The Privilege of Tears
The Privilege of Tears

The Privilege of Tears

Welcome back to Restorative Grief with Mandy Capehart. You are listening to episode 10, titled “The Privilege of Tears.” Today’s conversation includes an excerpt from my book, Restorative Grief. The book itself is a 31 day guidebook, interwoven with memoir, pop culture references, and quotes from individuals much wiser than I. This week has been a whirlwind in my own life, as we settle into the holidays and prepare for the end of 2021. And in moving through my week, I realized I was lacking margin. There was plenty in my life that I wanted to cry about, but recognized I had overcommitted myself, and felt unable to make the space to simply cry.

So when I finally realized how little space I had, I was able to call an audible. I decided to just start talking and to talk until the tears flowed. The release was everything. I didn’t even cry over what I expected. I had so clearly tucked my emotions away in exchange for stoicism and productivity. I think internally, my brain knew I needed to lock down the emotions to get through the work of the week, and that is such a heavy thing to consider. Being free to express ourselves is often a privilege we take for granted. So today’s conversation is going to incorporate a bit of the insight from some previous episodes and my book, in hopes that you, too, will recognize where you are lacking access to your emotions in the practical world and hopefully invite you into a little movement and freedom to express yourself as needed.

There are few essays at the back of my book on a variety of topics I’ve encountered in my work. This excerpt comes from chapter eight, titled “The Yet of Grief, Growth, and Healing.”

Instead of making dismissive comments like, “I don’t have time to cry,” what would it mean if you started to take up space for your process? Our lives are a whirlwind. On the best of days, we can focus on slowing down and rejecting the hurry. We can embrace a sauntering pace of love and invite peace into our present.

But even when we are not overwhelmed by the busyness of our days, it is rare to feel settled enough to cry. I’m writing about the privilege of setting boundaries, making time to mourn, and the freedom to embrace our grief. Humanity deserves equal access to loss accommodation. Even as I wrote the section above, my heart was heavy with the understanding that not everyone can safely implement and enforce an emotional boundary, let alone a physical one.

The privilege of crying is not something we talk about often, but then again, neither is grief. Have you ever scheduled a time to cry? How about taking a day off work simply because your loss is overtaking your focus? Maybe you’re a CEO traveling 35 hours a week, but you haven’t figured out how to feel comfortable sobbing on an airplane. Maybe you’re a single parent, and it’s easier to ignore your grief because the kids need your attention and a crying Daddy is not what you want to offer.

The privilege of grieving is also stigmatized. We are reminded almost daily to, “Get over it.” There is a pervasive undercurrent in culture that disenfranchises our losses because they are expected, natural, or anticipated (such as losing an elderly family member). How often do you feel the pressure to hide your sorrow to protect the “good vibes” of the others?

It is natural to minimize our pain for the sake of self-comfort or to put others first. We are not less important, but have an internal propensity to place our emotional selves in a hierarchy of need. It’s easy to say that a crying baby has more immediate needs than a grieving caregiver. While we can value putting the wellbeing of others first, we cannot do so at the sake of deepening our own wounds. Others do not deserve to grieve more than we do – comparing our losses to those who have “lost more” steals our self-awareness. We too are hurting. We too deserve to heal.

When others minimize our pain for their own benefit via platitudes, we push back. Discomfort is frequently seen as unacceptable, and because we are not used to holding ourselves as important, we submit to the cultural norm of grieving quickly and appearing “fine.”

But just because these are natural reactions in our culture does not mean we must continue to honor them. Disenfranchised, ambiguous grief is everywhere. Ambiguous losses, such as a friendship that fell apart or a missed opportunity, are painful! The longer we allow these losses to be minimized and dismissed, the longer we will naturally struggle to process death in all its forms. Loss is loss. But to validate the emotional pain of another means doing the same for ourselves. If we choose to embrace loss in our own story, then we are starting the process of doing the same for others. If we are in a position to offer grace to someone in their grief, then we as humans must do so.

Are we the grieving CEO with single parents in our employ? Then as we gain our own awareness, we will see the value in making space and bereavement pay a core value of our company.

Are we the grieving parent? Then as we take a few minutes each day to check in with our heart, mind, body, and soul, our children will learn the value of honoring themselves, no matter how they feel.

