Trying to describe heartbreak is nearly impossible. It is invisible and yet it is a physical pain that can be felt as palpably as a broken arm – only its right there in the center of your chest – an ache that cannot be healed. The poet Edna St. Vincent Millay once soulfully mourned, “time does not bring relief, you all have lied who told me time would ease me of my pain!…”
The first I knew of heartbreak was at the death of my Grampa when I was seven. I could not imagine the world without him in it and there was surely a hole in my heart filled entirely by my sadness. Leon Bloy said, “Man has places in his heart which do not exist, and into them enters suffering, in order that they may have existence.” I certainly believe that very thing happened to me on that day.
All of us have them – those places in our hearts that come about because of heartbreak. Mostly it happens when we lose those we love. When my dog, Lollipop, died suddenly – leaving me without warning after she had walked me to the other side of an empty nest – that place felt windswept and barren.
Sometimes heartbreak happens when our dreams are shattered or we lose our way. That happened to me as a young girl of seventeen. The pain of it was almost too much to bear. I would swear I could hear the sound of fine crystal breaking into a million pieces and there wasn’t enough glue in the world to mend all that brokenness. My heart was never the same. I wondered at times if my heart was no longer the traditional red machine pumping to keep me alive but instead was lying bruised and purple inside my chest, just barely doing its job, threatening to give up at any moment, and I was only alive on the outside carrying on as if it mattered.
I have often imagined that heartbreak smells like wet leaves in Autumn. And perhaps it looks like purple lariope blooming and sadly singing the end of summer. Or perhaps like broken eggs in an abandoned nest – surely Robin’s egg blue.
Heartbreak is intangible and yet it is a real thing. And that thing can feel quite substantial, certain, and perceptible. Physiologically speaking the stress hormone cortisol can actually flood the body and cause that heavy, achy feeling in your chest. Also there is a for real diagnosis called “Broken Heart Syndrome” which the Mayo Clinic reports is temporary, treatable, and further claims that the syndrome usually reverses itself in days or weeks. But I suspect that whoever came up with that medical diagnosis, et al had never had someone break their heart. My favorite actress, Bette Davis, proclaimed, “Pleasure of love lasts but a moment. Pain of love lasts a lifetime.”
The real danger of heartbreak is BECOMING the heartbreak itself. I think that happens to people some times. Remember Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’ novel, “Great Expectations” – the old spinster, once jilted at the altar, who lived for years in her yellowing wedding dress surrounded by her moldy wedding cake and cobwebs? As I languished at seventeen I envisioned that I would become something like her. Fortunately, I survived and eventually recovered – although it drastically changed the trajectory of my life. But isn’t that the way of all things? Every single thing that happens to us in life influences our decisions and the road we take. I took the pain of my heartbreak with me for many years and I think ultimately that worked out best for me. I have been left to agree with the poets Teasdale and Tennyson. Sara Teasdale penned these words: “It is strange how often a heart must be broken before the years can make it wise.” And Alfred Lord Tennyson reminded me often: “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”