Please don't hand a crying person a tissue! When you hand someone who is crying a tissue the person almost always stops crying. Being a grief counselor and grief educator I have come to know about the value of allowing people to express their feelings and crying is often a way that many express grief of some sort.
Imagine that you are sitting in with a group and one person sharing about a loss in their life begins to cry or you are speaking with a friend who begins to tear as they share with you something difficult that they are going through with a loved one or themselves. Your immediate impulse may be to hand them a tissue. So you go in search of one. You break eye contact, stop fully listening, and rummage for a tissue in your bag, or you start looking around the room. Maybe you interrupt them to ask someone else for a tissue. You may even get up from your seat and get one, all in an effort to "support" your friend. You hand the tissue to them and now they (maybe suddenly feeling self conscious) wipe their tears and blow their nose...and if you count to three, chances are they have stopped crying.
I don't want people to stop their tears if they are allowing them to them flow. I feel good that someone trusts me enough to well up with emotion and let it spill out. I am aware of the heavy toll we pay for keeping it all locked inside, the pressure many feel to "keep it all together and look strong" most of the time. I think that when we hand a tissue, we are really saying, "Please stop crying, as you are making me very uncomfortable. Your tears are getting me in touch with my own pain, and I am afraid that l may cry as well." Or you might be thinking, "When you cry I feel helpless, which makes me uncomfortable. I want to fix your pain, although I know that I can't. So let me stop you from expressing that pain, so that I can feel more comfortable."
Next time you see someone crying, just sit with them, be present and listen. No need to offer tissues or try to "fix them." After all, that is what sleeves are for. Someone crying often doesn't need anything except someone to be with them. Crying can be quite healthy for our immune system. Please remember that tears are part of the healing, not the hurting. Maybe this is the very first time that he or she feels safe enough to cry. I am glad they are feeling safe enough with me to cry. Let the tears flow. Please, try it out and watch the next time someone offers a crying person a tissue.
And by the way, hugging or touching a crying person may act the same way that the tissue does, to unintentionally stifle the person's feelings. Hugs are welcomed and can be very important and healing, but often not necessarily when a person is expressing feelings. Plus not everyone welcomes touch when they are upset. It is always best to ask, but only after they have gotten out what they need to get out. I always ask my audiences how many like to be touched when upset and how many don't. You would be surprised at how many do not appreciate a touch when they are expressing their emotions. I like to remind people that what is comforting to you may not be comforting for another. It is always good to be aware of why we do the things we do and ask ourselves this important question: "Is what I am about to do for their benefit or is it for my own?" In other words, to help them feel better or to make myself feel better.
The most important thing we can do for someone who is sad or grieving is to be present and truly listen, nothing more, nothing less.
A great book, my all-time favorite as a gift for a grieving person is Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert. Here is a quote from that book: "Grandy knew she had to make much of this part of the soup alone. She learned from past experiences that most people don't like being around tears. Her friend would worry if they knew just how many tears Grandy's recipe callef for this time. So, the old and somewhat wise woman relected on her own special recipe as she looked down into the large overflowing pot of memories. It was a task she would repeat many times during the next few months."