It is a tradition here in Utah to take vibrantly colored plastic cups and squish them in the chinks of the fencing that keeps the pedestrians on the overpass walkways to make colorful signs of love. These signs range in messages from “Will you go to prom with me?” to “Will you marry me?” to “Welcome home!”
Recently, as I drove on a local highway, I passed under two such overpasses and on each of them were messages welcoming home loved ones who had been away. The “Welcome Home” message is the most frequently seen Overpass Note here in Utah because many young people leave to serve missions for the LDS church. These two messages did not indicate whether the person coming home was a missionary, but I know that there was a lot of love behind the message. In and of itself, the effort it takes to create these signs is a show of the depth of commitment to the person who is the recipient of the note.
As I drove under the second one, I wondered about those messages and who had created them and what each of the people will think (or did think) when they see them. Immediately after that, I thought about the people who had travelled to Boston for the Marathon earlier this week, their family and friends thinking they would return victorious from simply running the trek and crossing the line, even if they didn’t come in first. I thought about those that will not be returning home, those who are returning home broken, and those who are wrought with anger and fear over the entire incident. I thought about the people who had lost their homes, and those who had lost their lives, in the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. I thought about their family and friends and how that had rippled out into the world.
What do you do when your “Welcome Home” message never comes to fruition because the loved one you sent off, expecting them to return to you eventually, never actually does? How do you handle it when you entrust your child to another’s care and they are harmed, or lost, or killed while on that person’s watch? How do you go on when your loved one is not protected by God’s hand but is, instead, taken from you?
Often, in times of massive crises like the Boston Marathon bombing and the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion or in war or in a death caused by a driver who is under the influence or when a vehicle careens over the freeway embankment as it slides across black ice, it is human instinct to want to blame someone, to find a place to put all of the emotion that collides within. It is impulse to feel angry and yell, especially at God. It is His responsibility to keep everyone safe! He failed me!
Our hearts break and we’re faced with screaming or crying, going numb or feeling it or numbing through substances, weeping silently or wailing loudly, blaming or surrendering. If we choose to fight to understand the “why” about our loved one never returning home, we rail against everything and anything that gets in front of us. We throw our fists to the sky, cursing God and His inability to protect the person that meant so much to us. We gather news reporters and smatter the broadcasts with images and words and sounds and ongoing blasting of the horrors experienced by those there, those who died, those who survived, and those who now must face life without their loved ones.
But, what do you do if the broken heart you are experiencing isn’t newsworthy? What if your heart is broken because your child has quietly, slowly died after a lifelong experience of leukemia or cerebral palsy or lymphoma? What if that broken heart is a result of your spouse walking out, choosing someone else, moving on “without you”? What if that broken heart is because you come home to an empty house each night and you so desperately want it to be different? What if that broken heart is because your childhood sweetheart whom you’ve loved for 80 years just now quietly slid into the comfort of death and you are left to face this life on your own? How do you cope?
If any of the scenarios in this post resonate with you because your heart is broken, I have been thinking about you. I’m thinking about the parents and spouses of our soldiers who come home in pieces or not at all. I’m thinking about the parents whose children are taken by strangers, never to be seen again. I’m thinking about the women who are crying in the darkness, the tears washing over their bruised jaws, broken bones, sore bodies, with their shoulders up near their ears as they await another confusing blow from the man who loves them. I’m thinking about the women whose bodies cannot conceive a child, no matter what they try and no matter how big they want a baby, and those women whose babies die within their womb, to slide into this world silent and still. I’ve been thinking about each of us because, somewhere, somehow, at some time, each of us is touched by the hand of death and disappearance.
This life is a series of experiences. Each one lends its richness to the fullness of life. Choosing to rail against it, blame the other, find more reason to hate and be unforgiving only leads to depletion. In every life, there is an element of loss. It is part of the human condition. We are transitory, impermanent beings, meant to move on to the next plane as soon as we have completed our calling here on earth. And, by no means, does that diminish the human emotions attached with the loss and death and disappearances. No. It is in the depths of these emotions where our life is. And, by choosing to allow the emotions to flow, by choosing to be with what YOU are experiencing and by doing so without blame or resentment, you create a life of meaning.
Anger is an important part of grief. It is one of the naturally occurring steps of grieving. And, if you have a broken heart – for any reason – you are grieving. Allow that anger to wash over you and move through you while you stay in your experience. Let it be, my friend. Feel it. As scary as that sounds, it is in the feeling of it that the healing is found. While finding the person responsible or pointing fingers at the one who is to blame or sending someone to prison or hell… all of that is a temporary bandaid and all that it does is mask the fact that you have lost someone dear to you and you are feeling the pain. The pain of the physical loss remains in the silence, even after all the sentences have been served, the pain is there.
How you choose to honor that pain is what creates your present, as well as the future that lies ahead of you. Welcome yourself home, with love, and honor your pain. Love… it is the way to heal.
I always welcome your thoughts, questions, and comments. Feel free to jot down what you’re thinking in the comment box below.