“It is such a mysterious place, the land of tears.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
There are no words for some things. The part of your brain that produces words shuts down at the death of your child or your partner or the trauma of facing your own mortality, dropping you into a vast pool of emotion where the landscape is indescribable, unfamiliar, and all pervading. And you are lost.
People ask you questions: Are you OK? Do you need anything? They say they are so sorry and hug you with all the love they can impart. But, lost in this place of no words, you can manage only a nod or shake of your head.
Waves of anger, pain, sorrow, come upon you at unexpected moments—not the moments you set aside because now you’re finally alone and can let loose. No, they overcome you when you find a piece of clothing behind the furniture, at the mortuary when you’re trying to decide whether you want an oval or a rectangular photo on the funeral remembrance card, when one of their favorite songs comes on the radio; when you pick up fast food and remember how much he loved going through the drive through to pick up a single cheeseburger; when you find the hot sauce he bought you in Cayugas in the refrigerator.
Hard to navigate this place of no words and its landscape of pain. Grief is a stationary point in time—there is no going forward with your loved one and the present is a void, so only brief moments of the past remain, frozen in time. No opportunity to hear their voice again, to make plans for a barbecue or to watch them go through life. It’s just…stopped.
And maybe that’s where grief really begins. When you realize that you’ll never hear their ring tone or receive a text from them again, when you find yourself at the checkout stand with the perfect waffle weave shirt with blue sky and clouds and remember you have no one to give it to anymore. When Thanksgiving and Christmas will always have an empty place at the table and you no longer have to make brownies without nuts.
There are no words and use them to help us shrink what is huge and intangible into something familiar and predictable--neat little bundles strung together to describe the indescribable.
There are no words, and yet, sometimes those useless words are the only things that offer a lifeline out of the swamp of emotion, keeping us from being completely submerged.One word at a time, we reach out, take one step and then another--out of pain and into life. The more words are used and the more people who hear them, the stronger the tenuous bridge from the place of no words to the day-to-day world and the more space opens up within us.
Is the world of words any better than the place of no words? I don’t know, but, it can be the choice between living or drowning. It is worth making the attempt to put what can only be understood with the heart into words to be understood with the mind.
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince