By Gayla Grace
Tears filled my eyes as I watched the veterinarian put our 18-year-old cat, Callie, to sleep. Insisting on being part of it, my youngest son, Nathan, clung to my neck. One of my older daughters had already retreated to the car, unable to watch. Callie had been part of our lives for as long as I could remember, and my heart was breaking for my children, who would dearly miss her.
Life can be full of heartache. Death, divorce, unemployment, illness, addiction, and rejection, to name a few, are life-changing events that create heartache. Just as our physical condition is important to a healthy heart, our emotional health also impacts the condition of our heart. During times of crisis or heartache, taking steps toward emotional wellness can impact our well-being. Here are a few suggestions for making positive strides toward recovery during times of heartache:
First, recognize the pain of your heartache. Allow yourself to experience the difficult emotions, which might include sadness, anger, denial, frustration, fear, or a variety of other feelings at any time. Try not to stuff your feelings or fall into addictive patterns to soothe the hurt. Feelings eventually pass when we give ourselves permission to feel them.
Second, be gentle with yourself and expectations of what you can do on bad days. Lean on friends and family for strength and support. Accept their concern and care, even when they don't know how to help or unintentionally say the wrong thing. When I went through a difficult divorce, my sister came from out of town to go through the divorce proceedings with me and provide emotional support. Her hopeful attitude and encouragement gave me the strength to make healthy decisions in the midst of heart-wrenching emotions.
Third, stay in your normal routine as much as possible, recognizing it will not feel normal. In his book Real Life, Dr. Phil McGraw gives some helpful thoughts on dealing with grief and heartache: "You have to continue carrying on with your life, because going MIA from your routine and support from friends and family will only magnify the grief you feel. You need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. You can't just go into the fetal position and expect to emerge a year later all better." When you feel like you can't get up in the morning, treat yourself by arranging lunch with a friend or scheduling a massage as you start the day.
Fourth, accept the reality that you may never understand the "why" of your heartache, but you must try to get on with life anyway. Searching for why events happen can intensify our feelings surrounding the situation and lead to negative behavior. In Forgiving God, Carla McClafferty describes her resolve to quit questioning after losing her fourteen-month-old son, Corey: "I realized in this life, I would not know or understand why God allowed Corey to die. Somehow, when I accepted the fact that I would never know, I was able to stop searching for the answer." Inner peace comes through accepting what happened, relinquishing the need to know why.
Fifth, seek out the God of Comfort. Meditate on and claim the promises of Scripture. Journal your thoughts, feelings, and prayers to help sort through complicated emotions. Draw from previous experience of when your faith sustained you, embracing the certainty it can happen again.
Lastly, recognize that time eases pain. Problems may not go away, but the heartache of the problem eases as we get further away from it. When my teenage stepchildren lost their mother after a yearlong battle with cancer, I didn't think their pain would subside. The emotions and decisions were hard to watch, knowing there was little anyone could do to help their personal heartache. However, through counseling and other support, while time slowly crept by, they worked through their feelings and the pain began to ease. Understandably, they will always miss their mom and have moments of sadness, but most days go by without the intensity of emotions that were evident in the beginning.
Heart-breaking events can happen at any time in life. Unfortunately, we cannot control the choices of others, tragedy, or unexpected happenings that bring heartache. But we can control how we choose to live with our current circumstances today. We can make healthy choices to relieve heartache we may be experiencing, knowing better days are ahead. By taking steps toward physical and spiritual health, we can speed recovery of our emotional difficulty. And in the absence of heartache, we can choose to better the relationships in our life, appreciating the good in what life has to offer in the present. We influence every day of our lives by the choices we make. Will you make a positive choice today?