Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Tears Shed Is Pain Released

September 22, 2003

Brenda Houts of Detroit Lakes MN is an expert in something we would choose not to know much about - the rawest, the most bitter, the most deadening form of emotional pain - grief. She describes grief as a healthy human response to losses or changes.

Brenda is bubbly, personable, funny and an absolute delight to know. Yet there is a dark side to her. Unless you are full of courage and are prepared to learn of her world, you don’t want to know her. This is her story.

When I was 17 years old my dad died and I thought that was the worst I could ever hurt. And then in 1990 my oldest child, Javis, died from suicide just short of his 16th birthday and I realized there was a difference between losing your parent and losing your child.

My middle child, Caleb was in a drowning accident three years later at the age of 14. Caleb died at the river but they were able to bring his body back to life. Caleb was left in a persistent vegetative state, after two years we decided to remove all medication and to let Caleb's body go. Caleb's funeral was on his 16th birthday. Spending every day for two years watching Caleb's body slowly deteriorate, I realized that there are some things worse than dying.

And now this last spring - May 2002 - after already having two grief journeys to live with, my youngest and only remaining child, Zachary, died in a car accident. He was 17 years old. Each child in this world has its own style and personality, so each grief journey is different.

Grieving people share certain feelings. These feelings do not happen at the same time, in the same way. They are unique to the griever. Usually the first reaction is shock and denial. When you are given the information that your loved one has died, you can't believe that it is true, after all, "he was just here," "I just spoke on the phone to her."

You feel emotionally numb, you do what you need to do, the funeral arrangements, the burial, comforting people. This is when many people will say, ‘They are holding up well.’ But as days and months go by and shock starts to wear off, you run a gauntlet of emotions such as anger, guilt, blame, deep sadness - depression, loss of reason to move forward, and loneliness.

These emotions jump all over. Just recognizing these emotions and knowing they are normal is a start in the healing process. Sometimes the feelings are so overwhelming that you try to avoid them. If you choose to ignore them they will catch up with you, and you will crash.

Your tears, sadness, thinking about your loss or other expressions of grief are part of the grief journey. Denying or minimizing this pain only postpones the day you must face it.

Some of you might remember somebody you knew who was grieving and how they seemed to be doing so well, almost back to normal, and then you see them a short time later and they are crying and weeping. You wonder what is going on. It just means they probably tried to go around the emotions instead of going through them. It is very normal.

Mentally and physically you will experience changes including loss of appetite, insomnia/or too much sleep, lack of energy, breathlessness/sighing, and lack of concentration.

Long after your loss you may still find it hard to concentrate fully. It wasn’t until the start of the third year after each loss of my first two children that I started to be able to carry on a conversation without being distracted or losing my train of thought.

Grief with its many emotions and ups and downs, lasts far longer than society in general recognizes. There is no magical 6 months and you are better - or one year and you are done grieving.

In the years since my father has died, I still think of him on a very regular basis. Whenever something happens that brings to light the fact that I have no father to share with, I grieve for him. I might shed some tears or I might not, for the most part it is just a feeling of sadness over him not being here.

It has been over 12 years since Javis died, at least once a day the memory of him comes to mind, sometimes it brings tears, sometimes the memory brings a smile, but always there is a flash of sadness and then life goes on.

Crying is an acceptable and healthy expression of grief and releases built up tension. You will see people many years after the loss of a loved one, shedding tears at a Christmas event. This is very healthy. It doesn't mean they haven't gotten over their loved one; it just means they are remembering. Tears shed is pain released.

The Armor of Grief by Brenda Houts

Do you remember reading about the suit of armor that used to be worn into battle? I read some place that the suit alone weighed 100 lbs. and then they added the shield and sword.

Now you did not just decided to wear one of these suits, you worked towards it, each day as a young person the suit would be worn for awhile until finally you could go into battle and carry the weight and swing the sword.

I think grief is like that suit of armor. When you hear your loved one has died that suit of armor falls down onto your shoulders. You hold that shield in front of you and you brandish the sword around. You swing that sword trying to fight off the reality of your loss. You try to take action. Any flailing useless action. No! No! It can't be.

Then eventually you lay down the sword but you keep the shield in front of you, and whenever things hurt too much you hold that shield up to protect yourself. But as time goes by you can lay the shield down.

And you grow stronger, and you can stand up and walk for a long way with that suit of armor on sometimes you almost don't know it is there. This is because you have gotten strong enough to carry the weight.

You can stand up, hold your head up, put your shoulders back. Oh yes you are carrying the weight of grief not because you are done with the suit of armor but because you have renewed your strength and have become strong enough to live again.