“…Eyes — the windows to our soul…”
She seemed so small and frail in the graduation party atmosphere. And yet this was her granddaughter’s party–a gathering of family and friends amid the festive tiki lights and streamers of tiny lanterns. High school had commenced for her granddaughter and in the late summer the youth would be ready to head out to the exciting world of college. Friends bringing congratulatory gifts were decorated in smiles and small talk. A grandmother deserved to be proud and happy at a time like this.
Perhaps few outside of the immediate family could see what I did. This woman was newly broken. I could sense tears were not far from her aged eyes. As a close friend of the graduate’s family, I knew. This woman’s life-partner, her best friend, the man who had always been by her side at graduations and significant events, was no longer with her. Cancer had taken his life.
When I hugged her I could feel some of her pain. It mingled with mine and bonded in that commonality we bereaved share. Mine was old pain-although fresh tears were often not far. Over the eight years, I had learned to cope and adjust to my pain. She was not familiar with this intense aching and longing, a newcomer on this griever’s journey.
Her grief was for her husband’s loss. Mine, for my four-year-old son. Both loved ones had cancer. She and I had seen suffering as we had administered care and hope to our dying precious ones.
Knowing what it was like to feel small and frail and yes, dead-like in a room full of vibrant celebration, I ached for her. Even when I sat and caught up on the lives of those I hadn’t seen in years, I couldn’t help but look over at this bereaved woman and know the agony she must be feeling. It was in her eyes-that combination of bleakness right at the retina mixed with hollowness at the white of the eyes. It was there, deep and as constant as an echo that cries what-am-I-going-to-do-now?
I was afraid that the wall would absorb her until she disappeared. And then I thought that she probably would like to disappear and soar up to Heaven to be with her husband, leaving the hurt and sleepless nights of earth behind.
Bereaved eyes. They look the same to th rest of the world, but to those who have seen death take loved ones, we see the difference. These eyes will never be as they once were. They have changed over from the old life and now see the life without. The life without a loved one.
The bereaved acknowledge others in grief with their eyes. Like a secret handshake, it is at times silent, yet dominant. A bereaver’s eyes can be the hardest pair of eyes to look at. However, in time, the bereaved are also able to see more compassionately through their eyes because now they hold a new understanding of what it is like to suffer. Almost like a softness surrounding the pain, a bereaver learns to find rainbows in the midst of storms, tender daffodils in the early morning dew. She sees what is important in life and shields her eyes from what is not.
I am sure that is what my elderly widow friend is finding as she copes each day. Hopefully she will continue to connect with others, those able to hold her close and help her see the rainbows as she shares the life-giving memories of her beloved husband.
While voices can betray true feelings, when you set your sight into the eyes of someone grieving, there is no hiding; the pain is evident.
By Alice J. Wisler