Like many of you I recently watched TV host Jimmy Kimmel speak about his newborn son’s heart defect. I was struck by how moved many people were to see a public figure – especially a white male comedian – weep so openly on television.
Why is this kind of public grief such a rare occurrence? And why do so many of us weep privately and silently if we weep at all?
Silent tears are costly. They load up the body with incredible tension. Throat muscles constrict. The face contorts. The belly clenches. And breathing narrows to a tight, tiny stream.
That constriction and pain is echoed in our emotional bodies as well. When our tears are never fully released, they fester in our hearts. Unexpressed grief makes us ill both as individuals and as a society. We become numb, hard-hearted, and sometimes cruel. When we strangle our tears, we also strangle aspects of our compassion and empathy.
The habit of silent crying starts early in life for most of us. We come to it by way of threats, bullying, teasing, and often, physical violence. The sound of weeping is a trigger for those who have had their own tears suppressed. It awakens deep pain and calls it forth for healing. When we aren’t open to that healing, the natural response is to make the sound stop.
Many years ago I was blessed to participate in a community of people who cried aloud. The first time I witnessed a person letting loose with wails and sobs, I was both attracted and repelled by the sound. I was deeply moved to hear the song of a human heart untrammeled in grief.
I eventually found my way to such tears myself. By listening to my own tear-song I often discovered what was healing in me through that weeping. Sometimes the voice I heard was young, sometimes whiny, sometimes fierce and strong as a thunderstorm. As I became more acquainted with my own loud crying, I learned to listen more closely and compassionately to that other others.
I witness people weeping in many different aspects of my work. Voice clients are often moved to tears when they open up their voices. Sometimes those tears express grief about their lost connection to their voice. Just as often they are tears of joy at expressing something true after a long silence. As a retreat facilitator, I see tears of relief at being seen and welcomed into community. And in my little comfort choir, I am present for tears at the end of life – that strange mix of deep loss, reconciliation, pain, and joy that often accompanies a person’s last days.
Last year as I was beginning to teach my Full Voice Coach Certification course, I offered a number of ground rules for our learning community. I encouraged participants to give voice to their tears if and when they arose. There were many beautiful loud tears in our nine-month journey together – and sometime along the way, we dubbed this practice “The Church of Loud Crying.”
Come on in, friends. There is a place for you in the Church of Loud Crying.