Such a secret place

A place of countless tears: Drew contemplates Dachau, August 2005.

A place of countless tears: Drew contemplates Dachau, August 2005.

“I did not know what to say to him. I felt awkward and blundering. I did not know how I could reach him, where I could overtake him and go hand in hand with him once more. It is such a secret place, the land of tears.”Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Whether or not one is alone, grief is a solitary experience. Very few are comfortable with being present in someone else’s sorrow. Words fall short; actions seem inadequate or misguided, and it is all too easy to withdraw from bearing witness to great suffering, not least because the stark reality of mortality erodes complacent illusions of control and well-being.

Just when connection is needed most, people mired in heartbreak tend to withdraw from others as well, doubling the gap that already confounds. Pride, despair or fear of painful rejection stymie any requests for practical help or emotional support which might give others a map for offering the assistance they desperately want to provide.

Yet there are determined souls who manage to meet each other across this yawning gap. There are those who risk failure or rejection to reach forth, feebly or fiercely, to connect despite the obstacles. Like a life preserver tossed into the darkness of a stormy sea, an act of solace may reach a person drowning in anguish and fear. No miracles take place; no dramatic resolution calms the storm or lights the sky, but in the cumulative power of even the smallest acts of hope and love, one may grasp the hand of another and be pulled toward gradual healing and survival.

The land of tears is indeed a secret place, but not impenetrable or impervious. I’ll meet you there.


  1. Amy

    Meeting you in prayer this morning and in person tonight. I love you.

    • Amy, I don’t know which of the two meetings meant the most. It was wonderful to see you here last night. No matter what is going on we always seem to salvage a few laughs out of it. I have been VERY mindful of you and Stephen and your special guest tonight!! You are too wonderful for words. Jeff and I both send our love and thanks.

  2. Anon E. Moose

    ” . . .illusions of control”
    As one of the “others . . . Across this yawning gap . . . To connect despite the obstacles . . .”
    I offer only my pitiful words of solace to a person “drowning in anguish and fear”.
    I seek to offer hope for the “gradual healing and survival” you speak of.
    I Love you, Eric

    • Thank you, Eric. I love you too.

  3. blseibel

    I feel I’ve been a dark, lonely, angry place for so long now that it has turned some folks away but there are a few who keep throwing me that life saver. I understand why some get fed up, I even get fed up with myself. I keep trying to go to a place of forgiveness and therefore healing but then something else comes up with my husband and I go back to the dark place and have to try again. Yesterday’s sermon was about keeping the new hope of Easter, “God turns despair into new hope and dead ends into new beginnings” . I am claiming that as my new mantra.

    • Barb, I so understand about feeling fed up with oneself. It can turn into a vicious cycle because the lower an opinion we have of ourselves, the less pleasant it becomes to be with us. Remember, though, there are quite a few of us who have been there and understand. I love the thought you quoted from the sermon. It is especially appropriate for me right now, too. Thanks for being here and sharing hope amid the trials.

  4. I’m there waiting for you, holding your hand. ♥

    • Thank you! It’s not so bad here with such good company. ❤

      • Sending healing hugs ♥

        • Thank you M! ❤

  5. MaryAnn

    These are beautiful words to remember to be that one person who reaches out to another.
    I love you & I, too, will meet you there!

    • Thank you Mary Ann! I have seen you there many times over the years. ❤

  6. We’ll be there with you.

    • Thank you Merry. It helps more than you know. ❤ Quite a few of you from Upper Room have been with us from the earliest days of our "new (and ever-evolving) normal."

  7. Your words! It’s not just what you are saying, it’s the amazing way you word. Excellent. Thank you. Love you.

    • Thank you so much, Barb. That means a great deal coming from you. As I’ve said so many times, this blog would almost certainly never have come into being without your help and encouragement. ❤

  8. Julia, you have helped me in my sorrow more than once. This blog is helping me cope in this stage of Ron and my life. I pray for you, Jeff and Matt each day. Love to you, sister. I love your strength.

    • Thank you Cherie! Your warm thoughts, emails and continual support have meant so much. Friends who share our journey of walking with a spouse or loved one through scary times can give us understanding that helps us survive!

  9. We are travelling with you Julia xoxo

    • Thank you Pauline. The road has been made easier, more illuminating and considerably more colorful with you along. ❤

  10. (((Julia))) This is a beautiful piece of writing and one that should be shared far and wide. Personal grief is a private internal journey, but not a journey that needs to be traveled alone. Family, friends and community need to rally around for support. Many don’t know how.

    A friend of mine lost her youngest brother in an auto accident several years ago. She noticed that friends started to avoid her, including people at her church. I was stunned. As you’ve said here, they’re uncomfortable so they avoid.

    I’ve told my boys that when someone is hurt or sad or grieving, they usually need to talk. You can’t “cause someone to cry” as I’ve been told before. The person in question may need to cry, and your listening ear allows them to safely express those feelings.

    Arms around you. You are wise and dear.

    • Thank you so much, Alys. I am so happy you like the post, and your kind words and deeds are, always and ever, a gift to me. ❤

      • Julia, how wonderful to find you here with published comments and your replies in turn. I shared this post on Facebook and a friend shared it as well. Sending you love and light.

  11. Renee West

    That was deep, so true & meaningful. Exercise your gift my girlfriend God has bestowed this gift upon you to share it with the world.

    • Thank you Renee. Those words seem so small to cover such a huge piece of emotional real estate. Thank you for always being there to lift me up and show me through your own life that we can and will be “more than conquerors.” Your encouragement helps me keep going, and I know that is true for many others besides me.

