It’s All Right To Cry

free to be you and meWhen I hear this phase it immediately brings me back to my adolescence when I listened endlessly to my Free To Be You and Me record and read through the corresponding book. I loved everything about that recording but probably didn’t give too much thought to what the words actually meant. Now tattered and respectfully sitting on my book shelf, my Free To Be You and Me book serves as a reminder of the comfort and joy this book provided during that tumultuous time of my life.

More recently though I have thought of this phrase as a mantra and reminder that no matter how much our current society seems to shun it or even how much discomfort people seem to have witnessing someone crying, it definitely IS all right to cry. Even in public, even for seemingly no apparent reason to those around you. I have had my share of public crying jags these past several years. After losing both parents and my first pet, I feel like I have had the rawness of grief show up in many unexpected places – a play, school activities, on a Shabbat retreat, on the yoga mat or in a coffee meeting with a colleague. In addition, my kids notice that a commercial, movie or show can easily bring me to tears.

Tear-falling-down-womans-cheekLast July, just a week or so after my mom had died, while doing the corpse pose at the end of a yoga class, tears and emotions began flooding my mind. I started crying uncontrollably while we quietly observed our breath. After the class, I left without speaking to the teacher or other yogis for fear of embarrassment. I thought about it all week though because my teacher had witnessed my tears and his words had offered solace. He had acknowledged that something very deep was coming up for one of his students even though he had no idea what it was. I felt seen and attended to even though I was also emotional and embarrassed. The following week, we sat together and I shared what that experience had felt like and how much it had meant to me that even without his knowing what I was experiencing he had acknowledged it. Sometimes we can be there for another person  even when we don’t know personally what is making them so upset.

I want to become a poster child for the benefits of crying  because I am beginning to no longer feel embarrassed or make excuses for crying in front of others. I experience that lump in my throat, runny nose and tears streaming down my cheeks without feeling any kind of shame. This is a human reality and we should embrace it and not feel as if we have to apologize for our behavior. In fact, last week I had an entire day where I was wading knee-deep in difficult emotions. They kept surfacing and I kept acknowledging and witnessing them with acceptance and kindness. All day, I needed to cry.  I cried with my meditation teacher, a colleague and another friend, without shame or embarrassment.  If you witness someone crying, know that you are witnessing a powerful and beneficial experience and one that is incredibly helpful in moving emotions through their body. Consider it a blessing that someone is comfortable enough to show their true emotions to you.

Look up the health benefits of crying and you will learn that there several. First, it releases stress hormones that are excreted in the body through our tears. Crying also stimulates the production of the hormone endorphins or our feel good hormones. Additionally, they help us process and release our emotions. People usually do feel better after they have cried.

What I have noticed, through the past few years, is that when I am authentic and true to myself as a human being it helps me relate to others. There is a deep connection between two people who are speaking honestly about difficult experiences, but there is also a bond that is created when we relate to someone on that level. I have offered my hand and shoulder to someone during a difficult period of tears and many kind people have done the same for me. These emotional times have made me feel connected to these friends or colleagues in a way that a mere conversation really doesn’t. I also believe it is what helps us recognize and learn from each other through difficulties we all face in life.

So be kind with yourself and others when they are vulnerable and experiencing something that makes them cry. Allow them to just be with their tears and remember that you are in the power of authentic human emotion that are important and beautiful to share. And if it helps you can always start humming It’s All Right To Cry.

Recommended Grief Books

There are seasons of  loss and grief for each of us. In the past few months, several friends have lost parents and one has just lost a son in an accident. Processing our grief, can be tough work. Though each of us will have different needs when we are grieving, I know I hoped to find a book that might help me through this time.  Unfortunately, I found the grief section at my local book store to be less than inspiring and almost somewhat disappointing. Fortunately, I have learned about other books since then that are very beneficial and of course there are always new books being written by someone who has grieved and shares their own story.

In the past month, I have been lucky enough to receive two books that deal with life and death written by two lovely women. I wanted to share them today as additional reference for books that you might also find beneficial.

