The Land of Tears


Diana Trautwein -Land of Tears3“It is such a secret place, the land of tears.” —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,The Little Prince

The land of tears is a place I’ve visited many times over my life; a strange and secret country, indeed.

I could say it feels familiar, except that it doesn’t. Not quite. Each visit is unique, bringing its own sadness, regret, and emptiness. Eventually there is fullness and replenishment as I wend my way back to the familiar terra firma of “regular” life, whatever the heck that is.

After a winding journey of several years, my mama died from Alzheimer’s disease in April of this year. There have been tears all along the highway of this Thief of Time and Remembering, of course. Oodles of them. But none quite like the ones that spilled that Wednesday afternoon in April, standing by her hospital bed. I saw her leave us—an open-eyed gaze, two loud gasps, followed by the strangest silence I’ve ever experienced. I will be forever grateful that I was able to say good-bye … thank you … I love you.

There were the tears that landed on my cheeks as I drove out of a doctor’s parking lot, remembering how I planned all my medical appointments around mom’s schedule these last few years. How I fiercely wished that she could be next to me in my car just one more time. I know there are many tears that have not yet worked their way into the air that surrounds me, tears I carry in this body, waiting behind my eyelids, behind my heart. Each one, shed or yet to be, reminds me that grief is a land of secrets, of strange and sudden surprises.

I understand that losing my last parent at the age of 72 is a rare thing. I am grateful for that truth, grateful for her long life, and for my own, glad that we could be together more closely these last few years. Nevertheless, this feeling of loss is real. It winds its tendrils around me in ways that surprise and perplex me, showing up in simple things—like driving down a particular street or watching a television series we used to enjoy together. It stings when I see the bags of clothing waiting for the Goodwill truck or when I pick up a photograph. Though I’ve been here before, this trip feels particularly treacherous and very, very lonely.

We held her memorial service a full month after her death. It was a lovely afternoon, full of memories, scripture, and sweet, old songs. There were digitized home movies, good Mexican food in our backyard after the service, and lots and lots of shared stories. She would have loved every minute of it. In fact, I’m quite sure she did.

The next morning, life moved on. It was time to be “the pastor” for a while, six years into retirement. I led in worship, preached a charge to our fine new confirmand, then went home and collapsed, eager for some space to weep and rest.

But it was not to be. Why? Because in and around my own personal tears, the next few weeks brought deep tears for so many in our community here in Santa Barbara. One of my dearest friends is struggling with stage 4 cancer, another friend lost her two-year-old grandson in an accident at her home, in her swimming pool. A professional colleague and loved friend was deeply disappointed while searching for a new call.

There were, as always, moments of joy and beauty woven into this tapestry of time. Grandson number four graduated from high school, heading out next fall to a beautiful college campus here in California. The ceremony was lovely, the party afterwards spectacular.

Yet even in this event, the shadow of that strange land of tears crept around the corners. This is a young man who lost his father when he was ten years old. His mother, our daughter, was a widow at 40. Their sadness has been redeemed in such beautiful ways, with a new marriage for her, a new father for him. Still … there was a slice of my spirit silently crying out, “Mark should be here.”

About a year ago, my calendar began to open up in unexpected ways. My client-load dropped off, the urge to write began to move into the background, not leaving me entirely, but tapering off in ways I didn’t understand. I remember asking God, “What’s coming, Lord? How can I be ready?”

All of this was coming … my mom’s decline and death, teaching confirmation unexpectedly, stepping into a pastoral role for short periods after several years away, dealing with the details of death. And there was no way to be ready, was there? Except for that sense of opening, of spaciousness, suddenly appearing in a busy life.

There was an invitation in that, I think. An invitation to open myself to the Strange Land of Tears, to say “yes” to grief and loss, to fatigue and emptiness, and see what they might have to teach me at the age and stage I am now. I have tried to do that. I am still trying, because grief is never an instantaneous thing, is it? There is always more to learn, new terrain to be traversed, secrets meant for us alone.

Where are the tears in your own life these days? What new things are you learning as you wander your own corner of this “secret place, the land of tears?”

Diana Trautwein
Married to her college sweetheart for over 40 years, Diana is always wondering about things. She answers to Mom from their three adult kids and spouses and to Nana from their 8 grandkids, ranging in age from 3 to 22. For 17 years, after a mid-life call to ministry, she answered to Pastor Diana in two churches where she served as Associate Pastor. Since retiring at the end of 2010, she spends her time working as a spiritual director and writes on her blog, Just Wondering. For as long as she can remember, Jesus has been central to her story and the church an extension of her family. Not that either church or family is exactly perfect . . . but then, that’s what makes life interesting, right?
Diana Trautwein

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  1. 1lori_1 says:

    What a beautiful letter, Diana. How I feel your sorrow at the loss of your Mom. After helping my best friend see her Mom through Alzheimer’s (she finally passed on after being diagnosed 15 years before) now we are helping my Mom deal with her memory issues. What a blessing for you to have had here as long as you did. Makes it all the tougher when they are gone. My Mom is 88 and I am thankful I still have her as well. My prayers are with you in this continued process.

