What Do You Say To A Broken Heart?

It’s a typical funeral day. The kind of day that reflects emotions you didn’t know you were hiding.    Feelings you carefully tucked away now peek around every cloud, threatening to make a long overdue appearance. The air is heavy and thick wrapping your lungs as you try to steady your breath. It’s the kind of day you want to clear your calendar, remain indoors with nothing but the heavy silence that breaks through the pitter patter of raindrops. It’s the kind of day you long for the numbness you’ve trained your heart to embrace because allowing anything else might break you. It’s the kind of day you would light a match just to watch it burn if not for the drops that would extinguish the flame – not those falling from the sky, but those traveling down your face. The storm has reached its destination without warning once more.

Death.

tree, napa, tree of life

I’ll let you sit with it for a moment.

A single word that evokes different meaning for each of us.

An end.

A beginning.

Peace.

Pain.

We each deal with death on our own terms because while it is defined as the termination of all biological functions that sustain a living organism it isn’t as practical as that is it? Whether unexpected or years in the making, death leaves us with an emptiness we can never fill no matter how hard we try. We travel through the stages of grief as wounded warriors, dragging ourselves across a minefield, careful not to set off a trigger that may send us back to the beginning of our healing journey or worse yet, break us once and for all. We sway between the need to relive each moment with loved ones lost and the fear we will erase them completely from our memory in our yearning to erase the pain. This, reminiscent of both the Stoics and contemporary cognitive-behavior therapies—in which the imagination was to be directed away from the sources of emotional pain and toward objects that could furnish contentment and joy. Well meaning friends tell us to “take comfort in our memories” and “remember the good times” because they want us to focus on the joy rather than the pain.

The truth is, if you’ve ever lost someone you love, someone who made your life complete, then you know there is no formula, no therapy. Most importantly, there are NO WORDS.

Today, I watched a daughter tuck her mother in for the very last time as she raised the soft blanket to her mother’s chin, then turn to comfort and wipe her own children’s tears. A ritual a mother performs countless times as her children grow now became a symbol of goodbye, one last “goodnight mom.”

There are no words yet we continue to search for them, often stringing something together that could never truly express our sympathy nor bring comfort but something has to be said.

“She’s in a better place.”

“At least she’s no longer suffering.”

“Be thankful for the time you had with her.”

“Be grateful you were by her side in the end.”

We voice them. We write them. Markings of a pen joining together letters to create words we phrase and rephrase, sentences we repeat because it is a place we are not comfortable in but a place we know requires something to be said.

There are no words. Know that at this time when the skies are overcast and the storm rages on the best you can offer is a simple hug. And, if you find yourself unable to remain silent through that hug a simple “I’m sorry” always finds a home in a broken heart.

19 thoughts on “What Do You Say To A Broken Heart?

  1. I get it so hard about the landmines. I wrote about them once. They’re just there.
    This reminds me of my mom burying her mother two years ago. She was so sandwiched – making sure her mother was fully comfortable and had everything she wished for until the end. But also comforting her daughters and her daughter’s kids.
    So relatable.

  2. So poignant. when we hurt, we just want comfort. I didn’t want bible verses when my father died. I wanted hugs. I wanted someone to hold me up. When my friends’ father died, I hugged him and the only words I could justify were, “I’m so sorry. This sucks.” And they agreed. It sucks. In that moment, it’s loss, and loss alone.

  3. This is perfect. I am covered in goose bumps. And the part about the landmines? Oh, yes, so true. Love this. Thank-you.

  4. As always you articulated this perfectly. Loss is something we never get over, it has a half life, like uranium, so it is always with us. It both empties and fills us. And we get up and keep moving.

  5. that was lovely and so true – it’s so hard to find the right words for someone who is broken hearted – maybe a hug is the best thing after all 🙂

  6. So beautiful, so sad. And you’re right.

    I think the other thing you can say is ‘is there anything I can do to help?’, because I read a piece from someone once, who said that at the end of a funeral, people pack away their sadness and go back to their regular lives…except for the immediate family of the departed, who have to somehow learn to function within new parameters, and sometimes (at first) those are too baffling to include things like making meals or taking pets for walks or laundry…

    • Speaking from experience I can tell you the loneliest of times comes when all those who took time out of their busy lives to show their respects return to their busy lives. It is then the reality and magnitude of loss really sinks in. “Is there anything I can do to help?” is also an excellent thing to say in that moment.

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