Culture

An Instruction Manual for the Brokenhearted

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Loss is part of life. It’s part of the creation we belong to, the cycle happening in us and around us during every minute of every day. When the plant sprouts, the seed is lost. When the sun sets, they day is over. An end of one season is the beginning of another. This is how it is in the human life.

There are obvious losses, like the death of someone you love, a divorce, a bankruptcy, a season of unemployment. There are losses that are a little less clearly defined, like the loss of health, the loss of routines when we move to a new city or take a new job, the losses of dreams or youth. Relevant and in today’s news, there is the loss of security, property, and lives throughout Houston from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.

Losses are real, and they often require a time of grieving. Broken hearts need time to heal. After the wave of shock or numbness, we then begin to feel angry or sad before we can step into a season of understanding and acceptance. The process is natural and necessary. If we rush it, we hurt ourselves more deeply.

The book, How to Survive the Loss of a Love, written by Harold H. Bloomfield, M. D., Melba Colgrove, Ph.D., and Peter McWilliams, is a manual for the brokenhearted. With more than three million copies in print, the words of these experts have brought timeless, universal comfort for more than three decades. In the chapter titled “Survive,” the authors write about the first steps of recovery.

You Will Survive. This loss and pain are for a season, and this will not last forever. Though it feels endless and consuming and the end of you, this will get better. You will get better. Healing has a beginning, a middle, and an end. When you are at the beginning, know that there is an end, even if you cannot see it. The authors write this imperative: “Tell yourself, often, ‘I am alive. I will survive.’”

You Are Not Alone. Though your path may be unique to you, everyone experiences loss. Find the people who’ve experienced similar loss as you have. Somehow, finding your tribe can carry you from the gasping immediate pain to the smoother steps of shared suffering. When you walk with someone, your togetherness can hold you above the waves. Join a support group, either in person or online. Read books, articles, or journals from others who’ve traveled this path before you. Their words are proof that you will survive.

Anything You Feel Is Acceptable. You may go through a broad spectrum of feelings: numbness, fear, no feelings, and every feeling. All of these are okay. Emotions can be frightening, but hurting is part of healing. Identify the difference between what you feel and what you know. Feelings are often true, in the sense that nobody can deny what is happening in your heart; but they are also often inaccurate, in the sense that they do not represent the facts of your situation. Allow yourself to feel your emotions without giving them the reins of your life.

Give Yourself Time. The healing process is long, slow, and it is not a smooth progression of steps on a path. It’s more like a ball of rubber bands, with each step overlapping with another and cycling back on itself. It can be maddening to feel like you’re not moving forward, but know that whether you feel better or worse than yesterday, the healing process is underway and happening within you. The greater the loss, the more time it may take to heal. Give yourself margin and permission and time.

Expect and Allow for the Mental Fog. Sometimes your brain may feel like it’s operating in slow motion, and you may make mistakes that seem obvious. You may feel like you can’t put your thoughts together into words, and you may forget or misplace things several times in a row. This kind of mental fog and absentmindedness are common in the wake of loss. Sometimes, your body has to make a choice between all of the demands, so it slows its outward activity to make room for the inward healing.

If You Need It, Get Help. This is not a time to be brave, and help is not weakness. Get the help you need, and get it today. Ask others for help by gathering your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers into a network around you. Invite a friend to stay overnight. Call a Help Line, support organization, or local church. And always, in the case of suicidal thoughts or emergency, call 9-1-1. There are people waiting to help you.

Do Your Grieving Now. Healing comes in telling the story a thousand times. Do not deny, cover, hide from, or run from your pain. Be here now. Everything else can—and should—wait. Your emotions require the same healing as a physical wound, though it’s not as obvious from the outside. When you resist mourning, when you deny grief, you are interrupting the body’s natural pursuit of recovery. Don’t take on new responsibilities. Make healing your priority.

Be Gentle with Yourself. Be kind, forgiving, generous, rewarding, and tender with yourself. Accept that it will take a while before you are well, and treat yourself with the kindness and care you would give a friend. When you feel impatient with your own process, remind yourself that you are undergoing a major life change. Accept your loss gracefully, and be kind to the one who hurts: it’s you.

 

Tricia Lott Williford is a remarried widow, a writer, teacher, reader, and thinker, and the author of three books. Her newest book is You Can Do This: Seizing the Confidence God Offers. Thousands of readers join her each morning for a cup of coffee as they sign online to read today’s funny, poignant stories that capture the fleeting moments of life. She collects words, quotes, and bracelets, and she lives in Denver with her husband and two sons. You can get to know Tricia through her regular posts at tricialottwilliford.com.