As published in
In Praise of Tears of Joy
Tears are often the telescope by which men see far into heaven.
- Henry Ward Beecher
Did anyone ever tell you: Big boys/girls don't cry? Were you ever ashamed to show your feelings in public? Do you believe that tears are a sign of weakness? Are you embarrassed to let others see how you feel?
The British culture in which I grew up did not encourage the display of feelings. That is until the death and funeral of Princess Diana, when crowds across the country openly displayed their grieving in tears and sadness. What was it she stirred in so many?
Turn the clock forward to April of last year and the wedding of her elder son, William, and his now-wife, Kate Middleton. It is hard to imagine a more joyous occasion and a celebration of relatively mature love, witnessed by millions all over the world. With a friend in France, I was glued to the TV coverage as we shared a lunch of Coronation Chicken -- suitably regal -- rose wine and yes, a box of tissues.
There was absolutely nothing sad about that wedding. Nevertheless, I was moved to tears, several times. Was it the music? Was it the echo of Diana, whose funeral service had been held in the same Westminster Abbey? What is it about the happy occasion of a wedding that evokes tears?
In my experiences as a wedding celebrant, I often have brides who are concerned about being tearful. Fair enough, that can be because of not wanting to smudge make up. Although, I have found that make up never seems to get very smudged by tears of love.
In these days of the independent woman, not free to express vulnerability in a possibly male-dominated workplace, crying feels unnatural. Crying is unaccustomed. Or worse, crying is not safe. Tears display weakness.
My response to such concerns by brides before the ceremony, is: If no one is crying at a wedding, I am not doing my job properly.
In my experience, as a couple speak their vows to each other from the heart, a blessing takes place. I feel it. It is no small commitment to agree to love one other person for a lifetime. It is like being given a new life, and a blessing takes place to serve and protect that new life. Their witnesses are often touched by their expressions of love and devotion. It is not unusual for the blessing to be celebrated with tears of joy.
A renewal of vows ceremony may be celebrated to restore a marriage where there has been infidelity, and a new commitment is being sought. I had one such experience where the husband had been unfaithful and the wife still doubted that he was really willing to re-commit to the marriage. She still loved him dearly but had been very hurt by his behaviour.
As part of their simple ceremony, they read Declarations of Love to each other. It was when the husband choked with tears that the wife knew that his feelings for her were genuine. She relaxed. She could begin the process of trusting him again.
It is such a secret place, the land of tears.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery
In a busy life, there is not much room for genuine feeling and the tears that sometimes accompany it. The build up to a wedding can be very pressured with expectations and fears in equal measure, that it will go well and everything fall into place on the day, or not. For most couples, this is their first experience of a wedding ceremony and they do not know what to expect.
For one couple in their 50's, their marriage was a second time for both of them. They had been together for eight years and invited just one other couple to come and witness their wedding. The bride admitted to me that she was an emotional type and likely to be tearful. What surprised her was the tears of her groom during the ceremony. She had never seen him cry before and was deeply touched by this unveiling of his love for her.
So why praise tears of joy? Here are some of the benefits:
1. Release of tension: Tears will allow you to let go of the tension that builds up during the weeks of preparation, and help you to appreciate being in the present moment, fully able to enjoy the ceremony, relax and feel the love for your loved one on your big day.
A friend and wedding planner in Provence, Lucy Till, tells the following:
"A wedding I was organizing had to be suddenly cancelled last December as the little baby of the couple was diagnosed with a terminal condition. However, the weeks went by, this sweet child exceeded all medical expectations, so the couple decided to go ahead with their wedding to consolidate their family unit and celebrate their love. During the ceremony, the baby girl was carried by the maid of honor to her parents to take part in the service. As she passed in front of the guests, she gave out the most beautiful sigh and gurgle and gave a huge smile to her adoring audience. Everybody laughed and cried with joy, the love was so palpable."
2. Connecting with love: Tears allow for openness and vulnerability as you connect to your love, the love you have for your loved one, and the witnesses who come to celebrate with you. One of the meanings of vulnerability is that of being available to be blessed.
3. Bonding: Beyond simply connecting, tears can strengthen the bond with your loved one on your special day. You get to see each other more clearly as you truly are, beyond the surface.
4. Healing: Tears of joy bring peace and facilitate clearer seeing. I have only had one couple who cried tears from start to end of their wedding. When I saw them a little later for their photographs, their faces were radiant and almost unrecognizable from the time of their ceremony. It was as though they had shed many burdens.
Again from Lucy Till:
"If there is someone special not able to be at your wedding, a parent or sibling who has passed away for example, give yourself time during the days before the wedding to have a good weep about this. Let your sadness go, and then on the day of the wedding when people mention their absence, or when they are included in a speech, you will be much more able to cope. You can acknowledge their absence but appreciate how much they would have loved to be present, or to see you so happy, and if you do shed a tear it will be a tear of joy, a celebration of your love for each other, and how much they still mean to you."
If you have any doubts about being tearful during your wedding, put those concerns aside. You may not feel very emotional. But if you do, celebrate those tears as part of the blessing that has come to strengthen your union, and bring you closer to the one you love the most.