Cope with tears that accompany unbearable loss
After my mother died, I spent a good amount of time crying without restraint. It took me almost six months to realize that I could have "crying sessions" to help me cope with tears that seemed uncontrollable.
To learn all about crying sessions and what to expect during one, check out this article.
Crying sessions helped me create a metaphor for the unspeakable and unbearable and have become an indispensable tool in my grieving journey and afford me a sense of safety and control in life which will always include death, heartbreak, and uncertainty.
This is not another feel-good article that is full of fluff and platitudes delivering minimal results. The grieving process is not easy… but coping with uncontrollable tears by creating deliberate time and space to immerse yourself in crying will help you feel more in control in a situation that feels insurmountable.
Your grief will be unique to you and I don’t claim that this will be one-size-fits-all.
My hope in this article is to provide you with practical resources that will empower you to move through this profound heartbreak and excruciating pain that has found you.
There are three main parts to having a crying session which I will walk you through in detail in this section.
Part 1: Preparation
Decide the logistics of your crying sessions. For example, how often are you going to schedule a session, and for how long? You might decide to have a crying session once a week for an hour or every day for 15 minutes.
Of course, in the beginning, the tears will be spontaneous, and you can use the steps here whenever they arrive. As you set aside time to consciously cry, you will notice that the tears will become more manageable.
Sometimes, we don’t have the luxury of choosing where tears come. I remember an avalanche of tears ambushing me on a busy street in NY on a warm Saturday. I quickly jumped into a new age store and dissolved behind a statue of Buddha.
There I was with a wet face, smudged mascara, and a whole lot of shame and embarrassment as I tried to swallow the tears.
In case this happens to you, here are some quick tips to help you manage the tears until can get to a safe space.
Tips to manage crying in Public
- Always carry Kleenex and tissue with you
- Focus on taking slow, deep breaths
- Blink your eyes
- Try to relax your jaw and facial muscles
- Bring your awareness to your feet to center you
- Recall something repetitious like a prayer, a poem, or a song
- Sip some water or yawn to help the lump in your throat go away
2. Creating Sacred Space
Prepare a space that feels safe for you in your house. It could be your bedroom, living room, or any other space where you feel you can cry without feeling self-conscious. You can choose to have a picture of your loved one in the space, or some other sacred objects that represent your loss. You can also choose to light a candle, use some sage or incense to clear the room and make the space feel sacred.
If you don’t have a private space because of roommates or thin walls, for example, you can always cry in the shower with hot water flowing.
Things you will need:
- Keep comfortable clothes like sweats that can allow you free movement and comfort in a place that is easily accessible to you.
- Keep a box of Kleenex handy as you will need it. It might also be helpful to get some lozenges or teas like peppermint tea to soothe your throat at the end and some water so that you don’t get dehydrated.
3. Grief Inducing Technique
In the beginning, you probably don’t need to induce tears because they will most likely be on the surface, but over time, as you have more crying sessions, if you need some help, try using a sad song, a picture, or a memory to induce grief.
4. Dosing Technique
To turn down the volume of your grief if it feels too overwhelming in a crying session, use the 4–7–8 breathing technique developed by Dr. Weil who describes it as a “tranquilizer for the nervous system”.
4–7–8 breathing technique
- With your mouth closed, inhale through your nose for a count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth for a count of eight.
- This completes one cycle. Repeat for three more cycles or until you feel centered.
If this feels too difficult, try a 4–4–4 pattern instead.
If there is a specific smell, sound, or object that soothes you and instantly calms you like the smell of lavender, a picture, a blanket — have that easily accessible to you. Everyone responds differently to sensory input so experiment and see what works for you.
Here is a playlist I created to help soothe you during the session, but feel free to modify or create one that works for you.
Part 2: The Crying Session
When you feel the tears coming or are ready for a crying session, use the steps below to give your tears a container so that you feel safe.
“We must turn towards our experience and touch it with the softest hands possible.” — Francis Weller
1. Change into comfortable clothes, light a candle, and take out any sacred object you want to use. You can also set an intention for the session which can be as simple as “I intend to be open to whatever comes knowing that I am safe and held”. You can also do an invocation depending on your beliefs. e.g., invoke your ancestors, God, nature, etc.
2. Go to your safe space and allow yourself to surrender to the tears knowing that crying is a normal reaction to the enormity of your loss. Use a grief-inducing technique or this playlist if you need to stimulate the tears.
3. Self-soothe by using this playlist to hold you throughout the process and by wrapping yourself in a blanket, holding any object like a teddy bear, a pillow, lying in a loved one’s arms if there is someone around who you trust.
4. Allow sounds: Wail and sob loudly if you need to. Allow the level of intensity you are feeling to be expressed vocally. Scream if you need to. Cuss. Go guttural. Acknowledge all as they arise and let the pain speak through your lips. Don’t hold back.
5. Allow yourself to move: Crying is a whole-body experience. Embrace whatever movements want to come through. Let your body move how it needs to move. Let it thrash around like a fish flopping. Let it curl into a fetal position. Let your fists pound the floor, the bed, anything. Allow your pain to speak through your body.
6. If you get overwhelmed at any point and feel like you cannot catch your breath, use the following grounding techniques to center you and contain the big emotions.
- Bring yourself back into the present moment by identifying 5 things you can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel.
- Bring your awareness to your feet.
- Use the 4–7–8 breathing technique
7. Cry until your body naturally begins to slow down. Stop and drink water if you need to, wipe your nose, or just catch your breath. Remember that you cannot cry forever, and your body will naturally turn off when it is ready. Try not to cut yourself off. It takes as long as it takes.
8. Close the crying session by simply blowing out the candle if you had one or thanking any forces that came to support you on this journey.
Part 3: Reset and Reflect
Tears spontaneously release us to the possibility of realignment, reunion, catharsis… It’s as though each one of our tears carries a microcosm of the collective human experience, like one drop of an ocean.” — Rose-Lynn Fisher
When you feel complete, you can do the following to help you reset and reflect.
- Take a warm bath or shower to help you relax and soothe the puffiness of your face and clear your sinuses.
- Drink water to hydrate.
- If you have a tension headache, try using an ice pack or massage your forehead. If the pain persists or is too intense, try taking an over-the-counter pain reliever.
- Drink something warm and soothing like peppermint tea to soothe a sore throat.
- Take a moment to write/journal about the experience and any insights that you had.
- Make a drawing or painting, write a poem, a song, doodle, or any other creative process that can represent the experience. When we do this, we take the chaos of grief and shape it into something in the world, no longer trapped in the body.
- Keep a diary of your crying episodes to track the triggers, length, emotions you felt, what soothed you, and any images or memories that came up.
Repeat whenever you feel the urge. And in the first days, weeks, and months after a loss, it might be daily and that is ok.
Over time and crying sessions, you will find your rhythm and begin to feel more stable, empowered, and in control.