We were at my grandmother’s funeral, 13 of her kids, and several dozen of us grandchildren.
The priest was trying to complete the reading of his passage but my one aunt had a moment. I’m not going to lie, it was a little nerve-wracking. She poured out her pain by wailing, which kept interrupting the service.
The priest would say a few words, she’d cry out, my Mothhherrrr.
He’d say a few more, she’d wail some more. She started throwing her hands in the air until, well, she was comforted and gently ushered to the side by one of her brothers.
I realized that I was holding my breath the entire time, only exhaling a sigh of relief when she sat down, but why?
We were in a safe, comfortable place. I was back home in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and this form of expression was normal. Vincentians were expressive. You knew if they liked you, you knew if they didn’t. They sang and swayed their hips when they were happy. They cursed you out when they were mad. They cried when they were sad, then got right back to living.
I think we, Black people, along with many other cultures, see death as a time to mourn and a time celebrates the life of our loved ones. After the funeral, we returned to my late grandmothers’ house for the celebration of life. It was a time filled with storytelling, singing, dancing, crying, eating, and exorbitant amounts of drinking. It didn’t feel ominous like how you’d think mourning should be.
The question that kept popping into my head was, why did my aunt’s display of crying make me so uncomfortable? Was it because subconsciously I’d told myself that crying publicly wasn’t socially acceptable? That it was a sign of weakness, or of uncontrolled behavior?
I wanted to stay strong. I didn’t know how to handle someone else’s pain without triggering my own. Crying was personal, if I was going to cry like that, it was going to be in private. I didn’t have enough experiences of seeing crying as a form of collective healing, of sitting in the awkwardness of it, of waiting for the silence that followed, that allowed people to share their story.
We’ve lost the art of sharing our pain, longings, and disappointment through unrestrained expression.
We hold back tears when we want to cry uncontrollably.
We pretend we’re fine when we want to run into the streets and scream our heads off.
We get angry when we really want to be comforted.
We’re all trying to practice socially acceptable behavior but we’re dying inside. We’re killing our natural human instincts.
Crying out is therapeutic. It’s a kind of Primal Therapy, which suggests that some raw behaviors, like screaming, can help us reach repressed emotions, thereby releasing and processing them.
Go ahead, find a quiet place in nature, maybe in your car, and scream out the mixed emotions of the year. The frustration of losing a job, having your wedding canceled, not being able to see your friends, that relationship that didn’t work out, the passing of your loved one, and everything in between.
“The number one killer in the world today is not cancer or heart disease, it is repression”.-Arthur Janov
Crying, weeping, and mournful song are acts that bind us together. They keep us resilient through otherwise unbearable times.
When we don’t express our pain we create room for mental and physical illness within ourselves.
What’s the purpose of crying?
Crying Soothes Your Pain
Crying is a natural pain killer that we’ve turned into an act of shame. We’ve made it acceptable for women to cry yet an area of emasculation for men.
Crying doesn’t discriminate. It has a self-soothing effect. It helps decrease stress levels, calm distress, and balance our emotions.
Sometimes our tears seem to stream down without our approval because our bodies know that we need to shed dead ends, that we need to heal.
Allowing ourselves to cry is an act of self-care. It shows our compassion, vulnerability, and strength. It’s our deepest self saying, I know you’re overwhelmed right now but I’m going to take care of you.
Crying Let’s You Know That Something Has To Change
Sometimes you need to break down to get your life back.
I was on the tail end of a relationship that ate away at my self-esteem when a big dutty cry came out of nowhere. I prided myself on keeping my shit together for the outside world, especially when it came to work, but this day was different. When I stepped onto the nursing unit, it was like the world was moving in slow motion. The weight of my pain and suppressed emotions buried me. I sobbed. My charge nurse knew this was pretty strange for me, so she sent me home.
I ended up taking some personal days to process what was happening. Crying that day made me realize that I was emotionally exhausted, that I couldn’t live my life in turmoil anymore, something had to change. After that incident, I was finally able to leave my abusive relationship for good.
Crying, weeping, wailing out, and uncontrolled tears, let us know that something has to change.
Crying Brings Community and Support
Our tears fall unexpectedly because too many of us are crying behind closed doors. Crying is meant to bring support from our community.
We’ve been crying since birth. It was our primary way of communicating our needs to our parents. As adults, crying is still a behavior about connection. It’s a survival tool that lets others know that we need social support.
A 2016 study suggests that crying is a survival skill, especially for those who have a high avoidant attachment style. It’s the style where we suppress our emotions, our need to be seen, heard, and validated. It’s when we are experts at taking care of others but refuse to let others get close because we fear abandonment. Call me out, why don’t you?
Crying is a defense mechanism against attempts to withdraw ourselves from others. It physically draws people near to us, to alert them that something is wrong, to garner support, or share our joy.
Let it Out. Cry.
“Weeping may endure for a night, joy comes in the morning. Weeping may endure for a night, joy comes in the morning. Hallelujah for the joy, Hallelujah for the joy. Hallelujah for the joy, joy comes in the morning!”
I grew up hearing this melody. I think about the Caribbean women in my community, joining hands, clapping, and singing this upbeat song until their collective pain was a little less. Each verse a little louder, each conviction stronger.
Crying out our pain, weeping, mournful songs, and dance, especially in front of others can be uncomfortable, but it’s part of what our body needs to heal. When we don’t release our pain we create room for mental and physical breakdowns.
You’re allowed to cry, just as much as other people have the right to their expression. My aunt had it right. She didn’t hold anything back, she allowed herself to grieve, she allowed herself to be comforted around safe people in a safe space. This is how you heal.
The next time you feel overcome with sadness or joy don’t be afraid to cry. Don’t be afraid to surrender your soul to the healing benefits of your tears.