The freedom and power to grieve


At a funeral years ago for a husband of a friend, I was a visible mess of emotion. And to my surprise many people noticed because they asked me if I was okay. Perhaps these questions were born from genuine concern, but instead they left me feeling crazy. It was true, I was overwrought with tears, but I was at a funeral, and my friend was saying goodbye to her husband who had been a part of her life since she was a child. I felt sad for a million different reasons, but as I left, I wondered, If I’m not able to show my true emotion at a funeral, is it only safe and acceptable in our culture to cry at home in the privacy of a bedroom, bathroom, or closet?

Another time I was out to dinner with a few girlfriends. One of the girls I had only met once or twice before. After a couple of glasses of wine, she looked over to see me teary eyed. My good friend and I had just wrapped up a conversation about losing our dads. The other girl had, earlier in the evening, asked whether or not I was interested in having another child. When she saw our expressions, and I mentioned that I cried often, she said casually and with a sprinkle of off color laughter, “If you are that sensitive maybe you shouldn’t have another child.”

Biting my tongue, keeping my mouth shut, holding back, bucking up, and brushing it off are not things I am good at nor do I want to be. And the more I learn about the cathartic and healthful benefits of knowing and expressing our emotions, the more I realize I need to let it rain, let it out, let it go, and keep wearing my heart on my sleeve because this is where it belongs. It is certainly not always convenient or easy. And many of us wave our hands in front of our face if we begin to feel the sting of tears or we apologize profusely like we are doing something really offensive by crying. But there is no need to apologize.

Over ten years ago, I read Pat Conroy’s novel, Beach Music. I fell in love with it and still to this day am haunted and bewildered by the clarity and truth of how he writes.

“American men are allotted just as many tears as American women. But because we are forbidden to shed them, we die long before women do, with our hearts exploding or our blood pressure rising or our livers eaten away by alcohol because that lake of grief inside us has no outlet. We, men, die because our faces were not watered enough.”

I was reminded of this paragraph as I read about the Dagara culture of Africa this week. I was deeply moved as I learned about their public outpouring and weeping during death rituals and funerals. The Dagara understand that the strong force of grief is a process of healing which helps bring equilibrium back to the body as well as a way to honor the dead, and the loved ones left behind. “There are countless ways of expressing emotion because countless ways are needed. No one is supposed to repress emotion. If death disturbs the living, it offers a unique opportunity to unleash one of the strongest emotional powers humans have: the power to grieve,” writes Malidoma Patrice Some.

We are made to grieve in whatever way we need to, just as we are created to weep, laugh, and celebrate together as well as alone. Grief may never be complete because it is impossible to get over the loss of someone you love. But the showers of grief that drown us every now and again are a testament to the great love we have to share, and when given an outlet, can transform into something beautiful.

And just as Elsa belts out her gorgeous and inspirational song, “Let it Go” from the animated film, Frozen, we learn that when we surrender to the transformative wave of letting go of our most feared and powerful emotions, we in turn are free.


14 thoughts on “The freedom and power to grieve”

  1. L-this came to me today, just when I needed it–strangely enough with another friends post (coincidence or something bigger?) “Grief never ends. But, it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith . . . . It is the price of love.”

  2. I love this. So beautiful. Love the citation from Pat Conroy’s novel, Beach Music. And, the story you began with — it’s stunning to imagine in our culture we are encouraged to not show emotions even at times which, in order to even begin to move through the experience with any semblance of psychological wholeness, we truly must feel. I remember my own beloved parents, rest in peace, Bennett, and Rena, coming home from funerals of their friends and talking about how so and so was “so strong” by not breaking down at the funeral of her or his beloved (wife, husband, mother, father, child). Huh? I would sit there listening to their observations imagining how when they died, I would be throwing myself into their graves. No, I would not be “strong”.

    1. I have thought this same thin, Susan. Like why is it good for someone to appear strong and okay after their loved one dies. I can just hear similar conversations about someone appearing strong when what was really meant was that the person didn’t show any emotion in public. And similarly I don’t think I am weak for being emotional, if anything I think the contrary is true..sometimes being brave and courageous is breaking down.

  3. Oh Lindsay…reading this makes me want to cry!!! It’s so true that holding back our deepest emotions not only hurts us, but ultimately wears the world down to an numb shell of life…thank you for this important reminder! I love you…

  4. You know that I am a heart on the sleeve kinda gal and this an amazing reminder that it does nit make us weak. Your words are perfect…..I hope many read this and remember that showing their emotions only makes them and the world a better place! Love you

    1. Love you, Karnis. Thank you for this. I would be curious to talk to you about what is it like when working in the corporate world as far as being visible with your emotions. Can’t wait to talk to you when you get home!

  5. Hey Lindsay – Really good post. I find myself keeping it in and holding back – primarily because people don’t want to see some one they think of as happy and bubbly as sad. As I’ve grown this persona has followed me (which is good!, but also makes it hard to really be my full self in front of some one other than Brad – even my parents). Last time I really really cried was great – and was an explosion because I had been holding in my frustration for so long. This is a good reminder to not let that happen again…thanks and hope you are well!!

    1. Hi Becca,
      Thank you, Love! Yes! I can relate this idea that if you are primarily a happy outgoing person that this is how you are all the time. Heck no! And sometimes the opposite can be true…if we have the ability to be really up beat then we also can get really low. And that is all okay. Those explosive waterworks are so healing! It was great hearing from you. We are well enjoying being back in our home after a renovation. Hope to see you and your boys sometimes soon! With Love!

  6. My friend sent me this. It’s beautiful. When I was growing up you were a ‘good girl’ if you didn’t cry. I often hear people telling my little girls to be big girls by not crying…and even that they don’t look pretty when they cry! If I can do one thing as a mother I hope I can teach my kids that it’s ok to feel whatever they feel. And to express it. I truly believe that holding emotion is the biggest root of chronic illness. Thank you for the lovely reminder.

    1. Pen! Thank you for writing. I have heard Sally talk about how much she adores you. And I can see why. Your girls are fortunate to have you as a mother! And I couldn’t agree with you more, I too believe there is an emotional/psycho-spiritual component to every illness. I hope to meet you someday soon. With Love for you and your family.

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