One of the hardest parts of a personal crisis, whether it be a life-threatening illness, a death, or some other catastrophic situation, is that sometimes the relationships we value the most become casualties, the collateral damage of our tragedies. Not always, of course. It can happen that relationships–marriages, friendships, business partnerships-become stronger, more honest, more cooperative, more supportive, and more precious to all concerned. They become testimonies to the best part of our human nature.
Alas, it is also in our human nature to have limits. Stress even the strongest substance hard enough and it will break. So will a heart. So will a spirit.
A year after I spoke at the parole hearing for the man who raped and murdered my mother, I fell apart. In the darkest hours of that crisis, the people I counted on most walked out on me. When I was most desperate, it seemed to me that my very survival depended on those people. I can’t say whether my attempts to hold things together, to force a reconciliation, put a death knell to already fractured relationships. I strongly suspect that my focus on what was going wrong as the reason for my distress took energy and attention away from the real issues. Perhaps I was not yet ready to deal with that underlying pain, and I had no emotional vocabulary to negotiate the depths of that trauma. I knew I hurt past hurting, and the breakup provided an easy explanation.
Over time, however, I’ve learned to be more gentle, not only with myself but with the other people involved. I came to see that we were all doing the best we could under impossibly difficult circumstances. They couldn’t fix me, but they offered what they could. Since then, I’ve been in situations where I had to set boundaries in order to take care of myself; I’ve gotten to see both sides.
I’ve also come to cherish family and friends who stepped up to the plate, some quite unexpectedly. I am grateful to those who refused to give up on me, even when I had given up on myself. With quiet patience and unfailing kindness, they sustained me until my heart could heal.
Whenever I am able, I try to pay forward that gift with compassion and hope. I do this by listening deeply, by telling my own story, by writing from my heart. I can’t say I always succeed. My yoga teacher says progress is directional. As long as I’m headed in the right direction, no matter how small my steps, I continue to heal–and hopefully to inspire and support other people in their own journeys.
Deborah J. Ross has been writing science fiction and fantasy since 1982. Her recent publications include Hastur Lord, a Darkover novel with the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Jaydium, available in serialized chapters and ebook here on Book View Cafe.