The language of heartbreak


Today I had one of the most powerful, heartbreaking, interactions with someone that I can recall. This someone was a total stranger to me, yet I somehow knew who he was the moment I stepped into the hotel lift. I asked him a question, and with a gentle smile and two words of very broken English, learned there was no language to be shared between us. We got off the lift, he went his way and the boys and I went our way, which was over toward the front desk to check out of the hotel.

As I turned to head out the main door, the young man was coming back inside. He smiled and nodded at me. With a bit of a tremble inside, I held out my mobile phone which showed the photo of another young man. He looked up at me, nodding again, and my hand went to my heart…”I am so sorry” I said to him. Our hands reached out for each other (I don’t know who extended their hand first) both of us, our eyes welling with tears, just held hands.

We just stood there in the hotel lobby as we continued to quietly hold each other’s hand, tears ever growing, and with no words able to be exchanged.

But words aren’t always needed in the language of heartbreak.

After a minute – or was it a few? I don’t know – our hands began to release from the other’s, with a gentle squeeze a time or two as they fell apart. There were tears that came in the understanding gaze between us, then the respectful bows of the head to one another, and with that, we began to move apart.

He took a few steps and turned back around…hands with palms close together at his chest, he bowed to me. And in absolute respect, solidarity and the aching empathy of heartbreak, I returned the bow.

With that, we parted ways. I loaded the boys into our van, sat on the driver’s seat, and sobbed. Uncontrollably sobbed. I don’t think I have ever felt so powerfully the emotion, the pain, radiating from a grieving person’s hand up through my own hand as I held it, and as our eyes connected in that unspoken language of heartbreak.

It shook me, hard.

I don’t know his name, although what came to me as I held his hand was the word “brother” so my heart tells me that this was, either biologically or emotionally, his link to the smiling young man whose photo I held out hesitantly to him on my mobile.

Heartbreak doesn’t need the same language to be understood when there is compassion, empathy, and genuine caring between people who have experienced grief. One touch, many tears, and the silent expression of love can bridge the absence of spoken language amongst those in pain.

My heart goes out to this young man in the hotel who travelled to our island country under the most horrific of circumstances – to bring home someone he clearly loved but who had been taken from him in an incomprehensible and terrible act of violence. I wish him, and his family, the healing peace that I think only time can bring. But I also want to thank him for sharing so much with me on a level that we don’t often get to experience with others with whom we cannot share via the spoken word. Whether he knows it or not, today he gave me this rare and special gift.


Rest in Peace, Yosuke Sasaki



3 thoughts on “The language of heartbreak

  1. There are times when, literally, there are no words. But by your recognition of him and your physical support in the holding of his hand, you were there for him in shared sorrow.
    It was enough for him to know someone knew and shared.
    Thank you for giving when so many more of us weren’t given the privilege.
    You alone could offer what he needed in that moment of shared heartbreak.💓

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