Heartbreak and Loss

I was asked to write an article about heartbreak for the journal, The Advocate, a publication of the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church. Below is the article which appeared in the February edition of the journal.

I volunteered to write this article about ‘heartbreak’ because I felt I knew heartbreak in my life – and I do. And so do most of you reading this. Heartbreak is great sadness that seems unbearable at the time. Often it is a gut-wrenching sadness that alters our lives, a sadness that penetrates our whole being, knocks us around like a hurricane, hurts us, rattles our senses so that we are tormented with grief and loss of balance. Heartbreak may come at us like a train screaming through the station, shaking the station platform we are standing on and then barreling on into the darkness. Heartbreak may leave us cold and empty and lost. And we cry, our body shakes and we feel utterly alone even when surrounded by people, many of whom we love and love us, yet we are alone.

We may ask – where are you God? Why have you left me? And there is no answer, no response from God. At least not there in our new grief, our heartbreak.

Whatever the event that leads to a broken heart – death of a loved one, being told ‘I do not love you anymore’, the loss of a dream, the loss of our faith, a cancer diagnosis, stroke or heart attack – will grind us to a halt. Sometimes great injustice may break our hearts and we may feel great pain for others.

Heartbreak changes us, it changes our world, how we experience our lives. Jesus cried from the cross – My God, my God why have you forsaken me? Imagine the anguish, the physical and spiritual pain he must have felt as he lost sight of life. And we too may cry – My God, my God why have you forsaken me? We have lost sight of life. The thunder, the wind, the rain is all around us and we crumble at last into the arms of love as Jesus did.

And when lives are so changed, even damaged by ‘heartbreak’, we need love, even if we do not realize it or want it. We need people who will just be there for us, to sit with us, to breathe with us. One thing I have learned in my life’s journey is that love and compassion need to be an integral part of healing and that healing is rooted in love and fellowship.

Gradually, over weeks, months and perhaps years we are again able to listen to Life, and heartbreak is a part of Life. Heartbreak is an essential ingredient of the fullness of Life, just as great joy and the giving and receiving of Love is a part of Life. As we look back, particularly at Christmas, Easter and Birthdays we feel that heartache again. Yet, we may feel grateful; grateful that we are whole persons, and that our sense of the Divine is real and is with us and was with us the whole time. And so, we begin to heal, to mend our broken heart.

When my wife Teresa died, now 19 years ago, my father (a wise and humble man) advised me to face my grief head-on. He told me to not recover from my grief, but to recover in my grief. Later, my former wife, Lynne died. My daughters were without mothers. I embraced my children and they embraced me.

St. Patrick, a 6th century priest of England and Ireland wrote (or is attributed to him) a poem/prayer which includes these lines: Christ within me, Christ beside me, Christ around me. This prayer gave me solace after my wife’s death and still does today as I face a church in turmoil, a world in turmoil.

In those moments of sheer emptiness and heartbreak I turned to my church community, to my friends and to my family so I would not feel so utterly alone. And yet there were times I did not want to be around anyone, but I knew when I needed to be with someone, those who loved me were there.

What is your story of heartbreak? Do you know someone who is experiencing heartbreak? Sometimes we feel numb and speechless when a good friend or family member is so very sad or hurt.

How can we grow from this pain? What lessons can be learned? How can we be a source of hope, comfort and compassion for those around us in this type of situation?

Grieving and healing are intertwined as are laughing and crying. I do not believe we can experience any of those deep feelings without the others. Each is a part of our lives, our human nature. Human emotions are a gift. When we cry with great loss our belly shakes. When we laugh or cry with great joy our belly shakes. Our lives come from the center, we shake in sadness and we shake in joy. Our human nature is a gift from God, the Holy One. It is important to acknowledge and spend time with each.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:1-4 (NRSV)

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3 (NRSV)

Shalom is a word with deep meaning. It means wholeness of mind and Spirit. It means greetings and it means good bye for now. May Shalom be yours as you journey in this beautiful, God-given life. Yes, sometimes we experience great sadness and grief but also great Joy and Compassion. I leave you in Shalom.

Resource suggestions:

A Grief Observed by C S Lewis

Grief Therapy (a small booklet) by Karen Katafiasz, illustrated by R.W. Alley

by Rev. Bruce Lugn

Please also see the web page for the Kindred Project, an ecumenical, organic group of clergy and lay persons who advocate for living a contemplative life. https://www.kindredprojectva.com/

and our facebook page https://www.facebook.com/kindredproject

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