(Newsletter ~ March/April 2003)
A few months after losing Samuel, I was told by a dear friend not to be embarrassed by my occasional tears. She’d read tears contained healing chemicals. That began my two-year search for evidence of this fascinating information. Later a hospital chaplain loaned me the “Care note” (by Abbey Press) about tears by Mildred Tengborn, which mentioned an article in Psychology Today, which I finally located at the library. It’s amazing how we are created! All tears moisten the eye, protect it from infection and wash away irritants. Whether caused by chopping onions or saying farewell to a precious Loved One, all tears would appear to be the same, but scientists have found emotional tears have special value.
Most people report that after a good cry they feel better. Scientists have found emotional tears release chemicals which stress has accumulated in our bodies. Biochemist William Frey explains our lacrimal gland, which regulates tear secretion, concentrates manganese, a necessary mineral involved with our moods, and tears remove this concentrated mineral from our body. The concentration of manganese is 30 times greater in tears than in blood serum. Emotional tears contain 24% more protein than irritant (onion slicing) tears.
All tears contain 3 chemicals released by the body during stress. They are: 1) leucine-enkephalin ~ an endorphin believed to modulate pain sensation 2) ACTH ~ a hormone considered to be the body’s most reliable indicator of stress 3) prolactin ~ the hormone which regulates milk production in mammals. Women tend to cry more frequently (studies found 4 times more often) than men. This may be due to the fact that women have 60% more prolactin than men. Knowing this, let us be more understanding and realistic about the response of others to loss. Mom, don’t demand your husband use as many tissues as you need. Dad, it’s hard to sit by a person who seems to cry continually, but remember tears will decrease with healing. American men have been taught that tears were a sign of weakness. Instead, they signify strength. Tears testify of our love. If we didn’t love deeply, we’d not hurt so deeply. Tears originating from love promote healing.
Tears can make you aware of problems you need to deal with. If you cry excessively after loss, it’s good to ask what activates your tears. Is it anger? Who or what causes the anger? Is it fear, exhaustion, depression, helplessness, or guilt that starts you crying. Are you getting adequate rest? Are you attempting to do more than you’re capable of? Remember: working through grief is the hardest work you’ll ever do, so be realistic about the demands you place upon yourself during grief. Quite simply, you’re not capable of working long hours or producing as much as you did before adding grief to your daily load. Are you eating properly, or just snacking on foods, which do not provide your body with proper nourishment? Maybe junk food sustained your energy levels before loss but you need a balanced diet to survive working through grief. Is part of your depression caused by seclusion? Finding a support group or caring friends may help alleviate your depression.
There are times when tears make things worse. Co-workers, bosses, some family members and others may have zero-tolerance for your tears. Knowing this can add to your stress, but if you plan times for your tears, the pent-up emotions will be released into healthy tears, making you less apt to spill them out in front of those who are least sympathetic. Some find crying in the shower a great release; others plan a block of time to be alone or with sympathetic people for purposeful grieving. Journaling–writing your thoughts in a personal notebook–may be one of the healthiest keys to releasing your storehouse of emotions. Putting events down on paper to open floodgates–healthy floodgates. At a later date when you read through your journal you’ll find further healing, for remembrance of our tears helps us see how much healing we’ve experienced.
Studies have shown healthy people tend to cry and have a more positive attitude towards tears than those who suffer from ulcers or colitis, two conditions considered to be stress related. If you’re one who is unable to shed tears due to the way you were raised, plan to spend time alone with special items of your child, recalling how deep your love was, or look through a picture album or visit the cemetery. Hopefully, you’ll find tears are a healing balm for your broken heart.
One further fascinating aspect of God’s tender care when He created us is that even people who have “dry eye syndrome” (which is caused when the lacrimal gland does not secrete enough tears to lubricate the eyes adequately) may lose other tearing functions of the eyes, but the very last function to be lost is the ability to shed emotional tears. God knew that all through life there would be times when we’d need to relieve pent-up stress by shedding tears prompted by our emotions.
II Corinthians 1:3,4 in which God is referred to as “the God of all comfort” is the theme verse of our paper. The word “comfort” in the original Greek language means ” a calling alongside.” Our English word for comfort comes from two Latin words which mean “to strengthen.” Thank God He truly is a God of Comfort–He comes alongside of us and strengthens us. He’s touched with our sorrow and grief; He feels our pain and strengthens us. His presence and strength assure us that healing and joy will come.