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.