Today in the chart

Thoughts on Grief Part III: I’m Happy Because I Cry So Much

What if releasing our tears and sharing our grief with others opens up space to fully experience our joy?

I remember being six or seven, watching my mother cry as she spoke to her best friend on the phone. When she got off the phone, I asked her if she was okay, and she said, “I’m fine, honey. I’m just crying because I am happy.” But I knew she wasn’t happy, and I felt confused. I was confused that maybe I was the one that didn’t understand what was happening because why would my mother lie about what she was feeling? Yet this is what many of us have been taught at a young age, to hide our true feelings and make excuses that cover up our sadness.  

Maybe my mother had it backward; maybe it’s not “I’m crying because I’m happy,” but maybe it’s “I’m happy because I cry so much.” What if releasing our tears and sharing our grief with others is what opens up space to fully experience our joy?

As young children, we begin to define and understand grief by how we see the world experience grief around us. If we had a safe and courageous space to grow, we had space for our emotions to be experienced and received with love, empathy, and validation. Unfortunately, many of us did not have this; instead, we were told to stop crying and not feel bad. When this happens, a conflict is created in our bodies between our hearts and our minds. Our hearts are sad, yet simultaneously, others are telling us not to feel this emotion. When this happens, our brains begin to see feeling our emotions as a threat to our safety, so we begin to cover up or pretend everything is okay even though our hearts are still sad and need comfort. Covering up our true feelings creates mistrust between our hearts and our minds.

We are told over and over again not to feel bad, and so we quickly learn to cover up our sadness, hide our true feelings and not share them. We begin to equate feeling bad with being bad, and we learn very quickly not to be our authentic selves. Our hearts and minds desire to be aligned, to have courageous spaces to be honest and to tell the truth about how we are feeling, and to allow the inside to also be present on the outside. This is why I dance to share what words cannot share, to offer my vulnerability of what is happening inside me in hopes of aligning my mind and my heart through my body.

Grief Myth #1: Don’t Feel Bad

Don’t feel bad; your father lived a full life. Don’t feel bad; we will get you another dog. Don’t feel bad; you can always have more children. Don’t feel bad; you will find another job. Don’t feel bad; there are plenty of fish in the sea. Most of us have trouble sitting with others’ sadness and grief. It is so hard to listen and not want to fix and make it better for someone else.

Unfortunately, when we desire to fix grief, we risk offering harmful words of advice that dismiss others’ feelings in our attempts to care for them. This includes telling others that they can and should replace what was lost. We are taught this early as many young children experience loss when their pets die. Instead of allowing courageous spaces for our children to grieve the loss of their pet, we replace the loss. What our children need is not a new animal, at least not immediately. They need us to hold them as they fully grieve the loss of what they loved so much. Allowing them to grieve creates space to possibly have a new pet that they can then love completely because they were allowed to grieve fully the loss of their first pet.

What does it mean to grieve fully? To complete the loss? As a grief recovery specialist, I walk people through their grief, which allows them to take actionable steps to grieve their loss fully. This usually includes creating space to look at the unsettled emotions left when something or someone leaves us before we are ready. This includes looking at the following:

  • Our feelings of guilt about what we wish we would have done differently but cannot fix because this person or pet is now gone
  • The things we left unsaid and the deep desire to have one more moment to share what we did not share before
  • Possible spaces for forgiveness that are not reliant upon the changed behavior of another but are rooted in our desire to be free from the pain
  • Strong emotional experiences that have left an imprint on our hearts, both the joyful and the sad
  • Apologies that we were never able to give

As we look at the ways we have had a less than optimal experience with grief or the ways we maybe did not always show up completely for others as they were grieving, it is important to offer ourselves compassion as we were never taught how to grieve and care for others who are suffering. I ask us all, how can we know something we were never taught? Many of us were never taught how to care for ourselves or others grieving, which is why compassion for ourselves and others is so important. We are all still learning.

In this space of self-compassion, I invite you to take some space with yourself and journal about your experiences around replacing your losses, the myths many of us were taught as young children, and some of the things that may have been said to you as you were grieving.  

Journal Prompts:

  1. What are some of the harmful things others have said to you when you were grieving?
  2. What were some of the most comforting things others said as you were grieving?
  3. Do you remember ever replacing a loss? A new pet, a new love, a new toy, a gadget, a gizmo. How did it make you feel, and did this replacement leave a lasting sense of healing, or were you left desiring more? Why or why not?

Tara Rynders, The Dancing Nurse Educator, and Nightingale Luminary is the CEO and Founder of The Clinic, an arts, and play-based immersive theater company that offers workshops and keynotes to create more sustainable, (Re)Brilliant, and equitable healthcare systems.

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