Landscape of waterfalls

Heartbreak: Uniquely Universal, Universally Unique

The death of a relationship can be torture on multiple levels. You move about life wondering why no one else is sad. Even in the company of well-intentioned friends, the comfort is fleeting, because you know sooner or later you will have to feel the pain alone.

This too shall pass, they say.

True, but no one wants to hear this glib reminder while in the throes of agony.

Today’s entry is a guest post by Christine Grassman. Christine is a conflict resolution specialist working for a department in the federal government. She is a licensed attorney and certified English teacher. She is married and has two adult children. She lives in Virginia, by way of New York, and her hobbies and interests include hiking, tandem cycling, writing, reading, volunteering as a member of her Community Emergency Response Team, making people laugh, making people think, actively participating in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind; (she is the President of the Virginia affiliate’s Potomac Chapter) and spending time with animals . . . and sometimes people.

Interested in submitting your own guest post? Here’s how.

Alright, Christine. Over to you.

“Time heals all wounds.” “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” “The first cut is the deepest.” Are any of these actually true? Are they true sometimes? Never?

Loss, particularly the loss of a significant relationship, is one of the most shattering and painful experiences we humans endure. For most of us, when a relationship is destroyed by inattention, by rejection, by one person moving on, whether amicable or not, it slices through us emotionally to the point where we feel it physically. It is a palpable omnipresence, ingesting all around us, good and bad, and piling it somewhere just out of reach. Every time we try to escape, the maze is cluttered with memories, with unanswered questions, and when there is no real closure, the pain for most is like a conflagration, scorching and torching any and all attempts to move on. Your way is blocked with smoke, with burning embers, with the charred shapeless remains of a natural setting where the air was always fresh, new, and sweet, filled with sighs and song, soft gentle waterfalls, a trip down the rapids and a storm now and then, but always a cleared sky, a smoother trail, a rippling stream emerged.

Sometimes the natural setting had some boulders to climb, some difficult hills and gullies, a flare-up now and again, maybe even an encounter with something beastly that had to be overcome. Yet, the air was still pleasant, the trees beckoning and the flowers beautiful, the land and water filled with life, promise, and almost endless possibilities to explore.

And then . . . something or some things happen or do not happen. And your entire self and world change contemporaneously. It is a living death, and it is, emotionally and cognitively, the same grief. The problem is, you cannot mourn it the way you would a death. You cannot have a memorial service for it, or bury or burn it. Not really. You can do these things symbolically, of course, but it is almost always futile and fleeting, and you always return to the pain, and it always returns to you.

Even this does not explain it, cannot possibly explain what it is going to be like for you, or what it already was like for you . . . or even for me. At the same time, it is quite exact. The pain of heartbreak. of losing love, of losing this shared being “Relationship,” is monumental for most of us, if the relationship meant something to us at any point.

There are so many variables that can make it better or worse, based on context, perspective, who knows, and who doesn’t, who else is involved, whether there are people to say “I told you so”. The spirals and ladders of pain, doubt, questions, and haunting, nagging remnants of red flags that you tried to throw away, but returned recycled in the fabric of memory and self-deprecation.

This has, or This has happened, or this will happen to you. Whether it happens at a difficult or bright point in your life, whether you are in a “not doing much” phase or you are busy 24/7, it will run you over and swallow you like an avalanche. You will have moments of peace when you fall asleep exhausted, either by spent tears or holding them inside, by venting on exercise equipment or junk food, perhaps stronger substances. You will have some measure of comfort when friends give you a picture of the future that does not contain this any longer, when it is gone, like a nightmare on the flimsy wings of memory, the monster under the bed that you merely imagined. Most of the time, it will roar back, and you will succumb again.

Every line you read, every piece of music, every place you visit will be rigged with memory booby traps, that leave new gashes and bruises and broken strands of what you thought would be and would come and would make up a significant piece of your life and your shared identity. Mutual friends will become potential land mines of questions and avoidance. Going to classes or going to work will become marathons or respite, depending on the day, the moment, the hour.

So what to do?

There have been three or four times in my life when I was certain I would never feel right again. I would never dare trust again. I could not imagine feeling worse, trapped day after day, night after night, week after week, in a slow, taunting quicksand of mental and physical ache. Each time, there is an absolute certainty that it will not end, even when, after the first time, you know it does. You know the scars will be there, but they will no longer hurt. Yet you are certain this time this is not going to be true. This time you will not recover. This time you have been destroyed.

You have not been destroyed. You have not. I promise. I also promise that if you are going through this now, you will not believe me, though you will want to believe me. Those of you who have been through this, you know I am correct. Those of you who have not experienced this yet will feel, perhaps, that you are now forewarned and forearmed. There is no such thing.

There is no preparation, no salve, not a thing or person or song or quote, not any substance that will prepare you for this or will rescue you from it. It will happen. It will also pass.

Eventually, in its own time. A time unknown and undefined, sometimes stealthy, sometimes grand and instantly relieving. You will not believe it when it has not yet arrived. When it does, you will remember, perhaps, or you will remember this, and you will finally relax, and say: It’s time. It’s time.

Further Reading

Why Ambiguous Loss Makes Grieving Different

“Losing a relationship, no matter what kind or how, usually requires some grieving.

“We typically don’t think of it like that, unless a person we love dies. But breakups and estrangements are followed by a grieving period, too. Even if the person isn’t gone, they’re gone from your life.” Read more.

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My blog is a collection of advice I wish someone had shared with me when I was young and targets subjects like personal finance, careers, and relationships. It publishes Mondays with the occasional bonus article. Sign up to have fresh content delivered straight to your inbox, no SPAM!


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