of life. There are no boundaries when it comes to tears. You see, tears tell us so much and like a smile, they are a universal language that we can all understand! But, not all tears have the same meaning. Tears can be revealed in anger, sorrow, sadness, fear, joy, relief, and yes, grief. Sometimes tears can speak for us when we have no words. In this article, I will address the purpose and understanding of tears during times of grief because that has been the area of question and concern this past week.
So what about those wet molecules of water that fall from our eyes from time to time? Tears are one way we have to assist us in the healing process when we grieve the death of a loved one or experience another kind of loss. When we are first told of the death of a loved one, shock and numbness are usually the first defense mechanisms to set in. At some time while shedding tears, depression, anger, guilt, and memory problems may all set in as a result of the loss. These feelings may be experienced off and on and at different times. Please be aware, these feelings are real and are normal for the person experiencing a loss. If the loss was sudden, tragic, or totally unexpected, these feelings may be even stronger. But the tears, what about the tears?
As H. Norman Wright states in Recovering from Losses in Life, “Tears are the vehicle that God has equipped us with to express the deepest feelings words cannot express.” God gave us the tears to help us express the deepest feelings words cannot express! Powerful! Have you ever been to that point? I have and I want to say a lot of times. Two months after my daughter died, my oldest son was airlifted to the hospital as a result of a serious auto accident with multiple injuries. The majority of people with his type of injuries usually did not survive. He did survive but had a long period of recovery. Just a few weeks after the accident, my niece gave birth to a breech baby girl with complications and the baby died a few days later. From May of 1993 to December, our family had one major crises after another! Tears? you bet! Uncontrollable, frequent with hard sobbing in which no words could possibly express what I was feeling and I could not express!
Another good thing about tears is that they are healing! Tears help us in the healing process by getting those feelings out. The danger comes when we refuse to acknowledge and refuse to let others see us cry. Not only are the tears locked inside, but so are the feelings and emotions. At some point in time, everything will come out and make its presence known! Some of the experienced health problems that arise from keeping everything inside are heart problems which tends to be one of the biggest issues that develop after a loss. Digestive problems, mental and emotional issues,and illnesses of various kinds all because we have kept everything pent up inside. What we do not let go of and allow to come to the outside, can and will destroy us by working its way through the body systems through illness! Tears are healing, allow them to work and help in your healing while working through your loss! Crying is healthy! Tears are healthy!
Another thing about tears is that we never know when they are going to show up! We may be having a great day where everything is going smooth and beautiful one minute and the next minute, we break into tears. A mother shared one of those times. Her teenage son had died as a result of playing football with friends. The ball bounced up from hitting the ground and hit her son in the chest putting his heart in an irregular heartbeat and the heart stopped. CPR did not work. After a little time had passed, the mother believed things were getting back to normal for her and her family of three, where there to be four. The family decided they wanted hot dogs for supper. She told us she was taking the hot dogs out of the package to cook. Then anger hit! “How could you possibly die? When you were here the package of 8 hot dogs was perfect for our family. You died and now there are two left! We are not perfect anymore!” She did not expect her anger and did not expect the tears. She said she cried for a long time! Tears can, do, and will show up when we least expect them. Not only did the mother have the unexpected tears, she was surprised that she was also experiencing anger! Just when you think you are over the feelings of depression, anger, calm, fear, and all those other feelings, hope enters and you can smile again. But then, unexpectedly, tears and depression return. This is normal and necessary. It is important to know that it is healing.
I can share many stories about tears and how important they are but I think you get the picture of their necessity. I mentioned earlier the book, Recovering from Losses in Life. In this book Wright includes a story (page 47-49) introducing guests at the cross of Jesus that are present but never mentioned. I love the story and as a result, I have noticed that because of it I become more aware of their presence in different circumstances and situations. I would like to share that story with you and with this I close.
Before we leave and say goodbye to those present at the cross [of Jesus], I have one more introduction to make. This introduction is very special.
There was one group in attendance that day whose role was critical. They didn’t speak much, but they were there. Few noticed them, but that’s not surprising. Their very nature is so silent they are often overlooked. In fact, the gospel writers scarcely gave them a reference. But we know they were there. They had to be. They had a job to do.
Yes, this representation did much more than witness the divine drama; they expressed it. They captured it. They displayed the despair of Peter; they betrayed the guilt of Pilate and unveiled the anguish of Judas. They transmitted John’s confusion and translated Mary’s compassion.
Their prime role, however, was with that of the Messiah. With utter delicacy and tenderness, they offered relief to his pain and expression of his yearning.
Who am I describing? You may be surprised.
Those tiny drops of humanity. Those round, wet balls of fluid that tumble from our eyes, creep down our cheek, and splash on the floors of our hearts. They were there that day. They are always present at such times. They should be; that’s their job. They are miniature messengers; on call twenty-four hours a day to substitute for crippled words. They drip, drop, and pour from the corner of our souls, carrying with them the deepest emotions we possess. They tumble down our faces with announcements that range from the most blissful joy to darkest despair.
The principle is simple; when words are most empty, tears are more apt.