Crying and grief

Crying is a normal and natural response to grief, but sometimes people worry they are not crying enough or ask us ‘how can I stop crying’?

Tears are a natural expression of grief. But there is a wide variety in how much people cry after someone dies. Sometimes people worry about the amount they are crying, or want to manage their tears. Here we answer some of the most common questions and experiences.

Emotional tears in general have a function in helping you feel better. They can help relieve stress and release emotions.

Grief tears can be a bit different, because when someone dies it is some of the worst emotional pain that you go through. Just ‘having a good cry’ is not going to make the pain go away, although sometimes letting your feelings out can be a relief.

Tears contain stress hormones and other toxins, and crying can help let these out of the body. Scientists have found that grief tears are actually different to other tears and may even be more ‘sticky’. These sticky tears can be a signal to others that we need support.

Crying can be a way of connecting with others. Sharing tears can also help us bond with others who might be feeling the same loss, or just feeling sad because they care about us.

In the early days after someone dies many people feel numb. The loss doesn’t seem real. This is a normal and protective response to a huge emotional shock. Usually after a time the feelings come, and with them tears and crying.

Not everyone shows or lets out their feelings in the same way. A few people may not cry at all. But if not crying at all is because you are still not able to feel anything some time after someone dies, it may be time to ask for some help.

Firstly don’t worry. The amount you cry is not a reflection on how much you care about the person that died.

When you’re grieving it’s normal to switch between two ‘modes’. One where you focus on moving forward and coping the practical issues of life without the person that died, and one where you are thinking about and focussing on your loss. This second mode can often, but not always, involve crying.

Most people do find that tears come in time. Although you can’t force them it might help you to set aside some time to sit with your grief. Allow yourself to think about the person you have lost, and the memories you shared. You could also try visiting places that were meaningful to you, or sharing your memories with others that knew them.

Music can have a very direct link to our emotions, so you could try listening to something that was meaningful to them. Even if tears don’t come you will be honouring your emotional connection to them.

Crying is natural and normal so don’t worry about the amount you are crying.

Many people find the crying after someone dies to be overwhelming and may even be frightened by the strength of their emotions. But most people, in time, find that the amount they cry does reduce and become more manageable. They are able to think about the person who died and feel their emotions without being overcome.

It might help to keep a journal so that you can see that things are slowly changing over time. If after some months you are finding it very hard to cope with life, and the feelings are still as overwhelming, it might be time to seek help from Cruse or another organisation.

Crying is healthy and normal but there may be times when you would prefer to control or stop your tears, in public or at work. You could try the following.

Take deep breaths: Focus on your breathing and take slow, deep breaths. Inhale deeply through your nose, hold the breath for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth.

Find a private space: if possible, find a private area where you can gather your thoughts and allow yourself a moment to recover.

Distract yourself: Count backwards from 100, recite a poem or song lyrics in your head, or focus on your senses and what is around you.

Use cold water: Splash cold water on your face or hold a cold object, such as a chilled water bottle or a tissue soaked in cold water, against your skin.

If none of this works, don’t feel guilty or wrong for showing your emotions. We will all go through bereavement and difficult times in life. Most people will understand. If anyone reacts badly it’s probably because they are uncomfortable and don’t know how to help you.

If someone is crying the most helpful thing is just to be there for them. Let them know it’s okay to cry. Give them time. You could offer some gentle reassurance, such as ‘It’s OK’, ‘I’m here’ and ‘take your time.’

If appropriate you can hold their hand or offer a hug. A tissue or some water might also be welcome.

When they are ready to talk, they may want to talk about the person that died or share memories. Try and  focus on listening. You can’t take their pain away but you can be with them.

Remember that healing takes time: grief is a personal journey, and it takes time to heal. Avoid pressuring anyone to “move on” quickly.

Supporting someone through grief can be emotionally draining. Remember to take care of yourself too and seek support from others if needed.

Talk to us

We’re here to support you while you’re grieving. Find out the ways we can help.