Tuesday, September 8, 2015

post estrangement: Living with a Broken Heart

I always follow support groups for parents that have been estranged. One reason is that only a parent who has suffered the agonies of being abandoned understands what I feel and to know that someone understands makes me feel less alone.

Secondly, I like the questions that get posted because they remind me to stay strong and focus on my quest to struggle towards healing.

The question that caught my attention recently was: "Can you live with a broken heart?"

All of us that have been estranged do in fact live with a broken heart. The deeper question is does the suffering get any easier?  

In the process of healing I have taken to doing lots of reading. Reading for me is a source of solace, and inspiration and thoughts and ideas that I can apply to my life as I strive to regroup and rebuild my life.  In the process I have come to the conclusion that;  "Yes you can live with a broken heart" but you have to work very hard to live "well" with a broken heart.

I think that typical literature on the "broken hearted" is about romantic love.  Romantic love is between two people who meet and feel a connection. They feel sorrow when that connection does not work out and they need to heal from their heart break to be ready to try again for that romantic someone special in their lives. 

This does not translate very well into the feelings of parental love.  First of all, you can't have a falling out with your child and then heal and go on to another relationship.  When a parent child bond is broken there is no replacement. 

Secondly parental love goes so much deeper and our heart strings are attached in mysterious ways to our offspring. There is a biological bond that nature created in us to nurture and love our offspring.  This biology is what ensures the survival of the species.  This is a primal love, that when we first experience it overwhelms our senses.  I will never forget the glow of love I first felt at the birth of each of my children. The intensity of that feeling took my breathe away and even now remembering that first bonding moment I can reconnect to the powerful emotion of love and desire to care for and protect and nurture.  One does not forget that feeling ever!

As our children grow up this love moves beyond simple caring for and nurturing and beyond all our fears it allows us to let them spread their wings, to learn and explore. It helps us to encourage them to become independent adults.  We go from seeing them at their most vulnerable as infants, to staunchly protecting their own points of view and rights. 

And through it all our love expands to include all of their characteristics, their flaws as well as all their good points. We love unconditionally all that our children are and everything they are not.

Estrangement changes something vital in our relationship with our adult child.  Their actions speak loudly that we are not loved in return. We are told about all of our imperfections and these become the reason for our being abandoned.  We, who accepted all their shortcomings as a testament of our love for our children, learn that their love has conditions attached. 

This hurts us unbearably and yet we want to love them in spite of the pain they cause us.  We grieve the loss of them in our lives and at the same time would gladly forgive them and take them back because they are our children. 

The early stages of grieving involve all the usual steps of dealing with grief but we become stuck sooner or later in the knowing that there is no resolution to a grief that is in essence ongoing.  You don't stop grieving for someone who is still alive.  You move through grief into acceptance and you work your way through healing and living again but that which was broken remains broken.  That connection that we thought of as enduring through all time remains enduring for us because we don't stop being parents.

We can reclaim our lives but we can't erase that being a parent has changed us. We can fill our lives with new meanings but we can't shut out all those years of loving. 

Healing from our broken heart is a very different journey than recovering from a romantic broken heart because the nature of our connection to our offspring is so different in its origin and our heartstrings will most likely always be attached to some degree to our adult children even when they treat us poorly.

So how do you heal your broken heart?  You accept that most likely you never will.  What you learn to do instead is how to live with a heart that has been broken.

The first step is making a decision that you will.
  That you choose to live.

For many of us there are days when we would just as soon not live. When you go to bed at night and pray "Lord let me not wake up in the morning".  Or when you wake up in the morning and you say "Lord, why did you not take me in my sleep?"

The decision comes to us at different times that this is no way to live. Those are the days you decide that maybe living in grief is no longer an option.  In the early stages this feeling comes and goes.  Then gradually over time you have more and more days when you choose to live again.  Not because the pain is any less, but because you decide that you deserve better, that you deserve a good life even though....

I think what is different for us parents surviving estrangement is that every day we must make choices that reflect our decision to move on. We do not stop grieving but we learn to not let our grief colour every moment of our lives. 

You don't wake up one morning "all better".  You work hard toward healing.  Every day is another opportunity to heal. Every day is another day to choose to live in spite of having a broken heart.

