I lost my son at the young age of 24. The sadness of child loss never goes away, and I thought the intensity would diminish over time. Instead it seems that, in some ways, coping with child loss is harder for me now than it was then.
Even though my son passed away a while ago, I sometimes shed tears as if it happened yesterday. Our Rabbis tell me that he’s happy, and I truly believe that he is. I know he’s happier now than when he was living in this world. But I still cry.
The Health Benefits of Crying Over Loss
Why do I feel better after a good, hard cry? Psychologists say it’s better to release tears than to keep sadness bottled up inside. For parents suffering from child loss, that’s certainly true. The post Holding in the Grief of Child Loss discusses why it’s beneficial to release feelings of sadness. There’s also another healthy benefit to tears. According to an article from Harvard Medical School:
‘…emotional tears, which flush stress hormones and other toxins out of our system, …offers health benefits. Researchers have established that crying releases oxytocin and endogenous opioids, also known as endorphins. These feel-good chemicals help ease both physical and emotional pain.’ ( https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/is-crying-good-for-you-2021030122020 )
No wonder I feel better after I cry. But why am I crying when I know my departed child is happy in the Next World? Is the purpose of my tears only to make me feel better after they’re shed?
The answer to the first question is that I cry because I’m human, and G-d knows that. I once said to my Rabbi that I felt maybe it’s not normal to cry over my son because I know he’s happy. Just the opposite, he replied. To refrain from crying would not be normal.
In essence though, I’m not crying for my child, but for me.
I cry because he’s not here to talk to me. I cry because I can’t go to his wedding. I cry because I can’t take joy in his children (my grandchildren!). I cry because I can’t share his future with him. Yes, I’m crying for me, and it seems selfish.
The answer to the second question, is there a purpose to my tears besides making me feel better, depends on where I’m directing my tears. Maybe my tears don’t have to be selfish tears.
The Effect of Tears in the Torah
The Torah talks about tears in several places. When introducing our matriarch Leah, the verse says:
‘Leah’s eyes were tender.’ ( Bereshis 29:17 )
What do ‘tender’ eyes mean? The great Torah commentator Rashi ( Rabbi Shalom ben Yitzchak, 1040-1105 ) explains that our matriarch Leah was the oldest of two daughters. Her aunt Rebecca had two sons, the older of whom, Esau, was an evildoer. Since people assumed the older daughter would marry the older son, Leah feared she would end up marrying Esau, and this greatly saddened her. So she cried a lot, praying she wouldn’t marry a wicked man.
Leah’s tears had an effect. The Midrash ( collection of the homiletic teachings of the Sages on the Torah) tells us that Leah’s prayers and tears reversed the Heavenly decree that she marry Esav. Instead, she married Esau’s younger brother, the righteous patriarch Jacob.
What’s amazing is that G-d also shows mercy to the tears of the wicked. When Esau learned that his father Issac gave the special blessings of the firstborn to his brother Jacob, the Torah says:
‘And Esau said to his father, “Is there but one blessing to you, Father? Bless me too Father!”, And Esau raised his voice and wept.’ ( Bereshis 27:38 )
G-d saw Esau’s tears and He inspired Issac to bestow blessings on Esau as well. Clearly, tears have an effect.
Every Tear is Counted and Stored in Heaven
In the book of Psalms, King David writes:
‘…place my tears in your flask. Are they not in your record…’ ( Psalms 56:9 )
From the Gemara:
‘…Rabbi Elazar said: Since the day the Temple was destroyed the gates of prayer are locked and prayer is not accepted…Yet, even though the gates of prayer are locked … the gates of tears are not locked, and one who cries before God may rest assured that his prayers will be answered, as it says: “Hear my prayer, G-d, and listen to my cry, don’t be silent to my tears” ‘ (Psalms 39:13).( Berachot 32b )
G-d sees our tears and He saves each one because when we suffer, He suffers along with us. Our Sages teach that G-d values heartfelt tears even more than prayer. He never ignores tears. Tears are incredibly powerful. Heartfelt tears shake up Heaven.
Tears and Happiness Are Connected
The Rambam, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, known as Maimonides, comments about the fast days commemorating tragic events in Jewish history:
‘With the Redemption, all these days of mourning will be transformed into days of rejoicing, into days of good Moed (holidays).’
There’s a profound connection between the the Hebrew word for tears, dimah, and the word for a holiday, moed. Each letter in a Hebrew word has a numerical value. This is known as Gematria. For example, the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet is 1. The second letter in the alphabet is 2, and so on. Sometimes, the word itself is included in the total value. When adding up the numerical value of the letters in a word, we find that different words sometimes share a connection by having the same numerical value.
Using this numerical method of analysis, we find that the value of dimah (tears) plus 1, equals the value of moed (holiday).
Crying for Others, Making Tears Count
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), known as the Alter Rebbe, says in the Tanya that the time for sadness over one’s spiritual state is when one is already sad over personal matters. It’s then easier to direct one’s sadness toward spirituality.
Similarly, when I’m crying about my own child loss, I can also think about people who are going through child loss or other personal tragedy. This makes it a lot easier for me to cry about the suffering of others. When I cry for myself, I’m now also crying for them.
My tears are no longer selfish tears, but tears that beg G-d to fix the world and eliminate sorrow for all His children.
Every tear is accounted for, and when the time is right, all sadness will be transformed to joy. No more suffering, no more child loss, no more physical or emotional pain. Tears of sadness will be tears of joy. A perfect world, just the way G-d planned it from the beginning.
May it be soon.