Treasuring the final tear of a loved one

Often patients who are about to die will shed a single tear, and in some instances a second tear. This phenomenon known as lacrima mortis or the tear of death is a source of mystery that transcends this mortal realm.

Dying people often refer to “going home” as they journey to the “other side”. But mystery surrounds this event. Dr. Lwema Matthew relates the story of a blind nine-year-old with a terminal illness who said he was in contact with three angels and was able to accurately describe what people were wearing even though his eyes had been surgically removed.

Recently members of my brother’s family saw one tear, and later a second, as he was born to eternal life. Palliative care workers and family members attending the dying have often witnessed the shedding of a single tear, or often two, as a loved one leaves this world. 

On line comments describe this phenomenon:
“…something I saw touched my heart in a way that will change the way I look at life forever. As he was passing and we were talking to him, a tear welled up in his eye. ‘He's crying!’ my mom and I said to each other...” 

“My Dad died on Easter Sunday of 2014. [When]My sister arrived [and]… started speaking, a single tear ran down his face... I went and sat beside him… telling him I loved him... He let another tear fall. It broke my heart.”

My suggestion is not to feel sadness over these final tears. If we are privileged enough to be present at this moment of passage, it will become a fond memory in time. “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts.” Percy Bysshe Shelley

Some nursing staffs attending the dying provide a tear cloth the family may use to treasure the final tear of a loved one. Some have incorporated these into flower bouquets at a wedding or some such thing, an attempt to share the beauty of what we cannot see in these events. 

Doctor I. Lichter studied this phenomenon in 100 patients nearing death. Fourteen shed a final tear at the time of death, and 13 within the last 10 hours of life. That final tear might reflect the sadness of leaving, but it might reflect seeing the face of God or the joy of greeting loved ones on the other side.

An experience I have witnessed more than once is that of a dying person fixing their eyes on something beyond us in the room. A radiant smile replaces the pain and worry for the moment.

“It is a relaxing of the tear duct that releases that final tear”, some say. If you are like me, you can accept this experience shared by one who lost her mother: “in the final minute of her life she shed a tear… and then about half a minute later another tear flowed exactly the same way… I dabbed [it] up.

“… I think my mom was saying, Thank you kids for being here and taking good care of me, it’s been wonderful and oh my how I would like to continue… but alas it’s not to be so I bid you adieu, both fondly and sadly…

“Mom, we will miss you very much. You were really something. And you wrote a great last chapter for yourself and for your loved ones. Thank you.”
(569 words)

By Ken Rolheiser