Rules for Crying

“Those who don’t know how to weep with their whole heart don’t know how to laugh either.” –Golda Meir, former Israeli Prime Minister

I spent a lot of time last week crying, which is something I don’t normally do. Like most men, I learned a long time ago that tears are unbecoming in a male. When someone–anyone, regardless of gender–cries, people get uncomfortable. They shift in their seats and turn their palms up helplessly. They confirm, whether they intend to or not, that crying is a rogue state, something not only unusual, but also somehow out of order, like the person in tears is broken. And when things are broken, they need to be either fixed or put out of sight.

It’s not always been so. Many cultures have a much deeper understanding of how to endure loss, which often includes very public displays of sorrow. For all of our American freedoms, we lack a structure for our mourning. We are left to find our own way.

All of which has made me think about my own grieving process, both in the recent past and in the weeks to come. I’ve not yet worked out exactly how I’ll get through this, and even if I had a plan it would doubtlessly be altered as time goes by. But I have come up with a few basic rules for crying that, while not comprehensive, are nonetheless widely applicable.

1) Allow for tears when they come, but do not invite them unnecessarily.

2) It is okay to cry alone or with others, as long as it’s with people who love you.

3) Be careful with touch, but don’t be afraid of it. Human contact can be wonderfully healing.

4) Do not draw attention to yourself. People who care will notice without you having to make a scene.

5) If you are crying because a close friend has died tragically, it is okay to swear, insult him, and call him terrible names, as long as they are things you have already said to him while he was alive.

Okay, so No. 5 is not so broadly applicable. But it’s mine for now, and I’ll own it. I’ll own all of these rules, and sometimes I’ll break them, but they at least give some shape to my tears.

3 thoughts on “Rules for Crying

  1. This circumstance can’t help but bring up memories. Over 20 years ago, when I was a younger man like yourself, we lost a baby sitter, a next door neighbor, a cook, a friend, and a rough diamond from a diabetic heart condition at the age of 38. I bawled like a baby at her funeral. I can remember her in funny ways (“so students, if you have to miss class because, say, your car breaks down or your baby sitter dies..”) or just sadly. So maybe I know where you are.

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