So often sadness is simply the opposite side of joy. It is our feelings of affection that make for tearful goodbyes. We feel loss because we loved. We shed tears for what we’ve treasured.
The hardest part about visiting my grandmother is when I have to leave her. Walking away from her home is made more difficult by the knowledge that she literally cannot follow. She has been incapable of standing (let alone walking) for nearly seven years now. Her level of infirmity makes goodbyes harder to bear. I must leave her in a condition that I can’t fathom enduring myself. I must draw our time together to a close knowing she’ll never be able to visit me—knowing I leave her with little physical power—wondering if she’s depressed or bored once she’s alone.
When I visit my grandmother, the joy we feel during our time together is directly proportional to the sorrow that arises at the time of my departure. Every instance of laughter we share during a fleeting week of visits—each joyful jaunt down memory lane—fuels the tears we’ll shed when it’s time for me to go.
Sometimes she weeps. Seeing my grandmother cry rips my heart apart. I see in her tears the loneliness of her life, the anticipation of missing me (or whoever is visiting), and the knowledge that there may not be a next time. A question mark rests upon the length of every life, but when a life becomes bedridden, the uncertainty of mortality becomes even more conspicuous. And so, each time I visit, I must walk away hoping there will be a next time I see her while also wondering if.
This year’s visit was special; I went with my husband, father, and siblings. It was a reunion more than a decade in the making. For the first time in years, my grandmother was in the presence of both her sons. For the first time in years, my family travelled together to Grenada—and not for a funeral, but for fun. Because the joy was greater, so was the later outpouring of tears. This trip was so special, and so likely to remain unrepeated, that it’s end was hard for me to bear.
When it came time to say farewell, my grandmother’s back slouched and she broke down in tears. The words among her wails revealed that she is still ever the worried mother wanting assurances that her son (my father) would be all right without her. Multiple times she asked my siblings and me to take good care of him on her behalf.
My father couldn’t keep his composure in the face of his mother’s cries. Her tears elicited his tears, and those tears cut through me like a sharpened knife. I have only seen my father cry a handful of times: during one of my mother’s manic episodes, at the funeral of his wife and then his father and then his brother, and now. Each time I see my father’s tears, I feel weak. He’s always so composed and emotionally temperate, that when he weeps the ground becomes unstable beneath my feet. The air becomes difficult to breathe.
Both my father and my grandmother tried to hide their tears from each other so as not to add to the other’s sorrow. That example of emotional selflessness is a custom in my family of origin.
The healthier thing to do would have been to have a big, communal cry. We should have shared our sorrow instead of trying to convince our sadness to hide. Our tears were justified—simply a different language for expressing the joyful time we’d shared and were grieved to see come to an indefinite end.
It’s natural to have an emotional goodbye when everything leading up to it has been full of laughter and love. When an answered prayer (as this trip was) reaches its terminus, tears are an appropriate response.