I believe that a broken heart can be an invitation to enormous spiritual growth and joy
I have always believed in the goodness of life, that it is meant to be enjoyed, celebrated. But, until the illness and subsequent death of my beloved husband of thirty years, those beliefs had not been seriously challenged. I’d weathered many of the usual vissitudes of life, but none that set me apart from my friends and neighbors, none that cut so deeply and shook my foundations so radically.
I well remember the thought that became my mantra as Gene’s health deteriorated: “I’m going to get this right”. I didn’t really know, intellectually, what I meant by that, but I think my heart did. I knew only that I would not flinch in the face of whatever I would be confronted with; I would be there, completely there, for Gene, no matter what. And as his condition clearly became life-threatening and the time needed for his care escalated, everything else in my busy, engaged life simply dropped away, replaced by a singleness of focus that enabled me to stay the course. It allowed no room for judging the situation, for asking “why” or “why me” or “I can’t,” I simply lived it, the good with the bad.Please don’t misunderstand me; I didn’t suddenly become a paragon of perfect, self-sacrificing devotion. I got a lot of things wrong along the way. I neglected to say and do many things that, in retrospect, I’d correct, but they were all simply human failings made in a time of great stress, not reasons for self-recrimination.
My mantra, my pledge to “get things right,” seemed to fade in the light of the pain I experienced when Gene passed, a pain so deep, so acute, that the phrase “my heart is torn apart” was always initial reaction. But a Sufi teaching I chanced upon helped me to change my perspective. It offered the idea that grief does not “break” the heart; instead, it cracks it open to reveal depths of love and compassion, peace and joy, that can be experienced if one is willing to walk through the pain of grief to the other side. The teaching made sense to me, because I had already discovered that each time I was ambushed by grief, if I stayed with it and tracked it back to its source, I always discovered that it sprang from love, the love my husband and I had shared: the pain brought me to joy! And so I allowed the grief into my life; I came to see it as a doorway to a richer, more abundant and fulfilling existence. In fact, I came to think of it as the last, greatest gift my husband had given me, for with his death he gave me the opportunity to experience incredibly richer dimensions of life. Today, fear has become a stranger in my world, replaced by a sense of competence. Spontaneity has replaced second-guessing, resulting in unexpected delight. Compassion has multiplied my talents as I’ve sought the best way to express my feelings. And every day is filled with peace and joy and gratitude beyond measure…
Do I still feel the grief? Of course. I have “lump in the throat” moments every day, sometimes several times a day. But they have become like comfortable, old friends, reminding me of wonderful times and a love I will treasure forever. But they also remind me of the gift of a broken heart, a heart cracked open so as to allow the best of being human to be exposed.
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