What can I do to help my mother stop crying all the time?

13 answers | Last updated: Dec 06, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother, who has metastatic breast cancer, has started crying all the time, and it upsets both of us. She says she can't help it. Is there anything I can do?

Expert Answers

Jeffrey Knajdl is director of psycho-oncology services in the Cancer Counseling program at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.

This is a very common problem. Some cancer patients tear up at every little thing, or they'll start crying and be unable to stop. They can't control it, which just makes them feel more frightened and frustrated by everything that's happening to them.

First, don't let yourself be intimidated by the tears. If your mom needs to cry, then let her do it. It can be a healthy release, and it may be the only way she can communicate how she's feeling right now.

But if all she can do is cry, then you need to look into it and find out if there's something biochemical going on. Uncontrollable crying can be a symptom of low serotonin levels in the brain, which can occur because of chemotherapy, radiation, and other cancer treatments. You don't have to use the terms depression or antidepressant, which cancer patients might resist. Try saying to your mother, "It seems like when you try to communicate, the tears are getting in the way. The doctor has some suggestions for how to deal with this. There are medications that can be helpful. Let's go talk to him about it." If your mother finds she's crying when she doesn't want to and it embarrasses her, then she'll appreciate your helping her find another way to communicate.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

I think that Jeffrey Knajdl made some good points.  However, i would like to add the following:  if your mother needs to cry, let her cry.  just being there with her may be all that she needs from you. 

i am an 18 year breast cancer survivor.  i cried a lot.  i was in deep mourning for the loss of a breast and for a lifestyle that would undergo significant change.  in many respects, i had to reinvent who i was. 

my mother-in-law has recently been diagnosed with end stage cancer which has spread to her liver and to her lungs.  she has given herself permission to cry when she needs to.  that is a precious gift from herself.

when she needs to talk, to vent, or to cry, she calls me on the telephone. most of the time i just listen.  and i tell her i love her.

i hope this helps you both.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Have you ever tried scents. Find her favorite scent in a candle or spray it seems silly but can really be uplifting for some.

Lalitha9 answered...

I am also going through cancer.I cry too.My children dont like it. My physician son he does not like me to cry.My therapist says it is ok to cry.

Lindasue answered...

Cry baby cry! There was a song written with those words. . . . Cry, is okay! Kids don't like to see or hear it because they care and are frightened by the diagnosis. This is normal for kids, they love mom, auntie and/or grandma. Get everyone educated, facts though blunt, clear the air. Include young children in the sharing of info.
focus on others. Consider joining a support group. Learn from others who have "been there". You may be very pleasantly surprised to find survivors and can benefit greatly from their input. All is not necessarily lost! Even though you don't, "feel" like it, watch every humerous video you can lay your hands on! Formost, refresh you relationship with your Maker, with a diagnosis of cancer, or any other, with just day to day events that cost lives ~ be "ready". What a calming effect this has on my life. May God Bless your family ~ He will get you through your current ride.

Dreamkeeper answered...

Being a breast cancer survivor, I remember the tears. The loss of the comfort knowing you were whole and well is a frightening thought. Tears are just an expression of fear but the length of time one spends crying can indicate that help is needed. The death of my husband from cancer just one year prior to my diagnosis, made me realize that it would be overwhelming and thanks to a very caring doctor, zoloft was prescribed and helped to overcome the uncontrollable crying. Lovingly at some point, a family member or clergy can suggest to the patient that since they have survived perhaps they can become an inspiration to others who may be early in their diagnosis. The look of fear on a person with a bandanna on her head is unmistakeable and I never pass the opportunity to introduce myself as a survivor, offer a hug and a genuine smile of good wishes. This makes me feel stronger and good to see that fear somewhat eased. Hope this helps. Please pass on my hug and good wishes

Cisca answered...

its ok to let her cry, it is her way do deal with it ! just be there for her give her the space she needs ! most of the time some one crying makes us feeling bad BUT ITS NOT ABOUT US ! my mother lost her breasts when she was 24 !! i was 6 she couldn't cope and committed suicide when i was 6 , i was at home when it happend with my little brother !! i am now 51 and it still it a big issue for me . let people mourning when they need it, give them space, i wish they had done the same for my mom !!!! she was to young to die and we were to young to understand !!! so just let your mom knows that its ok to feel what she is feeling, even it frightens you talk to her, be honest, be there for her and you will be supprised how all of you will be after this. god bless you and help you !! and this from a atheist ?

