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May 4, 2020

Nothing. That’s certainly how I feel when it first hits, especially the death of a close friend or loved one. The desolation and loss seem unbearable, the environment around me lonesome and gray.

Additional factors, such as the COVID pandemic or the loss of a job, aggravate the condition. Still “time heals all wounds” the anonymous, mysterious “they” say. . .probably some prehistoric caveman. This statement makes no difference when you’re grieving, but later can make sense.

Still HOW you grieve, the steps you take, can make a difference. A friend of mine recently lost a grandchild. For months she isolated herself from the world. None of her friends knew what was wrong and spent a long time asking one another if they’d seen or heard from her. By the time they found out, it was too late to offer much in the way of any sympathy.

One of our society’s shortcomings, I believe, is that we lack rituals and observances to help us through bad times. Funerals are becoming smaller and less frequent, those thinking about death have strong opinions about not want fuss and formalities. Whereas a century ago, you might wear black or drape a black ribbon over your door, these customs are uncommon. In those distant times, your connections knew the routines. Send flowers or at least a sympathy card, bring a casserole to the bereaved’s house, inquire of family members after the death how they were doing, or mention that you, too, miss the deceased.

This doesn’t mean that grief is any easier for contemporary people to handle. I have a number of acquaintances who mention the lack of inquiries from their own circles, along with just how hurtful it is to have their loss ignored, as if the deceased never existed, never counted, never left a mark.

“I didn’t know what to say or do” is often the rejoinder. Sorry, I just don’t buy that. If friends matter, and to me they’re the only thing that does in the end, they deserve our acknowledgment of their pain and loss. Those actions may be even more important to grievers who isolate themselves or try to stiffen their upper lips until they’re paralyzed. Grief is an emotion we’ll all experience at some point. The only way to eventually become a whole functioning adult again is to go through it. Surely the only means to a kinder society is to be kinder ourselves.


Big girls don’t cry? Yes, they do if they want to get what they require, need, or must have. Go ahead–cry a river.


cryingYears ago when bicycles and buses were my family’s sole transportation, a car collided with me as I rode home. An ambulance was called and I and my bent bike transported to the emergency room. I didn’t have serious injuries, and my vehicle could be repaired; but what lingered in my mind was the reaction of the medical staff to my adversary.

You see, she worked at the hospital in the rape crisis center; and everyone knew her. She was crying at the shock and horror of the accident, and all their sympathy was directed at her, not me, the victim. As I struggled to stiffen my upper lip in stoic fashion, she wept, moaned, and was comforted.

This incident convinced me of what has become a guiding principle in my life. We gain no brownie points, compassion or support by showing self control in an emergency. Instead, we’re better off weeping openly. Frees up other people’s emotions to focus on us, loosens restrictions so they’ll help us, makes us the center of attention.

I try to convey this rule to friends and relations, but they seem to think I’m cracking a joke. No, indeed. It works. I told my sister to cry if she ran into problems transporting our swiftly declining father from back East to his home in the West. After tolerating neglect by airline staff across half the country, including periods of his incontinence and obvious inability to cope on their own, she broke down in tears. From this point on, cabin attendants scurried to help.

A friend told me the same response occurred when her niece misplaced her i.d. just before her flight. Toddler in tow, she cried buckets as she was barred from boarding. Perhaps the thought of dealing with a distraught three-year-old terrified the attendants, but they let the mom in.

Just last week a young relative of mine off to college in a strange city was supposed to make last minute financial arrangements. She waited until the day before the deadline, then tried to function electronically. The bank refused. She’d made too many transfers during the prior month, violating the rules. I told her my principle–Always cry—and asked if she’d tried that. Nope. But she got on the phone, connected with a human rather than a recorded message, and repeated her request, tears quivering in her voice. Sure enough, the bank representative took pity on her and transferred the funds.

I don’t know if the tactic works for men. I have a sneaking suspicion it does IF they make a manly effort to choke tears back. Work a jaw, allow eyes to water, permit a drop or two to escape. Think of Matt Damon in The Martian. This society doesn’t favor men who let buckets fall.

Why does crying work? Humans are wired to feel sympathy for others, given the right circumstances, particularly those who are smaller or weaker. Certainly this isn’t universal. Think of the hundreds, thousands of children beaten or killed each year, or the hordes of mobs in war zones who turn on others. But under certain conditions, crying arouses a protective response. It functions as a signal, especially to those close to us in actual distance or in relationship.

Crying provides other immediate benefits to the crier: releasing tension, flushing certain chemicals from the body, protecting vision, lowering blood pressure. .Certainly it’s a catharsis, an emotional relief.  You might say, “He who cries first, laugh last.” So don’t ‘cha feel like crying? Who’s crying now? Next time you need to get your own way, remember crying just may help you achieve your goal. Go ahead, cry me a river.