With Eyes Washed Clean by Tears: Further Reflections on Grief

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“There is nowhere you could go that I won’t be with you.” – Grandmother Tala, Moana

So, I bawled my eyes out yesterday watching Moana for the first time since it originally came out in theatres last year. The film is so rich with themes of love and loss, family and friendship and adventure, the search for the self, and the Hero’s Journey of legend and mythology. I really liked the movie the first time I saw it, but it resonates in whole new ways now, with everything this year has brought.

I’ve been very consciously aware of being in grief in the months since my mom died, but I’ve found that having a rational appreciation for grief and the grieving process isn’t necessarily the same thing as actually grieving. As with so many things, I think I’ve been trying to keep it cordoned off in my head, or buried down deep inside, so that I can get on with what seems to be the necessary day-to-day business of living, so that I can be as strong as possible for others in my life, so that the people I deal with at work, the grocery store, etc., don’t perceive my vulnerability or my weakness.

I’m starting to see this as a hopeless strategy, which is why I’m glad that it’s getting easier to cry, and that the persona I’ve been putting on each day – though still available to me as a tool and still incredibly useful – seems to be getting thinner, easier to see and breath and feel through, and easier to remove. I don’t want to become that persona, and I don’t want to miss this opportunity to really reflect on my mom’s life and story, on the memories we still have of her, and on the lessons to be learned and carried forward in my own life by all that she taught me over the years.

I share this today not so that you can picture a grown man crying his way through a Disney movie, necessarily, but just to share the thought that, when we’re grieving, we have to be purposefully open sometimes – to let the grief come in and wreck us for a little while, even when that’s difficult to do. I’ve never had any conscious biases about men crying, but I’ve found, in practice, that we do sometimes fall into the trap of swallowing our grief – of pushing it down deep – because we think that’s what the situation requires, that strength and a stoic outlook will protect us. It may not resonate with everyone, but it makes me think of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, the passage that reads, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” That’s hard to accept.

Sometimes our weakness can actually be pretty hard work, especially in a world that doesn’t want to hear about it. But, as Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills.”

It’s not every day that we get the opportunity to be broken. It’s not every day that we get the chance to look at life with eyes washed clean by tears. But today is one of those days, so I’ll keep trying to make the most of it.

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