Courage to let your heart break

WHEN my father died I was trying to be strong and brave. The eldest child and executrix of his will, I wanted to get everything done and organised efficiently. I was not in any space to grieve because there was just no time or space.

In the Jewish religion people go into the ground as soon as is possible — usually within a day — which meant a superhuman effort. After which I stayed in that “speedy” space, powering along and not stopping till I tied up loose ends over a year.

During that time a friend came up to me and said something I never forgot: “It’s OK to stop and let your heart break.” I didn’t understand her words. Break? Fall to pieces? Be weak? Feel feelings that were so painful and excruciating as to have rendered me incapable of doing what needed to be done? Was she crazy?

Years later I heard the saying again. It was from a woman who had just lost a baby. She was suffering enormously, plagued with guilt and grief. I visited her and took her hand saying, “Come on let’s go out for a while.” She replied, “No … I’m just going to stay here and let my heart break.”

And break it did, as months rolled into a year. She eventually got on with her life, met someone, and had more children. But I began to understand, as I watched her endless grieving, what she was saying. It was natural and brave to feel the feelings that could have easily have been swept aside or buried alongside her baby. It was also an honouring of the soul that had passed.

In our society it’s normal to hide from profound feelings of loss and pain. And everyone around demands it of us — and themselves. But when I think about it now, we suffocate part of our soul in order to stifle grief.

I have a friend whose cherished wife died. After only a few months he started being pressured to “get on with life”. He couldn’t. He refused to go out socially and everyone was mumbling about “anti depressants” and “therapy”. But he bravely decided to stay in profound grief for as long as it took. When was ready he did start going out, and eventually met someone he married.

I didn’t let my heart break with my father’s passing. I’ve never healed and I wonder if it was because I never let myself mourn properly to begin with — like an arm used before the bone had set. A fracture of the soul.

The truth is we don’t have to be brave during loss. I’ve come to understand that the real strength is in being weak and vulnerable. Twitter @OstrowRuth

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