When Will I Stop Crying?

Her husband had died a few months ago. While visiting in their home, his widow told me about the ways her life had changed, and the ways it had begun to settle down. Then she asked me this question:

“When will I stop crying?”

For a moment, I wanted to reassure her that all this would pass. I wanted to say, “Time heals all wounds.” “He is in a better place now.” The desire to comfort someone by drying their tears and taking them away is strong.

Instead, we talked about her husband. We spoke about when they met, when he asked her to marry him, where they lived and how many children they have.

She told me about some of the things that fall into place as a couple – which one was the accountant, which one cooked, and who planned their vacations. In short, I began to learn the answers to the question, “Who was this man?” She told me about their lives together. I found myself laughing many times, and wiping away my own tears. The love they had for each other and their family was a presence in the room. It surrounded us and brought her comfort and joy, as well as tears.

I asked if she thought she would ever stop loving him. Her answer was a whispered, “No.”

Then, I said, “You will never stop crying. Your crying however will change.”

We spoke about tears being one of many reactions we experience when grieving the loss of a loved one. Sometimes though, our grief is complicated by unspoken family rules. The message may be, “Tears are a sign of weakness. Stop crying and be strong.”

Or, we may use tears to measure our grief and our progress. It’s easy to think, “When I stop crying, my grief will be healed.” “I haven’t cried in two weeks, so I must be better now.” I often hear, “The other day I started crying in the grocery store and I had to run to my car … I thought I was over this.”

There is no easy way to answer the question, “When will I stop crying? If you are like most of us, you will never stop crying completely. You will go through the pain and sorrow and all the reactions that come emotionally, physically, spiritually, and psychologically, as you mourn the loss. But you can help yourself through this journey.

Find those who will listen to the story of your life with your loved one. Embrace all the grief reactions. One day they may be strong. The next, they may be gone, then return two weeks later. The work of grief and mourning is learning to understand that the relationship to your loved one will change from one of a tangible focus to one of the heart. Taking time for this journey is important. Let those around you know that the tears may flow freely one day, and stop completely another.

There are no grief police who can write you a ticket if you start crying six months later, or even two years later. No passing grade will be given if your grief bursts only happen in private, not in the parking lot at the cleaners. The goal is to find comfort, peace and at times, joy through this time of mourning. With time, both the reactions and the tears soften.

At my next visit, she told me she had informed her family that she would most likely cry every day for some time, but she was not sure how long. She invited them to cry with her, to look for the comfort and peace the tears brought, and to remember him with joy.

By Valerie Sanchez, LCSW, CT, – Director of Bereavement

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