I was having a rather intimate conversation about love with my dermatologist the other day as she squeezed my blackheads (not a lot, obviously – my skin is flawless). She revealed to me that she just got out of a 14-year relationship and was suffering from a broken heart. FOURTEEN YEARS? Broken heart? Mine would be in a state somewhere between shambles and demolished. But sure… let’s call it broken.
As we chatted between treatments, she told a story that’s been resonating with me. She went to Trader Joe’s for the first time post-break up and was picking up all her usual provisions and suddenly she found herself emotionally paralyzed in the canned vegetable aisle. She was holding a jar of artichoke hearts and suddenly she was the crazy lady talking to herself: “I don’t even like artichoke hearts, I only buy them because she liked them.” And it was in that moment that she realized that her relationship was done. She didn’t have to buy what she didn’t want to buy anymore and she started to weep. It was one of those cries that you wish only happened in the comfort and privacy of your shower. But she was doing it out loud in a grocery store while she gripped onto what felt like the last remaining piece of a person that no longer existed in her world.
I find it poetic that the thing that struck her was a jar of artichoke hearts.
The heart. It’s the muscle that pumps blood from one place to the other, but it does so much more than that, right? My heart breaks, my heart swells, my heart melts, my heart opens, my heart closes, my heart hurts, my heart smiles, my heart feels all the feelings and then some.
It’s been said that people can die from a broken heart. The condition, commonly called “broken heart syndrome”, is known in the medical profession as “stress cardiomyopathy, which can cause a temporary weakening of the heart muscle brought on by intensely stressful situations, such as the loss of a loved one.” I once read an article about a woman whose daughter had been missing for over ten years and before her daughter was found, the paper said that her mother died from a “broken heart”. I personally knew an elderly couple in Canada who had both survived the Holocaust and had been married for over 75 years. The wife had been struggling with cancer for far too long and eventually passed away from her illness. No more than 24 hours later, her husband of 75 years died as well. I believe he too died from a broken heart.
So if we can literally die from a broken heart, what can we do to heal from one? How can we ensure that our hearts are taken care of and nurtured? What is it that we must do to keep our hearts in a nice, safe place?
As someone who has survived all different levels of heartbreak, I can safely say: I have no idea. But I can also say with slightly more certainty: it gets easier. What I do know for sure is that I’ve been guilty of numbing and avoiding pain from a hurting heart because it is the worst feeling in the world and any rational person would avoid it at all costs. But the truth is, it will sneak up on you at some point because of some trigger and when it does, my only real advice is to be brave. Be brave enough to face your pain because the sooner you feel the loss, the sooner the heart can heal.
Indulge in the hurt of it because on the other side of broken is a re-modeled, wiser, stronger heart. Sure, it’ll have some scrapes and bruises and there may always be scars… but like my busted up knees, it tells a story. Your own unique, glorious love story.
Take care of your heart like a newborn baby: be gentle, patient and understanding. And perhaps, the best way we can take care of our own hearts is to take care of each others.
With love from my bruised & beautiful heart,