[Editor’s Note: This is the fourth and final in a series of articles leading up to our annual Hope for the Holidays service. We invite you to be a part of this special and memorable occasion on Thursday, November 21 at 7:00 p.m. in Arborlawn's Sanctuary.]
By Deb Sewell
As we approach this year’s Hope for the Holidays service on Thursday, November 21, we have addressed some of the common questions related to grief recovery in the weekly editions of The Vine.
"How long will it take to recover from grief” was one of the questions discussed a few weeks ago. Coincidentally, the following week we were reading in The Story about the death of Aaron and the mourning that followed.
In Numbers 20:29 we read: “When the people realized that Aaron had died, all Israel mourned for him for thirty days.”
Think about this: For THIRTY days approximately 600,000 people stopped everything to mourn the death of Aaron. Various versions read “they wailed,” “they lamented,” “they wept,” "they cried out.” For THIRTY days the entire community stopped everything as they sought restoration and healing for their loss, in community.
Thirty days of mourning is still very common in Third World countries, with grief expressed publicly. Withholding your tears and grief is seen as rude; open displays of grief are expected even from men and young children. Everyone is taught and encouraged to cry together from a very early age.
On the other hand, here in the West, we typically prefer our grief, weeping, and mourning to be tidy, neat, and out of sight (especially from our children). Secondly, we hope to be back in the swing of normalcy in a couple of weeks: kids back to school, adults back to work. With the death of an immediate family member, the unspoken or spoken expectation is to return to employment within the first month. Yet, during that first month, there is often little time for mourning, due to the handling of the legal aspects surrounding the death. As a result, many who are still grieving return to work, holding it together until they once again return home at the end of the workday, physically and emotionally spent. Parents grieving the loss of a child or the loss of their own parent usually have other children needing care. These responsibilities reduce the time or opportunity needed to grieve adequately, particularly if the adult is hiding emotions of sadness and loss from children or other family members. As a result, we appear to have become a nation of "part-time" grievers - or grief-postponed, grief-replaced, or grief-minimized - waiting for restoration of our lives, our spirits.
That being said, I shouldn’t be surprised to hear the same questions asked again this year as we approach Hope for the Holidays:
“Will there be public mourning or crying at the Hope for the Holidays service?” “Will I have to cry in public?” “I prefer to cry in private and am not very comfortable around others who cry publicly." “I was reared that it is improper to cry in public.” “I’m afraid if I come to the service, I’ll start crying. And if I start, I’ll never stop.”
Do we know why we in the West are so afraid of our tears? Intuitively all of us know that we feel better after a good cry. And, we DO stop. It may take awhile, but we do stop crying. And, after a good cry, it is so much easier to find a laugh that has been dormant deep inside longing to find its way to the surface. There is a big sense of release.
According the Center for Grief Recovery, tears have a biological release: tears release endorphins; tears elevate the mood; tears function as pain relievers; tears release tension; tears release physical distress.
Tears are honest. Tears take over when our words fail. Tears break down walls.
I heard an interview on a popular morning news show interviewing first graders on the heels of 9-11. The topic was tears. One little boy said that he let himself cry when he needed to because he figured out his tears actually started in his tummy - somewhere around his heart - and then moved up through his throat. And he had to let them out because, if he didn’t, his throat and face hurt and then he got a stomach ache. So, he said it’s just easier to cry and let it just come out of your eyes and get it over with.
Though humorous, this is wisdom from the mouth of a babe. How many times when swallowing back tears, do you find your throat gets tight and tense, with more tension moving into your shoulders and neck, into your jaws and then a headache starts?
“…all of Israel mourned for him for thirty days.”
Yes, there will be tears at Hope for the Holidays. Usually very quietly, and you may hear some sniffling. And, it’s okay. When you think about it, there should be no safer place for tears than in a church sanctuary, under the cross of the One who said He came to care for the broken hearted and give us beauty for ashes and joy for our mourning. Or, as the wise 1st grade boy said, “When you need to, just cry, go ahead and get it over with.” And, yes, the tears will stop; but God never stops collecting each one as they fall.
# # #