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.

Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend

IMG_0290

Yesterday, our dear Rebbetzin Elizabeth “Lisl” Geller passed away. I feel blessed to have had her friendship for nearly 20 years of my life.

Everyone should have an older friend. I am not talking about someone a few years older than you, I am really talking about someone decades older than you. Someone who has lived their life significantly longer than you and might have a prospective that can help you see your situation in a new way. Someone who can teach you that this too shall pass, both the good things and the bad things and they’ll help you when necessary clarify what’s really important in life.

In my late 20’s, when my husband and I relocated to Portland, Oregon we befriended our Rabbi and his wife, Lisl Geller. They visited us in the hospital when both of our children were born and we shared dozens of meals and events with them over the years as our children grew from toddlers to teens. After the Rabbi passed away several years ago, the Rebbetzin remained in their family home. She was much less mobile these past few years but continued to remain independent and had quite an active life with a large extended family that visited her frequently.

I continued to visit with the Rebbetzin as often as I could. I was surprised when people would remark how nice it was that I continued to do this because the truth was she had become a dear friend to me. I loved our visits and was sad when a few weeks would pass and we hadn’t had a chance to share a cup of tea. Even our frequent two minute phone conversations allowed enough time to check in and wish each other well. Lisl never seemed to need very long to make sure things were okay. Even though there was a 50 year gap in our ages, I was continuously surprised how we could discuss subjects pertinent to my life and how her advice helped guide my actions. For example, a few years ago while discussing teenage relationships my 90-year-old friend brought up sex. She may have been over ninety, but having reared three children of her own, seen the growth of several grandchildren and dozens of great-grandchildren she had plenty of experience to share with me. Despite the age difference and the fact that she was from a  previous generation many of her suggestions were still very relevant and helpful.

She also provided counsel and guidance. There was another time I had used my husband’s car while he was out-of-town at a conference and gotten an expensive parking ticket. I was so irritated and mad at myself and knew my husband would probably be just as irritated. I shared my distress and unhappiness with Lisl and she said, “Linda dear, you don’t have to tell your husband absolutely everything. You are already upset about it. Just pay the ticket and forget about it.” I think it was more than two years until I actually came clean to my husband about the incident.

Befriending an older friend who offers wisdom and guidance offers incredible two-way benefits. I was as much the beneficiary of any visiting I did with my dear friend as she was with me.  I feel deeply saddened by the loss of this incredible friend who offered counsel, love, guidance and always made me feel special. I know I was not the only one who felt this way either. Lisl your memory will always be for a blessing and you will be deeply, deeply missed. Baruch Dayan HaEmet.