Tears of grief. Tears of joy. Chemically, they are identical. And yet, there are essentially three different types of tears — basal, reflex and psychic. Basal tears lubricate, protect and hydrate the cornea. The reflex variety responds to dust, irritants and allergens. And psychic tears are triggered by our strongest emotions, designed to help us release profound sorrow, as well as overwhelming joy. I think this mysterious dual chemistry of emotional tears is a metaphor for the journey of grief.
Just as I was sitting down to write a journal entry, Linda, one of my oldest and dearest friends (in length of time, not chronology), texted me a fascinating article about tears in the Smithsonian Magazine — and a wish for me more tears of joy today. Turns out, they are the exact same thing. Since I embrace synchronicity, I clicked.
The microscopic images of all three types of tears peppered the article — depicting an entire lifetime, a complex universe in a single droplet of liquid. Oh, the stories they tell. As the article suggests, all the images look like “aerial views of emotional terrain.” Distant, elegant and provocative. That is so Elliot. Immediately, a rush of memory saturates my heart and then trickles down my cheeks. He adored World War I aircraft from day one — mastering the Red Baron computer game as a toddler and scrutinizing ceiling fans as if they were propellers as an infant.
I suspect Elliot was always meant to fly.
These maps are so dense, intricate and difficult to decipher. They all are a tangle of jagged paths, circuitous routes, and sharp corners . . . ins and outs, dead ends and drop-offs. Ah, this is the true journey of grief, and perhaps, maybe, of joy? That is why everything — even the so-called “happy” memories are as cloyingly bitter as they are sharply sweet — piercing my heart as they sometimes bring fleeting wisps of comfort to my weary soul. They are inextricably intertwined, like a strand of DNA. Is that the new definition of moving through grief — moving with grief? Finding a way to experience both love and excruciating pain at the very same time — as one? Still not so sure about the joy part.
No matter what, this is a brave new world, uncharted terrain and an unknown land. How can I possibly know what it would take to feel safe to live with this pain – when I barely know what I want for lunch? And then I question that decision. I think it’s about being fully present and mindful. It requires relentless self-compassion and intentional awareness — moment to moment, second to second . . . and heartbeat to heartbeat.
It’s the only way.
For my dear son and my heart — Elliot Everett Wright (5/17/1992 – 8/5/2018)