The past 4 weeks I have been kept momentously busy doing my cardiology rotation for PA school. This rotation hit home too often to count. Since I have joined the sisterhood of widows, I have gained many truly wonderful friends who lost their husbands suddenly due to a heart condition. As I treated those patients in their beds, I couldn’t help but remember the faces of those that have gone before us, those who left behind loving wives and beautiful children. I dedicated my time spent as an act of prayer, a prayer for the families left behind, a prayer for the souls of the dead, a prayer for the caretakers of the patient, and of course a prayer for the patients themselves.
I wake up every morning asking God to make my life a constant prayer, to remember Him in every moment, to honor and love him in all that I do. And on the days that are the hardest, I repeat incessantly “I can’t do this on my own oh God, so Jesus I offer it up to you.” This has become part of my daily prayer. Because behind these eyes, behind this smile I put on my face, there are still so many moments where the pain stabs me so hard that my heart feels like it stops and I forget how to breath. These moments may only last a few seconds or they may last hours. Every day is a new day. Every moment brings a new memory, a new challenge, a new hope. I do my best to find the hope but no matter what there is always a shadow – a shadow that will forever linger on every moment of every day, every joy, every accomplishment, every change.
As I studied throughout my rotation last month it struck me how much I am taught about the different characterizations of chest pain and what it means, and yet there is no mention of the pain of a heartbreak. A discomfort that feels like a pressure, heaviness, tightness, fullness, or squeezing often indicates a cardiac ischemia. Whereas an aortic dissection most often presents with the sudden onset of sharp, severe pain, often characterized as tearing or ripping. Pain that occurs in the chest wall that is sharp and worsened with breathing is often pulmonary in nature. (Note: these are not diagnostic descriptions, but common generalizations among medical practice). I find it kind of funny, as I read through these descriptions, because as frightening as these conditions are, the pain that is described does not even come CLOSE to the pain of a heartbreak.
This pain is so raw, so excruciating that truly no words can describe it. It is feeling that your heart has been stabbed, then ripped out of your chest. Thrown on the ground and shredded, then haphazardly sewn back together and shoved back inside. It hurts so much you can’t breath. You can’t think. You can’t process things around you. You’re lucky if you remember your name when this pain hits, it is truly shell-shocking and numbing. All you can do is wait, wait for it to go, wait to wake up from this horrible nightmare, to go back to the way life was before.
The problem is, there is no going back. There is no “cure”. The only step is moving forward, moving to a new “normal”. However I can’t find a treatment plan or medication in my books to help with this. There is no “one way fits all” kind of cure. And that often is the worst part. Because, the heartache, as much as it hurts, is only the tip of the iceberg. The loss of someone you love, particularly a spouse, not only creates a pain so unbelievably deep, it also creates a void in your life. A loss like no other. I still struggle every single day with what my life means without Nate in it. I still have trouble figuring out what my immediate future should look like because all the thoughts I ever had about the future had him in it and had him there beside me to make decisions. I am unprepared and uprooted.
I remember reading last summer a list of the types of losses you endure when you lose someone you love. There is the primary loss, which is the ache of the person gone from this earth. Then there are the secondary losses, which are so numerous; yet each one is such a deep loss, its own kind of pain. These secondary losses are the ones that no one talks about. Because unless you have suffered this type of loss, the pain of these secondary losses is unfathomable. These are the reasons why those of us who have lost our spouses can’t “just move on” from our grief in a “timely” manner. It is the reason why it is so incredibly difficult for me to do anything, why my brain feels like it is turned to mush all the time. Why I can’t figure out my future, because these losses are just unbearable and often impossible to comprehend. My entire life has been upturned and thrown into disarray. These secondary losses can include:
The losses of life are so numerous and great, hence why I am so grateful to God that the joys and love of life are even more numerous and greater. The love I feel for Cecilia is so wonderful and full that it fills my heart. The hope and joy that God provides me is what gives me the ability to overcome these losses, one step at a time. I still have a ways to go, a long windy road ahead; but slowly each day I am learning to live again. Learning to figure out God’s plan for me and where I am meant to go next, heartbreak, shadows, and all.