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?”