I think what many of us sometimes shy away from is that fact that living with a broken heart is hard work.  On a bad day it is so easy to say "why do I have to work so hard to create joy in my life".  But there is always the knowledge that if you don't do the work you will be right back in the pit of sorrow and despair.

For me I have just passed the 6 years estranged mark.  I have come to realize, and accept, that every day I need to start with certain thoughts and reflections just to get my day going in the right direction.  I have certain rituals that I perform each day upon awaking that set the tone for my day. And on my successful days I have an almost normal day. 

There are still trigger thoughts and certain days that trigger certain memories that easily catapult me into a downward spiral.  I have contingency plans in place now, sort of a "go to manual" to build a bridge back toward equilibrium.

photo by Christine Glade
I hold my broken heart gently and try to be understanding and loving to myself when the pain resurfaces.

So what does change over time?
The times of overwhelming sorrow happen less often and the recovery times become shorter.  There is a learning curve and as the skills you use to heal become second nature, you apply them sooner and prevent the downward spiral from escalating.

You remain aware of the ache in your heart, it is never far from your thoughts, but the choices you make allow you to live a full, active and love filled life.  The challenge is to make those choices that give you that freedom. 

Renate Dundys Marrello 
2015 - 09 - 08

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  1. Your blogs are always full of such wisdom and have really helped me in my struggles and understanding of my oldest son estranging himself from me. Thank you!

  2. Thank you. I understand you and walk the walk with you. I chose to survive my broken heart that has been strengthen but is not hard. Well maybe a little bit harder.....

  3. I have always wondered "how I can live with a broken heart" myself and still ask myself almost every day. And I thought I was the only one! It's a grief that really does "never end" because the person is still living, so there's always that little candle of hope we continue to keep lighted, in the 'hopes" that one day it will change! This is where my sorrow begins and I have yet to find what will make that sorrow end.

    If we didn't care, we would be considered monster mothers. Then there's the ones who tell us we "must forgive." But I don't feel that there is anything TO "forgive." My son made his own choice, and I have no choice but to abide by it. There's nothing to forgive. All I can do is try to stop blaming myself, and once that blame and "what can I do differently" comes to an end, another door has magically appeared.
    And emanating in the bright silver light that shines from within, is the knowledge that "Love is all there is."

    And I am, finally and at long last, realizing that how I feel... and I mean Me, I, feel, is what matters now. I have loved my son and always will, whether or not that love is reciprocated. The love I feel is all there is and all that matters now.

    I commit my son and our relationship to the Hands of God and ask God to show us The Way. Gracias, Amen.

    Thank you so much for your wonderful posts. You give hope to us all!

  4. Great post. My heart will always be broken, but I have chosen to live well in spite of it. Even so, I would forgive my sons in a heartbeat if they would only choose to once again include me in their lives.

  5. Oh Renate this is so something I needed to hear today. It's been almost one year since this began in my life. I have, especially this holiday season, been struggling to awaken each morning. To choose life takes courage and some days I just don't want to drink that cup. I didn't realize until recently there were so many parents out there struggling with this. "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves such as be of a contrite spirit" Psalm 34:18

  6. I was 59 years old when my daughter decided she hated me and that I ruined her childhood. Like most stunned parents, I went through anger, hurt, rationalization, passivity and now resignation. And while I've read books on the subject, followed this web site and confided with closest friends and siblings, as well as immerse myself in my carer as an oil painting, there will always remain that missing part of myself, never to be reclaimed, or restored. At age 67, I am ready to leave this world behind and NO, I'm not suicidal, but I can't see anything more in this life that I feel so necessary in order to complete me. The only love which has gotten me through all this pain is knowing God loves me and He can see what I can't. In that I'll trust His judgement.

  7. Thank you everyone for sharing. Living with my heart broken reminds me: everyday my ED and me are becoming more and more detached and one day I'll be for her a foreigner, no bond, no memory, blank. That day desert of life is real death, my death.

  8. Your post also reminds me of how it is to live after a divorce. It is especially hard when there are children involved. Mine are adults now, and it is hard to move past the "if onlys." I have learned to live with the pain of broken love, broken relationships, and estrangement. I am thankful God walks beside me to help me through each day.

  9. Thanks, Gail, for mentioning the "if onlys" (don't I know that one!) and for the reminder that "God walks beside me." I needed that. God bless!