Teeputty answered...

Crying is great therapy...go ahead let it all out, you'll feel much better.

Lizzieb answered...

I was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago and went through chemo and radiation therapies. In the beginning the crying was from fear and stress. Later, the crying was just when there was something stressful in the environment, whether it was the news or some emotionally moving event - good or bad - often not related to me at all. Before the diagnosis, I used to be a news junkie, but now I have to choose what I watch, because of the tears. No, I don't have emotional problems - in fact, thanks to my wonderful counselor, I think I have been able to let a lot of baggage off the train.

My personal opinion is that the tears are related to our body's ability to deal with stress, rather than our emotional state. It's a way for the body to remove unwanted stress chemicals (I had a similar problem a long time ago when I had adrenal problems). Unfortunately, our society frowns on tears. So, the advice given earlier, to give oneself 'permission' to cry, is very important. And, related to that, it is important for you to give her permission to cry too. YOu haven't done anything to make her cry and she is not depressed - her body needs chemical release. The best remedy is to tell her a joke and make her laugh. With laughter the body chemicals rebalance themselves. There is actually something called 'laughter therapy'. Check it out and lots of happy cleansing tears and laughter to you both! :-)

A fellow caregiver answered...

I am a breast cancer survivor twice. My first encounter was treated with a lumpectomy and radiation. I cried. Three years later, I was diagnosed again and had a mastectomy and chemotherapy. I cried again, but the crying was for what I felt I would miss if I did not survive the cancer. My oldest granddaughter was almost finished with her PhD studies, my youngest granddaughter was a freshman in college and my grandson was a junior in college. My mother was almost 99 and in a nursing home, my husband in early stage of dementia! Crying at a time such as this is normal. There's a lot going on in one's body and mind. If the crying becomes too overwhelming, then see your doctor, but in my case, I also talked to what I feel is the ultimate doctor (God), and to close members of the congregation to which I belong. If your mother has a connection, perhaps talking to her spiritual advisor will be of consolation to her and to you. But, remember there's a lot going on in her life at this point, and as the song says "I'll Cry If I Want To."

Manita answered...

I am 49 years old and I was diagnosed with breast cancer one year ago. Did I cry yes! Alot! Did I ask myself why me? Yes!! All the time! After a lot of thinking I removed both breasts for prevention eventhough I only had cancer in one. My reconstruction was done right away. About 21 days after the operation I went to Miami to spend time with my two children and my two sisters.I needed my space. I decided that it was time that I dedicate some time to me. To what I wanted! My husband being a doctor did a lot of research on cancer. Between him and a friend of his who was also a cancer survivor had me realize that it was very important to learn about what you had-cancer. Between my husband, his friend, and my friends I get a lot of e-mails and natural ways to beat the cancer so it won't come back! Let your mother know that she is not alone and that it is ok to cry! But after that fight !Don't let anything take away your peace. Learn about what you have and how can you beat it. Change your eating habits. I have read a lot about that. After I calmed down and accepted that I had cancer I fought and decided to learn about it. All the natural ways. Eat right. We are what we eat! I did a lot of research on foods, teas, and spices. I changed everything, right now it is hard for me to eat at a party, but guess what, I feel great! When I look back to all of the foods I used to eat its ok it is part of my past. Now it is about making myself healthy and fighting the cancer!Check this place out www.Hipprocatesinst.org and www.druglessdoctor.com . This was given to me yesterday from my best friend from highschool. Positive attitude and live each day to your fullest. Which is the way we should always live. Be happy don't get mad because everything has a solution! A big hug for you and may God bless you!

Samartingstoll answered...


I am currently going through the same thing with my mum (49) just diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in the bones. She handles it really well most of the time but on her treatment days (friday and saturday) she crys all day straight...and I mean she doesn't stop for around 15 hours. Please help us, any ways you can. I understand that crying is perfectly fine, and I tell her this. But surely 15 hours straight is not healthy and it is draining for all of us.


A fellow caregiver answered...

Crying is actually a very healthy thing! It releases stress hormones (Dr Frey, Ph D Aletha Solter).

The problem is that listeners do feel inadequate and confronted. If you want to help her, try to support your mother by listening Empathically (as suggested by Marshall Rosenberg, a famous psychologist) or use Active Listening (as suggested by a famous psychologist called Thomas Gordon).

You'll help her tremendously and strengthen your relationship.

Good luck to you!