  12. There are a lot of people who will meet you there. We are here for you .

    • Thank you Marlene. Good company is a rare and beautiful consolation.

  13. Ann

    Oh Julia, after reading this all I can say is how poignant, how beautiful. I’ll meet you there.

    • Thank you, Ann. It is a great comfort to have you here.

  14. Good morning, Julia! I have never visited a concentration camp, but I’ve seen other memorials that evoke tears. Sometimes we see someone else at such a memorial, silently crying as are we, and we may feel that we’re sharing a common experience. But you’re right; we weep for our own reasons.
    Do we weep for fear – fear that it will “happen again” and maybe this time we’ll be the victim? Do we weep in grief – for personal loss? Do we weep for the feelings of loss and humiliation that others have experienced? Do we weep in compassion and sympathy – in solidarity with the tens of thousands that have cried in suffering and pain? Do we weep for these present times – knowing that to this very day, others are crying due to political conflicts or human trafficking? Do we weep in guilt and shame – for the times that we’ve failed to courageously stand up for what is right? Perhaps we don’t even know why we weep, or cannot face the truth. I know that I’m a coward.
    Thank you for walking with me via your blog these years. Your compassion means a lot.
    Love to you and your family, and prayers.

    • Susan, I would never describe you as a coward. I can remember when I first found out LTC Cobeil had died in Vietnam, I cried rivers and was both surprised and ashamed of my tears; I felt I had no right to them (as if such a notion made sense) because I had never even met him, though I wore his bracelet wrapped tightly around my wrist with the vow not to remove it until he was accounted for. What I had thought would be a joyful ritual (removing the bracelet) was instead a sad and tragic one. But as you say, at the time I did not know really why I was so weepy, as I’m not one who cries easily. Years later I wrote of that afternoon, “I wept the helpless, secondhand tears of one who views a tragedy from a distance and is moved without understanding why.” I think it’s probably a very common reaction to feel deep sadness about events that are distant from us. It speaks of our universal connection, but perhaps also (more darkly) about our preference to mourn from a safer, removed place. In both senses, I think our grief does bind us to others even as it paradoxically isolates us. Thanks so much for being with us in thought, prayers, and even in person, through our long journey.

  15. … and sometimes we just need a good cry.
    I just love William Wallace’s “A Litany” about the cleansing tears of repentance: (warning – it can be a tear jerker!)

    Blessings on your day!

    • How beautiful! I read that he wrote that at Christchurch, Oxford — I went to vespers at that church when I visited Drew while he was there in school.

  16. Sheila

    Julia, although I’ve read this incredible post many times since Monday, and pondered it all week, after reading it to Bill, sharing it with him was so special. I think it was because he said, “Julia is really a master of words, isn’t she?” It meant the world to me! I hope the post surgery is going well. There were so many wonderful comments, encouragement, and love. I have so missed a special person here and I felt God at work. Love to all, Sheila 🙏

    • Sheila, thanks so much for your kind heart, and please thank Bill for the compliment. It meant a lot to me too! Your presence is felt, welcomed and appreciated!! Sending love and gratitude. ❤

  17. HarryS

    I always felt so awkward and uncomfortable on going to funerals until someone taught me about the”Ministry Of Being”.
    I almost couldn’t stand to go.
    I came to the conclusion that just being there is so important.
    What would a funeral be like without the people who are just “being there”
    After a while I saw how important this is for any kind of suffering.

    Thank you Julia.

    • Harry, thanks so much for sharing your experience. It’s a valuable and important insight. Your comment about the “ministry of being” reminds me of how Gloria told me years ago, we are human beings, not human doings. Being there is so crucial in some situations. Thanks for being here too!

  18. Sigh, it’s only this dang void of geography that keeps me at a distance. My heart always wants to be with you there. I got your beautiful card on Thursday and I was so touched. When I’m wanting to be lifting your spirits, you lift mine both emotionally and spiritually. Thank you for your friendship Julia, I feel so blessed. I wonder how you’re sleeping and hope that you’re eating. I know you have lots of love around you and some good news to bring relief and hope. Having never faced such dire situations myself, it’s hard to know what best to say or do but I know you know how much we care. Love Kelly.

    • I’m so relieved that you got my card…I have another I’ve been waiting to send you, but was slightly afraid I must have done something wrong, and with my address book accidentally left in York, I didn’t want to take any chances. However, I did print up some fun photos to send you, which I’ll try to post soon. Just going back and looking at them was super fun. I had forgotten about quite a few of them.

      Thanks so much for your kind words and encouragement. I’m sleeping well and eating far too much — have gained about 5 pounds in the hospital even though my FitBit says I was walking more than usual. I took the stairs instead of elevators and ran all over the HUGE hospital complex while Jeff was sleeping or getting scans or other such things. I do know how much you care, and I carry all these warm wishes around with me in a special super-sparkly aqua virtual clutch purse with pics from our trip inside. 😀

      • ❤ ❤ ❤ Thank you in advance! I'm sure some of these photo's are tiara worthy, LOL.

        • Wow, it’s almost like you have already taken a peek at them. I laughed out loud at some of them. 🙂

  19. Great post, Julia.
    At the worst times it is best just to sit in silence with one who is grieving. An awareness of a loving supportive presence is comfort enough for one who can at that moment not manage a word.

    • Thank you, Alan. BTW I got two lovely books in the mail. 🙂

      • Glad they arrived. Hope you enjoy them.

        • I already am. I just had to pick up the poetry book and glance through it quickly even though I didn’t have time to take a break right then, hee-hee.

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