Experiencing Heartbreak In Non-Romantic Places
A reminder that breakups aren’t the only things that can eviscerate your heart.
As with seemingly everything else I write, this particular piece was intended as a general and objective overview, yet it ended up evolving into something intricately personal. I hope you can relate, but I also kind of hope you can’t. Anyway —
I can vividly recall the first time I suffered a broken heart. I was fifteen, it was my first relationship and the breakup wholly caught me by surprise. It hurt so viscerally that it marred every little thing around me for a very long time. It felt like my chest was in physical pain, as though the ache of it wouldn’t stop getting caught in the back of my throat.
And I remember a cluster of heartbreaks after that point, each falling somewhere within the broad spectrum of that particular type of devastation. Knowing that the one person whom I cared for in a special, intimate way would rather be alone, or with somebody else, than with me. I looked forward to the day where a broken heart would stay in the past, as it felt like the worst feeling imaginable at the time.
But then again, at the time I was pretty damn naive, too.
A breakup leaves you behind, but grief… grief knows how to stay. Grief sticks around like a fog, day after day. So much so that it becomes the backdrop to everything you do. You just sort of weave your life around it after awhile. It becomes a part of you, of the integral fabric of your being.
And it doesn’t go away. It fades in and out, like a song on the radio whose volume fluctuates with inconsistent frequency, but never stops playing.
The thing is, I turned thirty this year and I’ve never felt older, by which I mean I’ve been grieving so many things, and they’ve really been taking a toll. I lost both my Dad and our family dog, as well as my faith in a lot of people, during the past 6 months. The sentiment I keep coming back to is how it feels as though my heart is utterly broken — more broken than it had been before, more broken than I ever thought it could be.
It seems that all I’ve managed to do lately is grieve.
Grief has painted my life a dark shade of grey, and it’s consumed most of my energy, too.
I’m grieving who I used to be, the young girl whose naivety kept her warm at night. My life was privileged in so many ways, ways to which I remained — throughout most of my youth — blissfully ignorant. That I even had the self-entitlement to complain at all now baffles me.
I’m grieving the family I used to have, the one that now lives permanently in my memory. Since my parents’ divorce a few years ago, there’s been a chasm left in its wake. Deconstructing my childhood from a new lens, a lens of marital discord and dysfunction that I hadn’t known even existed, was a painful task. Holiday seasons are laden with expectations as I long for traditions and activities affiliated with the nuclear family that I no longer have.
I’m grieving the future I didn’t get to have, though I had planned to — one where my father would walk me down the aisle, one where he’d get to enjoy his retirement and meet his grandchildren. One where I didn’t have to suffer his tremendous loss and have to plan his funeral while still so young.
I’m grieving a loss of innocence, a home in which I used to live where I believed that people were inherently good and that life would take it easy on me when things got hard. The belief that all those around me would help me up after I fell, that no one would try to kick me back down. I lost the sheer faith that people always had good in them, good that would inevitably prevail over evil.
I’m grieving the loss of a beautiful pet, by all accounts a staple in our family, whose body had failed him long before his years. An intelligent, stoic Doberman Pinscher whom you swore could understand much more than he let on. He was my buddy, always happy to see me and fiercely loyal to his family. He stole all the blankets in the house because he loved to use them as pacifiers, and god forbid you’d leave out a pizza bun (or any other edible item for that matter) on the kitchen counter.
I’m grieving the fact that I am no longer someone who hasn’t looked death in the eyes. Standing right in the line of fire because the only thing worse than being there is not being there. Watching a loved one suffer and being unable to spare them of their pain. To not only have lost two family members in the span of six months but to have literally watched them be dismantled from the front line. To have been bedside both times to say that dreaded goodbye. I didn’t think my heart could break more than it did the first time, but much to my own surprise, it did.
Without fail, I run into a piece of my broken heart everywhere I go.
It’s in the old apron of my Dad’s that I wear whenever I’m cooking because I have a propensity for spilling things on my clean clothing. It’s in my family videos and photo albums, relics of a childhood that’s no longer, memories that have morphed into ghosts.
It’s in my brother’s laugh when he’s laughing at me, and my sister’s habit of playing music way too loudly while driving her car. It’s in the father-daughter dances I watch from afar but can never partake in. It’s in my intense enthusiasm with all the hobbies I endeavor and the fact that I love animals as though they were people.
It’s in a song I hear that I know he’d love but can no longer share with him. It’s in the fact that I haven’t deleted his profile off my work messenger app because I like to see his name (even though it’s forever offline). It’s in every holiday, laden with expectations that can never be met and lacking all sense of the traditions that once were.
No matter the city I’m in or the experiences I have or people I run into, grief remains.
In a broad sense, grieving is the act and struggle of coping with our inability to control our loss — to accept that we have to keep moving forward while missing a part of our lives we believed we couldn’t live without.
And although I wish it were otherwise, there are endless opportunities for heartache outside of a breakup. There is nothing we can really do to safeguard our hearts from hurting, no matter how old or how evolved we are and eventually become.
But one thing that isn’t lost (on me) is the fact that my heart can, and by all accounts will, break over and over again and still survive. And that I’m not looking death in the eyes because I have strength, but rather because I have no choice. Though some sense of resilience might come as an outcome after the fact — the jury’s still out on that one.
I’m painfully aware of the fragility of life, a finite amount of time that is guaranteed to no one. And I’m certainly not the exception, I’ve just my whole life until this point without suffering such monumental and traumatic losses. There are some things that you never come back from quite the same, and although the person I am today is more grateful, humble and perhaps empathetic, there are days I wish more than anything that I didn’t have to be.
And let this serve as a reminder that someone may, by all accounts, appear totally fine on the outside, and yet inside they have a heart with nothing but holes. And such is life.
“Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it.” ― Cheryl Strayed