How to cope with grief in a public place

What do we do when we find ourselves crying in church? – Is this a silly question? I don’t think it is.

how to cope with grief in public #caregiver #struggle #chronicillness #writer #hope #chronic #faith #watching #prayer

I like practical answers.

If something uncomfortable has to happen, I want to know how I can fix it (or, preferably, avoid it).

What do I do when I find myself crying? Is this a question that needs to be answered?

I think it is.


Because weeping in public is not a common occurrence in Western culture. We generally try to avoid it – and so when we weep in public it is because we are overcome with grief. Tears take us by surprise; we are unprepared.

And personally, I’d rather not be. So let’s think about it now, before we find ourselves in that situation.

What should we do when we find ourselves overcome with emotion in public place?

We learn humility in the face of grief

There’s nothing shameful about tears.

I’ve already written about this , but I repeat it because it is important. I think we have been tricked into believing that tears are a childish sign of weakness. They are not. But even if they are… who cares?

Only our human pride.

In the face of embarrassment, Humility keeps going.

Humility turns up to church week in and week out, while Pride hides away, afraid to be seen when he’s not in control.

Humility accepts that she is weak and broken and needs help; Pride chokes down her emotions and rejects offers of assistance.

Humility brought Jesus down to the cross – and humility can bring us to church on Sunday, and to the shops when our milk runs out. Humility helps us live out our authentic, broken selves – so let’s pray for it.

We remember tears are not a barometer of grief

Of course, there’s always the danger of going to the opposite extreme.

Of deciding that a conversation wasn’t deep enough if we aren’t moved to tears. Of declaring that we are not ‘feeling enough’ because we are not weeping.

And yet, it would do us good to remember that God – not salty water – is what diagnoses a cold heart.

Tears are part of life, but they are not judges of life.

Emotions are a by-product of reality, but that is all they are. They will come and go, so let’s not put more emphasis on them than they deserve.

Tears are not a barometer of grief – Tweet!

We choose to ignore our tears (but not our grief)

By this, I don’t mean our grief should be suppressed or discounted. I mean we need to go on living in spite of it.

When someone asks us how we are, tears are never an excuse in themselves not to answer. When our friend wants to discuss the diagnosis and we think we will cry – this is not a reason to change the topic.

We ignore tears when they stand in the way of authentic conversation.

We talk ‘heart talk’ around tears and in spite of them.

Why? Because sharing our hearts and bearing each-others’ burdens is more important. The command is “love your neighbour” not “thou shalt not cry”.

Grieving chronic illness in public is hard

If this all sounds a bit ‘raw’… it’s because it is. I have had much experience with tears and grief and church.

Tears are not fun.

They can be frustrating at best and debilitating at worse. I have been through periods when I have hated them intensely.

Through it all, I cling onto the fact that Jesus wept. He did not shun tears in community. He grieved over Lazarus, and he grieved in Gethsemane, and in doing so, sanctified grief for us.

I am forever grateful.

// Are you plagued by emotions? How do you deal with them in public?
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Author: Emily J. M.

Hi, I'm Emily. Two of my closest family members struggle with chronic illness, and I watch them. That's hard, and so I write about life as a 'Watcher', what it looks like to support them and find Hope.

4 thoughts on “How to cope with grief in a public place”

  1. In grieving Himself, Jesus sanctified grief in us. LOVE that!!!
    It is true that tears are not a barometer of grief. I am one who (unfortunately) is well acquainted with grief, and I can tell you that my tears didn’t always match what I felt inside. To a watching world, this can look confusing. Thank you for bringing this misconception into the light. And for putting into words what my heart feels. ❤️

    1. Naw Rachel, thank you for such a heart felt comment and sharing some of yourself. Grief is hard, and unpleasant but I am forever grateful that Jesus knew that too! And yes, I entirely agree with you.. tears are confusing! Sometimes I can’t even explain them, let alone expect others too!

  2. I cry much more than I would like to in public- and in front of strangers or people I’ve just met. I’ve even cried in front of my bosses out of grief in the past. I’ve learned that I have had to accept that grief is a never-ending part of my life and I will never know when it shows up. I’ve also learned that it makes the other people uncomfortable to so if you say something like “I’m sorry- I just had a failed fertility treatment”- the other person will be very willing to move on or give you a big hug and let you cry on them (which had happened before with coworkers and it was amazing).

    1. Hi Jenn! Thank you so much for sharing 🙂 That’s true, often honesty is the best way to love others in our grief (and ourselves!) but it is so hard being vulnerable. I admire your courage.

Thoughts? I'd love to hear from you, friend.