After I moved last summer I received a note from a distant friend. She wrote a few words about my new home then went on to relate the details of a major event in her life. She’d been the victim of a hit and run driver and one of her legs was fractured in two places. She had surgery, but there were complications. And so there was another surgery, another hospitalization, then weeks of painful rehabilitation.
I saw her at church one Sunday and admired her courage and determination to be there, despite an obviously painful limp. Both her body and her spirit seemed somehow broken – it was apparent the vehicular assault had taken its toll in many ways. She’s very stylish and I wondered if she would ever again be able to wear her stiletto heels. The next time I saw her she was in sensible flats. In her Christmas note she acknowledged that the damage was probably permanent and her high heel days were over, but she went on to say how grateful she was to still have two legs.
Recently I heard myself describe my experience of prolonged grief for my beloved husband as a “clean break” kind of grief. I was surprised to hear myself say these words. I’d never thought of grief in that way and wondered what I really meant. After a little reflection I came to the conclusion that when our heart is broken by the sheer power of love, it’s an excruciatingly painful grief, but it’s a grief from which we can ultimately recover, mostly without undue complications.
When our heartbreak comes from a love that’s pure, true, and untarnished, putting the pieces of our life back together is a labor of love - it's the work of grief that honors the love we shared with the one now lost to us in death. The edges of our heart may always feel a little ragged where the broken parts are joined together. We may never again feel as whole as we did before the death of our loved one. Yet we know that when something breaks we become stronger in our broken places. Even though our life may feel irreparably broken for a while, one day our brokenness turns to peace and joy in heartfelt moments of thanksgiving and remembrance.
The compound fracture kind of grief is what I’ve experienced with the death of my mother. There’s damage to the sinews of my heart. The skin of my spirit is open and wounded. It’s a messy, hard, negative experience of grief, the kind that’s easily susceptible to the infection of resentment, bitterness, and anger. Sometimes we need to talk out loud to a therapist or professional about this complicated kind of grief. I’m always amazed at what pours out from someplace deep within when I open the floodgates of my conscious and subconscious mind and share my heart with someone trained to understand and empathize with what it is I’m thinking and feeling.
After spending some dark days this week in the recesses of my heart, scraping back through all that’s happened that will remain unresolved, I came across a “note to self” I wrote almost a year ago: let go of the past. I realized how long I’d been struggling with a relationship that could not be reconciled in life or in death. And with intentional resolve I did it - I let it all go. The trick, though, is not taking it back...
In that moment I abandoned the hurt and misery that once was but will never be again. And almost instantly, I felt better. All at once my soul brightened. Life seemed better. It was an invigorating moment of permission and personal renewal. And today I know that there is hope and a future.
God knows the pain of our heartbreak, the suffering of our spirit, the complex emotions of our human heart. God comforts us, God restores our soul. God knows our broken heart, God is faithful to us in our grief.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all.
Psalm 34:17-19 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the wholeness of your spirit. Amen.