Don’t dry those tears

I remember when I started my Narrative Therapy therapy training and we talked about “tears” as a language all their own, a way to communicate that can be so vast, so complex. That tears can be something to linger in, to focus on. That rather than making assumptions about why someone is crying and trying to “dry up those tears”, we can look at the tears as we would look at a spoken word. We talked about asking people when crying in a counselling session, “what are those tears about?” What are those tears saying?

Babies use crying as their first form of communication. We expect babies to cry. Yet we don’t like it and often we feel stressed by their tears. When our children are hurt we quite rightly want to make them better. But it is not the tears that need to be taken away. It’s the problem, fear, worry, or hurt that has started them off. The tears are just a way of telling about these things. As we get older tears become expressions of many things but often we seem to want to get rid of them.

This was a very interesting idea to me, that tears are something to dive into, to explore, not something to try and hide or pity, or be uncomfortable about.  That tears could be just as important in a conversation as words are.

Sometimes when another person cries there is an overwhelming desire to make them stop, to stop the hurt we presume is there. Or maybe sometimes we just don’t want to deal with the other person’s emotions, it may be too much for us. When we are little and we hurt emotionally or physically we cry and someone, often our Mother, tells us “there there, don’t cry, it will be alright”.

We seem to associate tears firstly with sadness, but we also know they can speak of great joy, of laughter, anger, frustration, stress, fear, of love and of loss. We try to control our tears, to not cry in certain situations, or wonder why we can’t cry when we feel we should. We tell little boys not to cry, that men don’t cry, yet we know this not to be true. We somehow associate tears with weakness, with an inability to cope, rather than what they are – part of the way human beings communicate our amazing array of emotions. Children can be cruel and tease calling other children “cry babies” as if it is something to be scorned.

Some of us cry more easily than others. I am a crier and have been known to cry at an obviously devicive advert on television – you know the ones with Mum’s smelling their babies hair while they cuddle the packet of nappies and all that heartbreaking music…. I am also one who cries when I hear a song that pulls at my emotions, in film, books and any other experience that connects to emotions.

For example, if I hear “100 years”  by Five For Fighting, I am toast.

Here are the words and the song below:

I’m fifteen for a moment
Caught in between ten and twenty
And I’m just dreaming
Counting the ways to where you are
I’m twenty two for a moment
She feels better than ever
And we’re on fire
Making our way back from Mars
Fifteen there’s still time for you
Time to buy and time to lose
Fifteen, there’s never a wish better than this
When you only got hundred years to live
I’m thirty three for a moment
Still the man, but you see I’m of age
A kid on the way
A family on my mind
I’m forty five for a moment
The sea is high
And I’m heading into a crisis
Chasing the years of my life
Fifteen there’s still time for you
Time to buy, time to lose yourself
Within a morning star
Fifteen I’m all right with you
Fifteen, there’s never a wish better than this
When you only got hundred years to live
Half time goes by
Suddenly you’re wise
Another blink of an eye
Sixty seven is gone
The sun is getting high
We’re moving on
I’m ninety nine for a moment
Dying for just another moment
And I’m just dreaming
Counting the ways to where you are
Fifteen there’s still time for you
Twenty two I feel her too
Thirty three you’re on your way
Every day’s a new day
Fifteen there’s still time for you
Time to buy and time to choose
Hey fifteen, there’s never a wish better than this
When you only got hundred years to live

So if you like me, can tap into emotions just by seeing a couple kiss in the street, by watching a corny movie, hearing a song – you will understand why the lyrics above (coupled with a stunning vocal) get me every time.

Just stop for a moment and think about all the moments in your life – major and fleeting ones – where tears were present.

If I think about just some of mine it is incredible how often tears were there with me. There’s the big moments, like when my Great Aunt Lucy died. She used to give me a beautiful little china animal each time I saw her from her cabinet which was magical to me. I was just little, maybe 7 or less and I hid under the kitchen table when Mum told me. I remember at such a young age feeling such grief. Or when I got diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 12 and I was scared and somehow I knew the loss this was and what this would mean for my life. When I fell in love countless times as a teenager and young woman, but it didn’t last, or they didn’t love me enough……or I just didn’t love myself enough.

All of those hilarious moments with my girlfriends, boyfriends, family and children over the years where we laughed and laughed until we cried. Like the time my son and I were buying a wedding present and decided maybe a PEZ machine would be good! So we ended up remembering the Seinfeld PEZ episode (if you have seen it you are with me here) and then saw a gumball machine and decided to get that as a wedding present. Tears were flowing in the lolly aisle at K-Mart that day I can tell you!.

Or the really big moments of joy such as when I got married and I was so anxious I could hardly get into the Limo my Sister had hired for me but when I saw my husband the tears of anxiety turned into tears of joy. When my 3 beautiful babies were born and there were tears of fear and the biggest tears of the greatest joy I have ever felt in my life.  When my children tell me stories about their day, or do something incredible (which can be a tiny thing but to me is incredible), as they grow up at each and every stage.

Or the tears that spoke of darkness when I suffered with depression and the tears became outward signs of the black hole I had fallen into and a way to try and tell people how lost I was……

And finally those deepest moments of grief where tears say so many things all at once, such as when I lost my father-in-law to cancer, my gandfather to dementia, my mother-in-law to motor neurone disease and just this week, one of my best friends at just 38 – I cried so much when she passed away that day, I thought the tears had passed and would not return when they were “expected”. But of course they came back at all the “right” moments – those being the ones that were right for me to tell of my deep sorrow and of my joyful memories of her life. Isn’t it amazing how tears and laughter can happen at exactly the same time and both be associated with sorrow and grief?

As a Social Worker I have witnessed so many tears of so many people. I don’t think a person with diabetes ever leaves a counselling session for the first time, without the need for tissues. Often this is a release. They have been holding on to their worries, fears, anxieties, guilt and lack of understanding from other people for so long, that when they get the chance to let all of these things tumble out, the emotions come too and with this comes the tears. These tears are good tears. They are the kind of tears that do let me ask “what are those tears saying” and help us to join together to look at ways to move through problems and painful feelings and thoughts. I feel very honoured to be able to share in these tears.

Next time someone sheds a tear, don’t try to make them stop, don’t assume you know what these tears are about. And certainly don’t try to pretend the tears are not there. “Be a man” – and have a good cry with them. Next time you feel tears on their way, stop and tune into what they are saying in your life. It may be nothing other than the physical outlet for a tiring day, a good laugh or a small frustration. They may be the words for a deep emotion you are feeling such as joy or loss. Whatever they are saying, embrace them in all of their salty wet glory.

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief…and unspeakable love.” Washington Irving.


  1. warondiabetes on March 6, 2012 at 9:01 pm


    • Helen Edwards on March 7, 2012 at 7:49 am

      thanks you! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