To us, who are no strangers to loss.
Spring 2015 // Herrnhut, Germany
It was quiet and sombre. In this hall, three people stood in front of everyone – two of which parents of a friend loved dearly and the other a translator. All eyes were on them as the community braced themselves for news that wouldn’t come easy to the ears, but with hope that it would bring some closure.
I sat there then, remembering what it was like sitting in that same hall a few months before when winter was closing in. Everyone was called into an emergency meeting on a Sunday (which hardly happens). We showed up just as the sun had gone down, for news no one would’ve expected. Our composure crumbled as the news that a dear friend had passed on sank in.
There was not a dry eye that evening.
I made my way to the UK for my Christmas break a few days after that intense evening, packing unresolved grief with me. I spent a good amount of time reuniting with friends and family, yet I also spent a lot of time by myself trying to wrap my mind around the events of that December of 2014.
On one of those days alone, I walked into a cemetery behind a small 100-year-old church and decided to read the inscription on every tombstone there. I took into account the deceased’s dates of birth and even the dates of when they passed on.
One tombstone for a young man intrigued me like none other. The year he died, he was the same age as my friend whose death had been announced right before my Christmas break.
I was snapped out of my thoughts when the gardener approached me that chilly afternoon and started telling me stories about the people behind the tombstones. And this particular tombstone was for a man who experienced multiple storms in his life and had chosen to end it. His mother would visit his grave every year and place fresh flowers. He was still loved despite the storms of his life and choices made.
I befriended that kind gardener and visited him at the cemetery whenever I could. God gave me multiple revelations about life and death that winter and I didn’t doubt that God used that gardener with a past of his own to help me make sense of things. It was thanks to him that I had received some resolution for my grief surrounding the death of my friend.
And there I was again in the same hall in Herrnhut a few months later. Our dear friend’s parents shared the news we’d all been waiting for. We listened to the story, the results of the autopsy and the outcome of the investigation.
There was finally a conclusion to the story, but grief didn’t come to an end that day.
I spent that evening taking care of another grieving friend and going, “I’m here for you,” until she drifted into deep sleep.
Spring 2017 // Thessaloniki, Greece
I walked into the Archaelogical Museum of Thessaloniki treating it like another item on the schedule. A good schedule, no doubt, but it’s not like I would’ve had a choice not to go anyway, considering the complications of the situation I was stuck in then.
I was amazed by the exhibits nevertheless, but one particular exhibit moved me deeply, more than any other that day. It was thanks to this particular museum guide who was more talkative than the others that I learned the truth of what I’d been staring at – jars to contain tears of ones in mourning.
These jars recovered from ancient tombs were once held by people whose loved ones had passed on; their tears were collected in jars to accompany the deceased in the tombs as symbols of love and respect.
This knowledge rocked me, for I had shed hours – even days – of tears that spring. One lost love leading to the next. The amount of time spent on crying my eyes out could not resolve the grief I had then (even till today as I’m writing this).
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”
Yet these jars – removed from the ancient tombs they had once served – stared back at me, as if to say, “Every tear of yours has been accounted for.”
We have our lost loves. Love that was placed in the wrong hands. Love betrayed. Love towards someone gone too soon. Love for a vision that would not come to pass. Love that walked away. Love in the hard work that failed. Love that might never be returned the same way. Love regretted. Love that resulted in death of sorts.
And so we grieve and mourn those lost loves.
Grief tells us that normal might never be the same again.
Grief asks if and when we’ll be able to say we’re okay.
Grief is when a mere apology could comfort or unleash more tears.
Grief is a place where you hammer down the nails on the coffin containing what you had or wished to have – one sombre reminder of a nail at a time.
Grief looks like tears being collected in jars.
It is in the grieving and mourning that we’d find ourselves in the messiest of states – the uncontrollable tears, the body that places itself in a fetal position, the difficulty and sometimes inability to start our day(s), and/or the words not wished to be said.
But it is also in the grieving and mourning that people would come together like never before. The gardener, the guide at the museum, the people who reach out to us – let’s not forget them.
One’s body may seem to have lost control to pain and sorrow, but amidst our countless sorries and expressions of guilt for coming off like a mess, they’d say, “We’re here for you.” Even if it means exchanging stories of lost loves. Even if it means staying by our side till sleep takes over. Even if it means booking a flight to get to where we are to make life bearable. And even if it means sending that text or email that would give us a reason to hope for the future.
We’ll take the time to cry, laugh, maybe cry again and hopefully, laugh again at the memory of what was.
We’d unlikely forget, but we’ll also choose to remember. We’d unlikely forget about the lost loves and deaths, but we’ll choose to remember its life. We’d unlikely forget what hindered love, but we’ll choose to remember that it becomes part of our story.
A lost love might never return, but the story continues, even if it’s difficult to believe that it could.
So we raise our jars of tears.
Not one drop forgotten by Him, and every drop necessary to write the next chapter.