I’ve been skittering around the topic of heartbreak for several weeks now. How to write about it? What to say? It seems, often, that heartbreak is all around. But is it mine to speak of?
Illness and loss of ability are common, and heartbreaking to see. Death is ever-present: people that I went to school with; relatives; friends; residents of this small island. Lately, there has been news every week of one loss or another. I knew every one of them, some better than others. I am saddened by each death. It feels arrogant to talk about my own sadness, though, and somehow disdainful of those closer to the loss. I’m not one of the parents, the spouses, the adult children, or the best friends.
I could skirt the subject entirely. I could talk about the heart-breaking-ly beautiful way my hollyhocks have bloomed this year. They came up like two giant bouquets in my narrow flower bed. The stalks lean, so I see their red blooms, visited frequently by bumblebees and hummingbirds, through the window of my kitchen door. I could write about floods in Germany, wildfires in the northwest, or the rise of the Delta variant. Lord knows, every day’s news offers plenty of heartbreak!
I could talk about my own personal heartbreaks. Some of them don’t hold up very well in hindsight. There was the man that rejected me, throwing me into a months-long depression. Honestly, I had already been gathering a list of faults and grievances about him. If he hadn’t walked away, I’m sure I eventually would have. There was the job I thought I wanted and felt I deserved, that broke my heart when I didn’t get it. Realistically, I can think of a hundred reasons why it would have frustrated me, and why the way it worked out was better all around.
Of course, I’ve also had true, stand-up-to-time heartbreaks. More than enough. I understand the frustration and sadness of not being able to do things that used to be taken for granted. I know that it’s often just as hard for those watching the decline, as it is for the ones experiencing it. I know how difficult it is to see those we love in pain. And I recognize that, sometimes, when death comes, it is a blessing.
I know, too, that no matter the blessing, no matter the acceptance, that is only the beginning of the heartbreak. That is when the harsh reality sets it. When the realization strikes that somehow life will continue on, and yet never be the same. There are the litany of holidays and special events that continue to arrive, in spite of the glaring absence of the loved one. There are all the ordinary days when you look up and expect to see them coming through the door, pick up the telephone and expect to hear their voice, or when you – from a scent or a shadow or a summer breeze – feel that they are right beside you. Then, the heart breaks again, with the cruel reminder, “still gone.”
A segment on this morning’s news was talking about a disaster somewhere. It was just background noise as I worked on something else. I looked at the screen in time to see one of the bystanders talking into a microphone. “You see all the heart-ache,” she said, “and it breaks your own heart.” That’s it, exactly! Whether, in sympathy, we can say, “I know what this feels like,” or, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” is not important. Our hearts break when we see the heart-ache. Our hearts break for you; our hearts break with you.