  2. Angela M. Shupe says:

    Diana, I’m so, so sorry for your loss. Your words resonate deeply with me. Grief isn’t instantaneous…filled with secrets meant for us alone. I, too, have asked the question, wondering how to be ready for those times. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Thank you for sharing so honestly and beautifully.

  3. I’m sorry for this physical loss so close to your heart Diana. I know these particular kind of tears and the grief that lingers, brought on far too early by Alzheimers. And through your tears you continue to minister through your words on my tender heart and not just to me. Thank you for your pastor’s heart that is tuned to God’s call.

    • pastordt says:

      Thanks so much, Debby. I think I should have made it more clear in this piece that my mother was 95 when she died — I am the one who is 72!!! I missed it, my editor missed it, but my husband caught it, AFTER it was published. The problem with dementia is that it robs us of so much of the person we love long before they are physically gone from us. I think that’s what what you’re probably referring to in this lovely comment. Thank you.

      • Yes, I got that you’re 72 but sorry I wasn’t clear. Yes, my experience with Alzheimer’s was losing the person before they were physically gone. Whew! I think we’re both clear now. Thanks again.

  4. Grief is never instantaneous for sure. It seems like it can spring on us suddenly and we don’t know why or where its coming from. Maybe sometimes its a build up of many griefs we have yet to actually grieve. Wishing our culture embraced grieving without judgement.
    Very beautiful. Thank you for the reminder that there is an invitation to the Land of Tears, to say “yes” to it, and the hope that there is something for us/me to learn in the midst of it.

  5. Saskia Wishart says:

    Tearful. Beautiful. True. I love this piece Diana.

  6. With you in this, friend. Love you.

  7. Oh, yes, Diana, those visits to the Land of Tears is so unpredictable and unexpected when we find ourselves suddenly wandering there. When we lose someone so close to us, especially a parent, that grief lingers much longer than we want to admit to ourselves. Just today, as I was autographing one of my novels for a friend, I opened the book to the dedication page – it was the one in memory of my Dad. Those tears sprang to my eyes faster than you can say Jack Robinson!
    I hear and feel your sadness, my friend. May God surround you with His comfort and peace.

  8. Nancy Ruegg says:

    I remember an afternoon long after my in-laws had both passed away, when a memory triggered tears and I missed them dearly–all over again. (I used to tell people one of the reasons I married my husband was so I could have his parents for in-laws!) Grief can strike at the oddest moments, without warning–even years after the tragedy. It is definitely not instantaneous, as you so accurately observed. I, too, want to thank you, Diana, for chronicling your journey through grief and letting go, and showing us the way.

    • pastordt says:

      It’s amazing how it can pop up out of nowhere and grab your heart with brand new force! I remember shopping at Home Depot about five or six years after my younger brother’s death, watching a slightly delayed man in his 50’s cheerfully pack bags and be kind to customers and thinking, “My brother would have loved this job!” And then, he turned enough for me to read his nametag and it said, “Kenneth,” which was my dear brother’s name. He was diagnosed as Asperger’s when he was 50 years old and died three years later. That afternoon in the big box store, I was overwhelmed and had to sit in the car and sob for a few minutes before heading out.

      Thanks for your encouragement all along this hard road, Nancy. You’ve been a true friend.

      • Nancy Ruegg says:

        It’s my honor to encourage you, Diana, and be your friend from all these miles away. Praise God for the internet that allows us to meet and bond with folks all over the world. Makes the thought of heaven all the sweeter, too. Someday we’ll get to meet our virtual friends face to face!

  9. Lynn Morrissey says:

    Diana it takes great courage to share such deep loss and the circuitous pathways of grief. At times, it can even feel like a cul-de-sac which just turns around and around. And yet, throughout, I know you are taking the Lord’s hand during this difficult time, as He leads you gently through the shadowed valley. I love too that you see glimpses of sunshine as you remember your beautiful mother’s long life, bright eyes, and warm smile… as you remember all the sweet times you shared and how she changed your life indelibly. 72 years is never enough. And God in His grace gives heaven and 72 years times 727,272 times infinity. I feel so blessed to have had a glimpse of Ruth myself through your beautiful and tender words, through your remembering.

    • pastordt says:

      Aw, thank you, Lynn. Such lovely and kind words. I’m glad that you could ‘know’ my mama a little through my words. That has always been my goal in writing about our journey these years.

  10. Helen Burns Helene Burns says:

    O Diana….My heart aches for your loss. Thank you for every post that you have shared with us inviting us into your journey with Mom and your land of tears. Thank you for teaching us from the beauty and the ache of your personal story – it is a gift. xo

  11. Like you, I’m learning that life doesn’t hold still long enough for our emotions to get used to the new terrain. We trip over a bump in the road, and don’t know quite what to call it. I’ve been so thankful for the way you have shared your journey, Diana, and I’m trying to live my way into the “yes” that clears the vision.

    • pastordt says:

      I know you know this land well right now, Michele. Living into the ‘yes’ is never straight ahead, is it? Blessings of peace and grace to you.

  12. Robin Baldwin says:

    Thank you for sharing your journey. Just as we all love differently, we all grieve in our own way.


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