I met Mary Burt-Godwin through the internet. She reached out to me after learning about my 1000 Mitzvahs project. She had lost her own father and was in the midst of putting together her own book. It is a compilation of stories from daughters who have lost their fathers. Her book, Dead Dads Club, offers glimpses into many different father daughter relationships and how women deal with the loss of this important person in our lives. She has also begun a website with the same name to allow others to share their own stories with her. (Lest you think Mary is all grief and no fun, she is hilarious and brings her sense of humor to her website and her new book.)

Abigail Carter is a 9/11 widow and her first book The Alchemy of Loss is a story of the journey of transformation after losing her husband Arron leaving her to raise their two children alone. Abigail and I met this year after my book came out and I have just finished her book. I couldn’t put it down. It was so personal and moving and I kept thinking about how resilient Abigail was in the face of a disaster most of us couldn’t even imagine. She is honest and authentic and her ability to share her loss with us allows us to imagine that we could also survive something so difficult. I highly recommend it.

What books have helped you through your grief?

Happy New Year 2012

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Wayne Dyer

When I began the mitzvah project almost 5 years ago, I was in grief. It was a dark time personally and I wasn’t sure how to move through it. I began my own mitzvah project and discovered the joys of noticing, witnessing and doing good for another.

I know that 2011 was a challenging year for many people. And yet in this year when people were out of work, natural disasters occurred across the globe and other difficulties, our human endurance persists. People want to give and help others. When we commit to a daily practice of giving the things we notice change. This year I will share an idea for a mitzvah a day on my Facebook page. I will also put a link here on my website. I hope it will help add positivity in the world and help another who also might be experiencing a dark time.

Wishing everyone a year filled with opportunities and possibilities.

Birthdays and Grief

Last week, I began writing my book chapter titled Blowing Out the Candles: Birthday Mitzvahs. It is a fairly simple concept and I am enjoying some of the stories that are coming up. Of course, writing about birthdays has also made me ponder death and dying because they are so interconnected.

An acquaintance posted a note on Facebook during the week, feeling sad that it had been three years since her mom died and struggling with the loss she feels everyday. Many friends posted comments back to her, including one who pined for the loss of her own mother more than ten years ago. Her friend said, not a day goes by when she doesn’t think of her mother. While grief after a loss changes and evolves, it does not ever go away entirely and I personally think that is a good thing. I believe that when we think about our own mortality knowing that others will continue to carry our memory with them into the future, can be reassuring.

Last week, I also read an essay in the Oregonian by Mark T. Harris,who lost his father in a tragic car accident thirty years ago. He had finally gone back to the site of the accident, in  a small rural town in Wisconsin where his family had spent many summer vacations. The essay was eerily satisfying. I guess because he was able to finally come to peace with the immense and sudden loss in his life so many years ago. Reading about his journey helped me understand even more how lucky my loss had been.

I knew when my father died that I was lucky. I have always felt grateful of the way he died because I knew at the time that in the future I might not be so lucky with other loved ones. Having the knowledge that someone is dying and being able to be with them when they die, is certainly a gift. I am not saying that it isn’t painful and there won’t be the mourning when this happens, but I am saying that when it’s sudden and tragic it is often harder to move through the grief. There are so many more layers of emotions on top of just loss, including the what-if’s and the should haves.

I replied to my acquaintance on Facebook with this thought, that after I joined the having lost a parent “club”, I felt like it was now my job to help others who were newer to the “club”. By lending an ear or perhaps a shoulder it helped me heal as well. In the three years since my dad has been gone, I have had more honest conversations about life and death and living a full life and how much we miss loved ones who are no longer with us than ever before. Sometimes that has been difficult especially when my daughter tells people that all my mom talks about is death. I am sure that for the first several months that was what it seemed like to her. But the reality is that talking about death and sharing stories about our loss is a part of life and if in my small way, I can help someone else or share in an experience with someone else around grief than that has value for both of us!