I didn’t get to be 47 years old and not learn a few things along the way. Some are fun lessons, some funny, and of course there are some that are out right painful. Some lessons are a direct result of our own actions, often in the form of unpleasant consequences while others are served up without pre-ordering, they are just a part of living life. Within all of these is the ability to learn, be shaped and emerge a better person or we can walk away from what we were taught and carry grudges and bitterness that eat at the heart and soul, making us mean, ugly, hateful beings.
Long ago as a child I believed that if I fell down and skinned my knee, a band-aid and a kiss from mom would make the boo-boo all better. The reality is the boo-boo was not all better, the injury was still there under the bandage, covered and hidden. Mom’s kiss was love but it couldn’t heal the hurt on it’s own.
Bandages come in all shapes, sizes and designs. There is a band-aid for just about every taste, even casts for broken limbs now come in colors, seasonal designs or with sport team emblems on them. The dressings over the wounds served to keep them covered and safe, aiding in the healing process that was taking place underneath the covering.
Some boo-boos healed quickly and were forgotten, other lacerations were slow to heal and could be easily bumped and reopened to bleed and continue to cause pain. Some of the cuts will leave scars that can be tender for a long time, reminders of the physical trauma that was suffered.
Injuries to our hearts are no different than those to our bodies. Of course I do not mean the physical, blood pumping heart, but that part of us that FEELS emotion. It is interesting to me that something we cannot locate within the body, that has no apparent physical substance, can feel pain so intense that it is often experienced on a physical level. The bandages for our hearts also come in a variety of shapes, sizes, people, events…it is endless what will help cover the brokenness and start the process to healing.
I knew that the day would come when I would suffer the loss of my husband. His job carries that risk every time he is on duty. I always knew in the back of my mind that one day my worst fears would be faced and he would be gone from my life, I just always assumed it would be through his death not by his choice to end our marriage. While I could only imagine what the pain of that loss would feel like, nothing could have prepared me for anything so intense. At times it was so bad I could hardly breathe and I wanted to die just to make it stop. I cried more in those first few months than I think I have in my entire lifetime. In that time I learned there is pain so incredible that you cannot even describe it in words. I also learned that it is very similar in it’s healing process to that of losing someone to death, all stages of grief will be experienced.
Broken hearts are the worst kind of boo-boo we can suffer. Those breaks come in all levels of severity from scraps to shatters that are seemingly beyond repair. Some hurts will heal without leaving a mark, others will have deep scars that will fade only ever so slightly. And if you have your mom around, count on her to be the first to put a band-aid on it, kiss it, and try to make it all better. I learned several important lessons in healing this broken heart, that a shattered one requires a LOT of bandages, and probably hundreds of changes to those dressings.
Like a serious physical injury, those first few weeks the best thing you can do is NOTHING. Try not to use that injured heart, just cover it and try not to further bump or bruise it, time and rest are what is required. The initial bandages are strictly protective in nature, wrapping it and keeping it safe. Family and close friends are often those very band-aids, as they wrap you in love, allowing you to fight the bacteria that threatens to infect the open sore. Love and support are the antibiotics in the earliest stages of the healing process, hugs, shoulders to cry on, ears that listen even when you aren’t making a bit of sense. The people that love you dress those wounds, protecting you while you lash out irrationally and try like hell to make sense of it all and put the pieces back together. They are your ICU team while your heart is on life support.
As time passes all the stages of grief are a given, I’ve been through all 5 stages, a few more than once. Only recently has acceptance hit. Anger, bargaining, denial and depression have tapered off, anger being the last to finally shrink away. As I went through those in the process, many people and things continued to be the applied bandages that brought about the healing, things I’ve covered in detail in previous blogs. The key to getting from where I was to where I am, I believe, was allowing myself to FEEL it all, experience the pain and the laughter, the memories, to ask the questions that have no answers, to vent, cry, scream, be mad, deny, get depressed, feel better and finally, accept. It cannot be changed so just ACCEPTING it all. Many firsts have come and gone, with many more on the road ahead. My heart has gone from being wrapped tightly in a full covering of bandages to just a small band-aid or two in particularly raw places.
In this whole process I re-learned many things that I knew but needed a good refresher course to truly understand.
Emotions are powerful forces, driving us to do and say things we never dreamed ourselves capable, both good and bad. Not all of those things will be wise and rational, often they will be knee jerk reactions with long reaching consequences. Love is the ultimate medication in the arsenal against infection in a wounded heart. Pain causes anger, and anger left to fester becomes hate, and that is an infection to the heart. Like bacteria in the wounds of our flesh, hate eats away at the good, spreading itself like a cancer until the heart becomes dark with rot and decay. Forgiveness is the antibiotic that attacks the hateful, bitter decay, and with that love both given and received, it will heal the heart and help make it whole again. Scars are left behind but with daily doses of on going forgiveness and love, those don’t have to be so tender. Both love and hate are contagious in nature and we must chose which we want to spread around. The choice will either bring forth a healthy, happy heart, or an ugly, nasty mess.
Late last night while my 4-legged band-aid was curled up against my cheek, purring as she fell asleep, I was mentally picking at the scab still on my heart. I was thinking a lot about my daughter and conversations I’ve had with her of late, blogs I have written and things I have been feeling. While I had let most all of it go, accepted it and was moving forward, I was hanging on to a little bit of the anger. Nothing severe, just something to toy with because sometimes it is easier to be mad than let hurt be felt. But that anger can be as cancerous as hate if not dealt with and it was time to let it go. One of the best ways I could think of was to go back and focus on the good things about my marriage. There was a LOT of good, 90% of it was good per Pete himself. And he is right, though I’d even say 95%. I walked away a far better woman than I was 23 years ago. In many ways I don’t know the man I see right now, but then I don’t know all of what is in his head and heart either. But I don’t need to know or understand, just to forgive him and love him, and let him work through his own issues. No more calling him loser, Lord Voldemort, etc. Focusing on positives, and forgiving him, allowed me to remove the scab leaving a tender scar beneath it.
I will always have a special place in my heart for him, we fought a lot of uphill battles as a team. We shared a lot of love and a lot of tears through the years, and we raised two awesome kids into incredible adults. In ending my marriage I learned a very important lesson about happiness. I lived for so long to make him happy, that I forgot to put me and my happiness at least on par with what I did for him, if not first at times. Perhaps that is what is so liberating lately in the many things I’ve done for me, finally taking care of me, my wants, desires, goals….MY happiness. I woke up this morning with a huge weight off my shoulders, I had finally dropped that boulder I was carrying when I forgave, and now I am able to walk with even more of a skip in my step and a song in my heart.
It struck me that perhaps it is no accident that our emotional heart is felt in the same location as the one pumping our life blood through our bodies. Without that life blood, we die. Without a healthy emotional heart that is happy, seeks to live and love, we become an angry, bitter, hateful people. We can chose to be happy or chose to hang on to grudges, bitterness and anger. My choice was to live.
My heart is still tender, and will remain in that protective box where no one can harm it again, but it is off life support, out of ICU, in fact it is checked out of the hospital and is getting better every day.