In an instant, a friend of my dear friend Janine lost her 21-year-old son in a car accident. No warning. No preparation. These things we cannot explain away. They happen. He was a newlywed of 2 months. He and his young bride had yet to even receive their wedding photos from the photographer.
My thoughts went to the young bride. They went to the young man’s mother, his father, even his best friend. If I could sit at their feet right now and look into their eyes, what would I say? What are the most basic things I could say that would help them in the long run during their walk through the dark valley that lay before them?
I remember going to see my internist a couple of months after my husband died in a car crash. My heart rate and blood pressure had been all over the place. My sleep was nonexistent. He gave me specific and basic advice. “Cry. When you feel the urge arise, cry. Don’t push it down. Let it out. Now, you can’t emote everywhere you go-there will be times when you are out that you will need to hold it together. But when you can and where you can, go ahead and cry.”
Another doctor gave me basic advice. Fear jumped on me the first night after learning of my husband’s death. My heart beat raced and pounded in my chest so hard I thought it might burst through my chest. My blood pressure was erratic, both high and low, plus panic attacks, and even social anxiety disorder. I was petrified of going to get coffee, to church, and most of all - the grocery store.
One day while checking out in the grocery store where I had shopped for 25 years, I felt my heart pounding and all the blood dropping from my head. I feared I was going to pass out in the parking lot. (This was not the first time.) I called my mom explaining my situation to her. I said, “If I don’t call you in 5 minutes, come straight to Kroger.” After buying my own blood pressure cuff and experiencing this for way too long, I finally met with a cardiologist. After multiple tests and a month of wearing an external monitor that sent daily reports directly to the hospital, he sat me down for some real talk. He told me he lost someone tragically while in college. His body experienced everything mine was experiencing. He looked at me and gently said, “Jené, there is nothing wrong with your heart. It is strong and healthy. Here is what I want you to do. First, get rid of your blood pressure cuff. It feeds your fear, which in turn makes things worse for you. Cry when you need to. The next time you are out and this happens, keep your eyes straight ahead and tell yourself, ‘I will not pass out. I am fine. I am healthy. Press through it. Don’t give into the fear.’ “
In The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George tells a magnificent story of Monsieur Perdu, a Parisian bookseller who thinks of himself as a literary apothecary. From his floating bookshop on the river Seine, he prescribes books for the hardships of life. Prescribing the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he has not been able to heal is himself. He’s been grieving for twenty years over the loss of his lover. She abandoned him leaving only a letter behind-a letter he has yet to open.
In one small tender scene, Perdu checks on a neighbor who has recently been deserted by her husband. Noticing her reflection through the frosted glass window on her front door, he quietly knocks then addresses her through the door. Without ever opening it, she leans in and speaks through the frosted glass. He closely watches her reflection.
“I need to cry some more. I’ll drown if I don’t. Can you understand that?”
Monsieur Perdu responds, “Of course. Sometimes you’re swimming in unwept tears and you’ll go under if you store them up inside.” I’m at the bottom of the sea of tears. “I’ll bring you a book on tears then.”
So what is some basic advice I could share with this young bride, this mother, and this father who have just experienced tragic loss? What can I say that will help them in the long run during their walk through the dark valley that lay before them?
Cry some more.
Don’t swim in unwept tears or you’ll go under.
So cry some more.
Don’t apologize when you do cry.
Take deep breaths. Frequently.
Talk about him.
Take care of your grief – don’t put a Band-Aid on it. Treat the wound; take care of it.
Don’t put grief in a closet or sweep it under a rug to make your life look clean.
Don’t go back to business as usual too soon.
Lay down your stoicism.
Allow yourself to feel.
Even King David knew how to let out all of his tears. “I am weary with my groaning: all night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with tears. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows old because of all my enemies. Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity. For the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplications.” Psalm 6:6-9 NKJV
Crying does not mean you have lost your faith. You are simply human and hurting- you need God’s presence more than ever. He does not abandon you during this time, but sits beside you. He grieves with you. He feels your pain.
Your tears, your cries… they are your prayers.