“Perhaps some day I’ll crawl back home, beaten, defeated. But not as long as I can make stories out of my heartbreak, beauty out of sorrow.” –Sylvia Plath
Every person will eventually experience heartbreak—death of a loved one, broken relationship, losing a job, betrayal or abuse. While walking through devastation and grief, we too often feel isolated and completely cut off from others. This alone-ness becomes one more thing to grieve, moving us further and further into a downward spiral.
Even more often than experiencing our own heartbreak, we find ourselves faced with friends or family who are walking through difficult times. Most of the time, we feel helpless. Their pain makes us uncomfortable. We have no clue how to respond. A common response is to withdraw.
Rather than withdrawing, I tend to be a “fixer.” I notice people at the margins, people who are isolated, people who are struggling. I am drawn to move closer to them and treasure hearing their stories. But for far too many years, I tended to respond with words, words, and more words. I tried to encourage them, to share resources, to connect them with help. Sometimes that is indeed what folks want. Eventually, however, I figured out that my responses were far more about “me” than they were about the person I was standing beside.
And then came a devastating day almost 8 years ago. On the morning of April 8, 2008, I got the phone call every parent dreads: “your child is being life-flighted to a trauma center.” That teen son never regained consciousness and died later that evening. My own heartbreak, devastation, and grief had begun…
In the years since then, I learned that neither withdrawal nor “fixing” was particularly helpful. What I really needed were people to draw close and just sit with me in my pain; folks who let me talk and cry without censure. By their presence, this kind of friend made it clear by their actions that I was not alone, even when my feelings told me otherwise.
Beyond someone to break the lies of isolation, I needed stories. I wanted to share memories of my son, laughing at pranks he pulled, shaking my head at his quirks. I craved hearing stories from others about things he said, encouragement he gave, ways he made them smile.
Today, eight years after my heart was shattered, I still need stories. I love to swap tales with folks who knew my son. But I also treasure hearing the stories of others who have walked through heartbreak. We have experiences in common. As we share our accounts, we draw closer together. The isolation disappears.
Somehow in making stories out of heartbreak, we discover we are making beauty out of sorrow.
(If you want practical ideas of how to help someone who is grieving, please check out this new book by Gary Roe: Please Be Patient, I’m Grieving. If you are the one who is heartbroken, the stories shared in this book will encourage you and remind you that you are NOT alone. This is an EXCELLENT resource, written by a man who has walked through the death of his wife, and who is now a hospice chaplain, helping others navigate heartbreak.)
(And if you would like to learn how to use art and words to sort through your own story of grief, please check the “Classes” tab on this website for materials I offer online, or you can click HERE to see my resources.)