Crying is both a physiological and psychological response to your emotions. It is often triggered by intense feelings such as sadness, worries, rage, happiness or euphoria. Losing someone you loved is one of the most painful experiences you will go through.
Is crying normal?
If you find yourself crying every day after a death, you are normal; if you do not cry every day after a death, you are normal too. Why? Because we grieve differently. For some people, they express their grief through tears, and for others, they communicate their pain and sorrow through silence, rituals, self-reflection, and actions.
Crying is one of the authentic and courageous ways to communicate your thoughts, feelings and longing for your loved one when you are lost for words. For many, the tears are both catharsis and therapeutic. They help the bereaved express their acute and painful emotions, providing comfort and support to the grieving.
Is crying part of grieving?
Grieving is a complex reaction to loss, which involves physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual elements. It is an ongoing process of oscillation, adjustment, and adaptation. Crying can be a part of grieving, but not everyone cries when they grieve.
There are a few factors that influence whether people cry when they grieve. Some people find crying easy and natural due to their personality and temperament. They are more in tune with their feelings and are comfortable expressing their grief through crying.
Others may find crying unnatural, challenging or even intimidating. This could be due to personal beliefs and perceptions of crying (e.g., crying is weak and useless), cultural and family conditioning (e.g., crying is discouraged or prohibited), or a deliberate attempt to repress emotions.
We need to be careful not to put people into boxes or judge how one should grieve. For example, if crying is part of your grieving, let the tears flow freely. But if crying is not how you predominantly express your pain and sorrow, you should not be made to feel guilty about not crying. We all need to feel safe and respected to express our grief.
What is the difference between mourning and crying?
Mourning is an expression of sadness or sorrow, often responding to grieving over a death. Mourning may or may not involve crying, which is to shed tears. The tears can result from a wide range of intense emotions, such as sadness and euphoria.
Is crying good for you when grieving?
Studies suggest that crying, particularly emotional crying in grieving, can serve a few positive benefits, which the TEAR acronym can summarise.
T – Tell A Story
Your tears matter because it tells a story. It might be a story of how you and your loved one met, a tale of friendship, family connections, romance, intimacy, and interpersonal relationships, which are often intertwined with love, fight, joy, sorrow, excitement, disappointment, gratitude and grief. The tears help you paint a picture that no words can describe and allow you to remember and celebrate the legacy of your loved one.
E = Express Feelings and Thoughts
Crying in response to grieving help to express a wide range of feelings and thoughts. For example, “I am hurting”, “I have lost someone special”, “I am struggling with something excruciating painful”, and “I feel sad/angry/helpless.” Your tears will let others know that you are going through a tough time, and there is no shame in saying, “I am not OK, and I need help now.”
A = Activate Support
Crying can trigger empathy and compassion in others and thus, activate support for the bereaved. It also facilitates social bonding and human connection, which are critical in providing comfort and care, and reducing distress.
R = Release Pain and Sorrow
Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist and psychologist, theorised that crying could be a form of self-soothing behaviour to manage distressing events. The release of oxytocin and endogenous opioids, or endorphins, can sedate, reduce pain, and restore emotional equilibrium. But more research is needed in this area.
How long does it take to stop crying after a death?
Crying is a normal and healthy way to express your grief. Therefore, there is no timeline of when you should stop crying after a death because we grieve differently. Some people cry every day for a long time to communicate their sadness and yearning for their loved ones; other people stop crying after the funeral.
The key is that you can cry for as long as you need to process your pain, adjust to living without your loved one, and rebuild a life that looks after your wellbeing and honours the deceased.
Sometimes your tears can invoke uncomfortable thoughts and feelings for others, especially if the tears are perceived as signs of weakness, immaturity, not coping or pathology that need to be fixed. Beware of how your cultural conditioning, family and societal expectations can shape and influence how long you should stop crying after a death.
Moreover, you can ask yourself, “Why do I cry?” and “Why do I want to stop crying?” Let your tears out if you cry mindfully and intentionally in response to the TEAR acronym. But if you deliberately hold back your tears even if you are hurting because you do not want to upset people or due to cultural expectations, you can either challenge the perceptions, be true to yourself or find other ways to express your TEAR.
However, suppose you have been crying persistently, hysterically and uncontrollably to the extent that it interferes and disrupts your health and wellbeing. In that case, you may want to seek professional help from a grief counsellor.
Your tears are precious and powerful. As Washington Irving said, “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness but power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”