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The Art Of Crying: How Expressing Grief Can Reduce Pain And Provide Emotional Relief

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Crying jags surprise me. The urge to cry lately can come on suddenly, yet offers a potential heightened sense of relief to my mind and body post-cry. Alleys, cars, and movie theaters are great places for me to sob it out. Cancer has opened me up to grief.

I’m still caught off guard when tears come in pubic. Despite living with cancer for the past two and a half years, I continue to feel uncomfortable when I burst into sobs while walking in public — often with my adorable dog. I seek a semblance of solitude in the mural lined alleyways not far from my home. I find comfort in the murals, which serve as markers of the past and present (when there is new tagging “art”). Seeing them lets me ponder and acknowledge my own past and present.

Nilla is often the only witness to my grief.

Nilla is often the only witness to my tears.

When I wipe off fat tears from my cheeks and look around to make sure no one is watching from a nearby multi-story apartment building, I may chide myself for yet again forgetting to carry tissues. At least I remember to bring large and dark sunglasses, to hide my red and puffy eyes from passing strangers as I slowly walk back home with my dog. This crying is my way of acknowledging and even dealing with the trauma (to my body) and loss (of a few body parts including my breasts and “down there” lady parts) from serious illness.

A few weeks ago, I received news that my mom had a series of massive strokes. She has been in the ICU, as well as a nursing facility. I therefore also feel like I am mourning what has happened to mom. The closest my family and I have come to a group grieving session was in her hospital room, when I mentioned how much her cat missed her — enter the waterworks for me and my immediate family members, who were gathered around mom’s bed.

Sometimes when I cry, I find myself trying to understand what I am feeling. The quiet and comfort of these moments lets me figure out if I am feeling sad, mad, powerlessness, grief, or a heady combo of all of the above. I do know that my crying gives me relief and tends to overtake me later in the day or early evening. If I am feeling HALT (hungry, angry, lonely or tired) then I can later realize that such factors tend to force my hand, compelling me to take a break from my current routine of working and researching mom’s health situation, and communicating with others about it. Crying reminds me that sometimes I need to put myself first and deal with my own issues. I have some experience with therapy and support groups, but realize I yearn to explore more scientific information and related data on crying.

One international study, entitled “When Is Crying Cathartic?” (conduced by Lauren M. Blysma, Ad J. J. M. Vingerhoets, and Jonathan Rottenberg), carries significant weight because it surveyed over 4,000 participants from 35 countries and addressed the variations in context for crying. It posits that earlier studies going as far back as 1895 showed that “crying acts as a way of relieving pressure or tension and allowing blocked negative emotions to be released and relieved.” They predict that the most cathartic crying sessions — crying episodes followed by the greatest mood improvement — are the ones in which a person experiences “positive, supportive, social interactions” where one can receive comfort from others.

For nearly six years, I have been going to twice-weekly support group meetings and have often felt like chunks of pain are coming out of my body when I cry in a safe setting with others, because I am letting go. The cathartic experience is reinforced by acts of caring and kindness; bouts of crying in this environment mean I’m often the recipient of hugs and words of support from folks who simply listen, rather than offering advice or direction to me as it relates to my life or even my role in my mom’s health situation.

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About Barry G. Morris

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