People talk about being heartbroken. My heart is broken, people will say, and I’ve always assumed it was a visceral metaphor for the pain that loss brings. To be fair, I always thought that pain was a metaphor, too; it doesn’t literally, physically hurt, I thought, it’s just easier to talk about emotions in those terms. But let’s just say it does, physically, hurt – because it does. Perhaps for some people, that pain is best described with the image of a heart, well, breaking; perhaps cracking first, and then that sudden, irreperable shatter. It’s a good metaphor. You can stick it together, in time, but the cracks will always be weaker, and you might lose a few little bits along the way, and – well. That’s one way of looking at a broken heart.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve acquired a slightly different view. My heart is structurally fine, metaphorically as much as literally. It’s just faulty. Malfunctioning. Not doing what it used to, or what I feel it should.
Then again, perhaps this is a feature, not a bug. Perhaps turning the volume down on all my emotions is its own self-preservation tactic, to avoid confronting that reality, she is dead, she is dead, she is dead, and logically we know that and the emotions would break us, truly, break us in the first sense, shatter us into too many pieces for glue.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil
It’s strange how familiar lines take on new meanings. A terminal cancer diagnosis is a shadow of death, but grief is no valley. Grief is a ravine, and you’re shown into it by well-meaning and kind individuals who can’t see it like you can; ‘you’ll get through this’, they may say as they watch you step inside, and maybe even ‘we’ll help you through this’. My gratitude is genuine. Problem is, there’s only room for you in this ravine, and for some reason, you’re the only one who sees it. Here you are, squeezing your way through this tiny unyielding space, and you might look up and see other people walking along the edge, cheering you along, ‘you’re doing great!’ they say but how can they know that when the sky is blue and clear up there, the grass is soft under their feet, and their pain is something they have learned to carry with them and not be transported by it.
Sometimes I hear others in their own ravines. Right now, that’s the most comfort I receive. The immediacy of my experience requires immediacy in those who empathise. Seeing someone two years, five years, ten years down the line feels like fast-forwarding to the end. I don’t want to do that, because I need to be in here. Somehow, I know beyond any doubt that this is exactly where I’m supposed to be. That I want to explore each stone, each shade of colour, each twist and turn of this ravine before the landscape changes again, as I know it will. That I need this; that it’s only by feeling everything that I will draw the most wisdom and grace from this whole life-changing experience. That if this didn’t hurt, what would have been the point?
I will fear no evil. On days like today, I see grief as a blessing, a clarifying fire that takes my love for her – my easy, soft, untested love for her – and makes beauty I’ll carry for the rest of my life. It hurts, and I cherish it.