In faith traditions, there is great emphasis on embracing our weaknesses. In a culture that glorifies the “Strong Man,” the “Boss Woman,” and the “Overly Mature Child Prodigy,” we must work to reclaim the value of a tender heart. Having access to our emotional, intuitive side is not a weakness. Recognizing our shortcomings and inability to work 75 hours a week is wisdom. We gain strength through rest; by releasing our white-knuckle grips on life. And as we practice this release, we are living openhanded. This validates the revelations in loss that we cannot control this life or what happens to us.

We control our responses; our reactions and our beliefs. This is true strength — learning to bend and not break. Becoming flexible in our grasp on the physical life brings restoration to the innermost recesses of our spirit. We become internally indomitable where healing continues for a lifetime.

Learning to cry is another skill often left underdeveloped. The tender heart within us was created with a purpose! Tears are the body’s method of clearing away what needs to be released. While our body releases tears to keep our eyes healthy and as a reflex response to irritants like wind, emotional tears contain higher levels of stress hormones when they leave the body. They literally purge our bodies of toxins. Endorphins are released when we engage our emotions and cry, decreasing physical pain and allowing an expression of the soul when we cannot find the words to speak.

Even if we believe we have permission to cry, finding the capacity to do so is complicated. Understanding your “Window of Tolerance” (as discussed previously) is one way to observe your own mental space and determine if you need some room to breathe.

The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM) deals with clients experiencing trauma to help them cope with stressors and triggers. With each grief experience, our Window of Tolerance can narrow. Becoming aware of the stressors allows us to know when we have a greater capacity to process our tears. Essentially, when we are under duress, we can move into a place of hypoarousal or hyperarousal. Recognizing these states allows us to observe ourselves with the gift of nonjudgmental curiosity, which is a primary goal of restorative grief.

Hypoarousal is a state where we feel zoned out and disconnected from ourselves. A frozen numbness takes over our mental space and our capacity to process. Essentially, we shut down. Hyperarousal is the anxious, angry, reactive fight or flight response. Each of these is an innate self-protective response. They’re not good or bad; emotions are information. Like the rest of our emotions, these states of being inform us of what we’re encountering and provide a path to restoration as we carefully explore our stories with patience and compassion.

It is a great privilege to have the time to engage any of these concepts. While we may not have been raised to appreciate or value the emotional space in life, it is never too late to lean into vulnerability for our healing. However, it is a matter of access. The concept of vulnerability is becoming more and more prominent in our daily language, but not all people have an opportunity to learn how vulnerability can benefit the almost constant states of hyper or hypoarousal.

Grievers deserve to know their vulnerability will be championed and honored, but this only happens if we can champion and honor our own process first. No matter your role in life, you are worthy of healing. We may not all have experienced equal access to resources in our past, but as we lean into vulnerable conversations, despite the initial discomfort, we will invite others to do the same. We can create access for future generations by engaging our grief now. Whether our vulnerability is as visible as crying on a plane, or as intimate as confessing your sorrows to a friend, we are building atmospheres of grace where imperfections, tears, and growth are celebrated. We are creating literacy around grief and loss. We are creating a world where all are invited and welcome to heal.

Thank you for listening to episode 10 of Restorative Grief. When I first wanted to touch on privledge in relationship to grief, I froze. Privledge is a topic where I have a lot to learn as a straight, white, American woman of faith. And grief, being the great equalizer that it is, feels like a sacred space to explore the idea of what it means to bear witness to another’s grief and to use whatever privledge or access I have to expand those same points of access to others. My heart grows weary of platitudes and the BS of the bootstrap theory. If we truly reflect on our own lives and losses, I believe we will see a place where we’ve all clung to bootstrapping as a reality. When the truth is, anyone who says they lifted themselves alone is trying to sell you something.

I feel woefully inadequate quoting the majestic Maya Angelou, but let me try it anyway. She said, “As soon as healing takes place, go out and heal someone else.”

I have accessed privledge in this life that led me to a place of healing; it is my great honor to bring others into that space and share my privledge with others. May the very places of pain in your life overflow with healing into the lives of those around you.

Thanks for listening. I’ll see you next week.

Links + Resources from this episode: