Growing Pains of the Heart

This has been a time of transition, difficulty, and loss in our family. My older son is struggling to recover from hitting a major roadblock on his path to college. My younger son is working through the aftermath of his first great heartache after a breakup. I spent the past 48 hours on a marathon trip to and from the Cleveland Clinic with my father and sat with him as he made the very difficult decision not to treat a medical problem and to let the disease run its course.

There is no moving through this life without loss and pain. We have choices only in how we cope with it.

I grew up with a mother afraid of her own strong emotions. Perhaps her early personal losses, or the time she lived through made this so. Regardless, I have vivid memories of bringing her my own heartaches and losses and having them minimized.

“It’s not so bad.”
“You don’t really want that.”
“A year from now, it won’t matter anymore.”

While from a pragmatic standpoint, all of those statements may be true, that truth matters less than the underlying message I received: I couldn’t trust my own experience or emotions. It nearly crippled me.

It took me years of hard work to find and trust the core of myself. I still have to work hard at it. Long before I had children of my own, I swore I would never minimize their pain. Not that I would coddle them and go to that other extreme (‘oh, you poor thing, how terrible, let me make it all go away.’), but there is a middle path that acknowledges pain exists; pain of the heart as real as that of the bruised shin, broken bone, or burst appendix.

And another truth–you can’t compare pain. It’s all to easy from the jaded perspective of an adult to belittle those first experiences of loss. My 16 year old’s pain after his relationship ended is no less devastating to him than my experience of watching my mother’s dementia steal her from me. Loss is loss. Playing the oneupsmanship game only diminishes us.

I wanted my children to grow up experiencing both the joy of accomplishment as well as the desolation of failure. I ensured that we talked about both as a family. Along the way, in helping them navigate through their growing pains of the heart, I realized that my own heart had become more resilient, too.

I hope that I have given my children what they will need to move through their own heartaches, if not with grace, than a kind of balanced understanding.

I have come to believe we grow as human beings in facing the reality of loss and moving through it. I believe heartache stretches the container of our selves and leaves us expanded, with more room to feel. I believe this is our greatest strength, our greatest asset, and our greatest challenge.

Without the lessons we all taught one another, I would never have begun to trust my writing and my stories. I wouldn’t have been willing to risk failure or what I saw as the humiliation of rejection.

I wouldn’t have been able to sit with the terrible knowledge that my father will die, likely of the aneurism he has chosen not to treat. My heart hurts. I want to throw myself to the floor and kick and scream like a toddler in the grip of a tantrum. Instead, I gather up that toddler and hold her tightly. She will hurt, she will cry, she will rage, but she will be okay.



13 responses to “Growing Pains of the Heart

  1. I don’t know you but I have no doubt from reading this post that you have provided your children with the tools they need to overcome and conquer what may come their way in life. Although I never liked to be told ‘whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ I have found it is indeed a fact. Loss is painful. That pain, (realized) provides a building block for well rounded people. Too bad that sometimes that is what it takes. Lesley –

  2. raymondbolton

    I look back at my own hurts and, strange as it sounds, realize I am grateful for them. I would not be where I am, who I am or as strong as I am without having endured them. Too bad we can only see this in retrospect.

    Thanks for the reminder. If it helps, you are not alone. Others, even those who have not met you, are beside you as you go through this.

  3. This is one of those rare pieces of writing to which I find my body responding before my mind. Your ideas/messages/life lessons are True, but it is the way you express them that makes my own heart sigh. Thank you; this was beautiful.

  4. LJ, cliché as it sounds, what doesn’t kill you…

    Big hugs,

  5. Giant hugs for you, LJ.

  6. Leslie, Raymond, Kim, Eden, and Ana–thank you so very much for your comments and your kindness. I am much obliged.

  7. All that I can say is… Been there, done that and I feel deeply for what you are going through. Life is great but it can be very painful and distressing at times!

    Keep the Faith, Baby.


  8. I was raised very Anglo-Saxon — which means never expressing the highs and lows of life. My mother’s funeral (I was 19) was an endless parade of people expressing platitudes to whom I gave my wooden responses. There were so many “I will never do this to my kids” that this one totally slipped by. But, wide-open communication has been the key in our relationships and it worked out well enough — they’re great adults now. I applaud you for bringing this to light.

    You honor your father by supporting his decisions concerning his life.

  9. Lisa, how the heck do you do it? You are an amazing person, friend, daughter, mother, wife and writer. I am privileged to call you my friend. So sorry to hear about your Dad. I knew something was up, but had no idea of how serious this is. So sorry, dear. Much love, Sidney

  10. Wally, Susan, and Sidney–thank you. Knowing I am not alone during this difficult time is a blessing.

  11. what a beautiful post! So poignant and so true. I really related to the minimizing thing and it taking many, many, many years of my adult life to be able to trust my own feelings, my core. This is such an important thing to offer to our children. Thanks for sharing. Sending you lots of positive thoughts in these difficult times!

  12. Marci Jefferson

    A very touching post, Lisa. I, too, have experienced the same minimization of feelings. It takes a great deal of support and wisdom to rediscover that side of your self. So sorry about your parents. I will be thinking of you.

  13. Lisa and Marci–thank you. I think so many of us were raised to be afraid of feelings. I hope that my children will not be hamstrung by that particular problem.

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