Broken Hearts, Broken Lives

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.

Find my new and out-of-print books at Powell’s online. Read my essays on the writing life and how to survive reviews in Brewing Fine Fiction.



Broken Hearts, Broken Lives — 7 Comments

  1. First, I am so sorry for your loss and for the trauma you had to endure. Second, I want to thank you for writing this. Our crisis stemmed not from violence, but a house fire on December 1. We were extremely fortunate that we are all safe, but the damage to our home was extensive. It’s funny (the strange variety, not the ‘ha ha’ variety), people ask me how I am, and mostly, I am fine. Displaced, yes, sad at what we’ve lost, yes, but those are not the things that really get to me. The shakes and the tears sneak up on me at the most unexpected times, and it’s always about how close I came to losing my family that morning. It’s not something I can really explain to well meaning friends and family. When I do try to express how vulnerable I feel, I think it makes them uncomfortable and so they work hard to cheer me up with words about how lucky we were.

    Anyway, before I veer into TMI territory (if I haven’t already) I wanted to say thank you. And may your journey into healing continue.


  2. lisa, thank you so much for sharing your story (and it isn’t TMI!) This is one of the reasons I tell mine, that connection with someone else struggling with recovery from trauma. One time, not long after the murder, a man burst into tears and told me about how his brother had committed suicide and he hadn’t been able to tell anyone about it. I think you’re right, people who haven’t experienced tragedy can be uncomfortable with others’ pain. They try to comfort when the only way out is through, rather than look at what it brings up for them. Sometimes, all we need is to know we’re not alone. It isn’t necessary that our friends make things better, only that they are present with open ears and open hearts as we walk through our own darkness into the light.

  3. Ah, me. As you know, my own tragedies have been quiet and slow, not violently traumatic. I honor your selflessness in speaking so openly of this.

  4. The mystery of who is able to step forward and be strong in an hour of deepest need is really humbling, all the way around. I’m glad there were some–I’m glad they didn’t let you give up on yourself. And I am touched, and glad, that you’re able to forgive those who weren’t strong enough.

    Thanks for this.

  5. Hugs to Jay: I don’t believe in comparing pain. I do believe that saying, “I don’t know exactly how you feel, but I’m here with you,” helps immensely.

    @ Asakiyume: it’s interesting to me that some of the people who were most steadfast are people with whom I have little in common politically. A good reminder that compassion isn’t limited by ideology.

  6. Thank you for sharing, Deborah. I am so sorry for your loss, and grateful that you found your way out, and continue on your journey. I am working my way through my own trauma, that took my relationship, and made strangers of some friends.

    It also made friends out of acquaintances, however. And taught me that I could learn to share without losing boundaries, and that I can forgive those who failed me even as I don’t have to let that happen to me again.I think your yoga teacher is correct. If we continue in the direction of healing, we help not only ourselves, but some whom we may not even touch directly, but through the ripples of our lives.

  7. @ Katharine — you bring up an excellent point, which is how important it is to forgive does not mean to place ourselves in harm’s way yet another time. To forgive means to let go of bitterness and resentment, not to pretend things didn’t happen.