Life will Break our Hearts and Maybe That's the Point

Gillian May

Photo by Claudia on Unsplash

Recently, I read an article about a man who lost his son to cancer. The way he wrote it, I could see and feel his experience and it brought a level of empathy that actually hurt. Because his heartbreak reminded me of my own.

I was brought back to the death of my father, three and a half years ago. I saw myself crumpled on the floor in the hallway holding the sweater he’d died in five months earlier. It still smelled of the liver disease that he acquired through years of heavy drinking. At that moment, I realized my anger and fear over losing him made me avoid him in the few years leading up to his death.

The experience of empathetically relating to another persons experience brought something into sharp focus today. We can run from our heartbreak but something will always bring it back to us. A moment of empathy in another’s story, a reminder, a trigger, or a memory, can all bring heartbreak back to us.

Nothing we do will stop us from experiencing pain from loss, tragedy, change, or disappointment. We can try to run, avoid, cover up or distract, but the pain will always be there waiting for us around every corner.

Life will break our hearts and maybe that’s the point.

When I look back now, avoiding my dad did nothing for me. It never stopped my pain, and it certainly didn’t stop the drinking that caused his death. It did, however, prevent me from sharing those last few years with him. Some questions never got answered, and important things never got said.

As I sat there crying into his sweater, I realized that I was hoping to control the situation using withdrawal as a way to manipulate and change things.

In these past few years, I let it all go. I accepted the choices my dad made as well as the one I made that kept me from him. Even our choices break our hearts. But it can teach us something we desperately need to learn. For me, it was to stop running and avoiding things.

I think the most significant cause of our daily suffering is the amount of resistance we tend to put up to avoid heartache and other uncomfortable feelings.

My father gave me a beautiful nugget of advice in the days before he died. He said, “I want you to let loose a little.” I laughed at the time. I thought he meant I should dance around or something. But he was telling me to let go of resentment, and the need to be right, to control, and to avoid.

We all could stand to let go of our control and avoidance tactics. We need this now more than ever.

I’ve never gained anything by trying to control and avoid pain. I don’t think anyone does. Yet we contort our lives and create drama as we resist the normal flow of daily life.

Just yesterday I caught myself going around in a loop of worry in my mind. I was concocting ways to fix my health and finance problems, creating scenarios that weren’t even real. It was that warped “here’s the worst that could happen” fantasy that many of us do.

I do this because I can’t stand the discomfort of uncertainty. And yet, I know that every aspect of life on earth is uncertain. We don’t know how anything will turn out, but we love to obsess about how to control and avoid it, don’t we?

We can’t stop these heartbreaks like losing our loved ones or coping with catastrophic change, but we can recognize that no matter what we do, these things happen anyway. If we know that pain is inevitable maybe we can learn to accept and be present with it.

As I sat there on the floor holding my dad’s shirt, I saw the inevitability of the loss I was experiencing. I saw how avoiding my dad never protected me from the pain of losing him. At that moment, I vowed never to make that mistake again.

These days, when I resist the pain of life, I stay present by becoming aware. I tell myself, “I’m resisting again.” Once I become aware of it, I take a breath and settle into the moment. I ask myself what pain am I avoiding and then I do the opposite of avoiding; I move towards it.

This is a simple mindfulness practice that we can all do to help us embrace and accept the inevitable heartbreak of being alive.

This practice offers nothing magical other than allowing our feelings to surface underneath the mind games we play to cover them up. It helps us make room for all these complex emotions.

We can then become aware of the love that fuels our desire to avoid heartbreak. Because it is love that makes us hurt when we lose people or when things change.

Avoiding heartbreak is the same as avoiding life. The whole point of being alive is to open our hearts and love. But this also means that we expose ourselves to challenges and loss.

We simply can’t have life without heartbreak, so we may as well learn how to open ourselves up and make room for it all.

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I'm a former nurse turned freelance writer. I have extensive experience in administration, frontline care, and education in mental health, public health, and geriatrics. However, after 20 years, I needed a change and always wanted to write. I have personal and family experience in mental health and addictions, so I'm passionate about advocacy and education in those areas. I'm also a traveler, photographer, and artist. I funnel all my various expertise into my writing and hope to provide valuable content that is entertaining and educational. Join my email list if you want to read more of my work - I also have a book on Alcoholic Liver Disease coming out in 2021.


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