“Tears are the silent language of grief.”  Voltaire

Voltaire was a man of words, but apparently he knew the silence of sorrow. He must have known that place beyond words deep within the origin of loss. No one unfamiliar with the trail marks of tears could put to words such a truth. Voltaire knew.

Benjamin There are no wordsWhen one of my family died, the most comforting words anyone could say to me were, “There are no words.” I would search their eyes and scan their hearts. And I knew. I knew they knew.

As words filled our days, Lydia and I met often in that silent language of tears. In order to protect Matt and Bryan we wept in secret and learned the fine art of tearless crying. When Bryan died we couldn’t tell our new neighbors he died of AIDS. And oh, by the way, Matt and Lydia are HIV+ too. Would your son like to come over and play?

No, we grieved both in solitude and silence. Our tears lived in shadows until night finally arrived. We disguised our shattered lives with empty words. We could barely look into each other’s eyes in public for fear a glance would undo us both. We could hide from the world, but we could not hide our anguish from each other, or from ourselves.

It hurt to watch Lydia hurt. She was a close to Bryan as I was to Matt. She and Bryan were inseparable both in body and spirit. If it weren’t for Matt, when Bryan’s heart stopped her heart would have stopped, too. In many ways, it did. Lydia lived six years beyond Bryan with a half-beating heart.

And there were times when Lydia and my heart beat out of sync. The pain we carried devoured us differently. There were times we grieved alone lying next to each other.

But the silent language of grief, our tears, would inevitably guide us to the common place of sorrow’s greatest depths. Our eyes dripping with unspeakable pain interwove us again in our common path. Night would finally come and we could share our secret sorrow that rested beyond the world of words.

When Lydia was coming close to death, she wrote the people close to her letters. She said that she wanted me to wait to open mine until after she died.

Lydia died at home in our bed. After others, who also had letters, had passed by our bed to say goodbye it was my turn. It was dark outside on that winter night. A candle rested against the darkness of our bedroom as I opened the letter.

The melodic stroke of a pen shaped her last words to me. Words on a page painted memories. I wanted to absorb the flow of the ink as much as the flow of her words and the flowing of her heart. I read the letter several times as I sat by her body for the last time.

When I didn’t need to read it again, when I was both done and undone, I put the letter back into the plain white envelope. We sat in that place beyond words. I was empty of words and she had no need for words. The candle lit our silence.

Ultimately, I rose from the chair beside our bed, blew out the candle and turned on the lamp. Words were whispered in reverence when they took her body away.

I needed to return to our bedroom once more, but I couldn’t bring myself to light the candle again. I couldn’t open the letter and read it once more. I just needed to cry our common language. I needed to center in my solitude and sorrow in complete silence, beyond words, beyond thought, beyond what was and into what is.

It was there I gathered the power to rise from the chair and go to our son to tell him his mother had died. It was there in that place of the beyond I was able to make my way into the words that Matt needed to hear. It was there where Matt and I rested in our tears. And it is there in my tears I still find a place of peace and healing.

So, when someone says to me, “There are no words,” I know they know that place. And it is there I will find them and we will meet in the silent language of grief.






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