June 12, 2015

A Study in Brokenness

This is a heavy post. Fair warning. If it gets too deep or troubling, merely click on out and go search for a fluffy blog topic. No hard feelings. My long-time blogging friends know that I have a helpful spirit. Sometimes, I succeed. Other times, my efforts fall flat. It’s like target practicing. Hits and misses.

If there is only one hit out there in blogland with this post, then my mission is accomplished…

It’s no secret that I am broken. Broken in heart. Broken in spirit. And I have been struggling to put the pieces back together. Some pieces stick when I glue them back. Some fall off, taunting me, and shattering some more. This chapter of my life values stubbornness tenacity as a virtue!

When one loves deeply, they allow themselves to be vulnerable. Open to pain and sorrow. However, one is also open to supreme joy. To understand the depth of my sorrow is to understand the depth of my love and devotion to my sweetie and best friend in the world, Mr. Jim.

I created this photographic self-portrait on June 10, 2014. It tells the story in no uncertain terms. I was in the grips of confronting a shattered reality. Jim had already resumed a brutal chemotherapy regime to battle his metastasized pancreatic cancer. Two days later, exactly one year ago today, I was rushing him to the hospital emergency room because he developed his first case of sepsis. It was one of several times that I thought he might die on the way to get medical help. (Jim did not accept the notion that ambulances were an acceptable mode of transportation.)

We were sharing moments of sheer terror while the rest of the world revolved, as usual, and carried on with everyday life. Friends kept their distance during our times of anguish. There were no relatives. I took care of him. I stayed by his side. I gave him my all. It was a journey that we both shared. There were times of abundant grace. Most of the emotional burdens that I shouldered during Jim’s illness were borne in silence. Those sorrows linger, many frightful and heartbreaking moments replaying in my head. I will be carrying them to my grave. If there is such a thing of PTSD for caregiver widows of cancer victims, I’ve got it.

It is now all part of my life story. I deeply wish that it wasn’t, but it is. And I accept it. I’m forever changed by the events of the past two years. And it’s been difficult to translate them into a positive light. But there is one recent gift that I have received, in answer to a prayer. I’ve gained some needed insight and clarity.

You see, I have been so very puzzled why so many people we knew backed away. It happened as soon as they found out that Jim was sick. And it continues on to this day, as I adjust to a singular life. Emotional invalidation runs rampant. Abandonment is also a popular response. The overall strategy is to ignore the elephant in the room in hopes that it will go away.

The hard truth is that we simply don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t have good points of reference for relating to somebody else’s pain. Each journey is unique. It should be acknowledged as such, but rarely is. And, I willingly raise my hand and admit to numerous mistakes in the past when confronted with brokenness of grief. Guilty. No doubt about it.

There comes a time when we will all experience grief from the passing of a loved one. The only ones who will be spared such trauma will be those poor souls who refuse to love someone more than themselves.

So why is it difficult for us to provide meaningful comfort in the midst of someone else’s heartache and brokenness?

I think the answer is because we are also broken. We allow our own sense of vulnerability to get in the way. Physical and emotional distance makes us feel safer. There is an imaginary line that separates a tidy life from a messy one. It’s far easier to utter empty platitudes than to actually listen, acknowledge, and respect the broken experience that another has endured. It’s not easy to seek to understand. And in this world of instant gratification, the easy way usually wins out.

A person who is uninvolved in your life and intends to stay that way says: “let me know if you ever need anything.” A person who actually has compassion and cares about you as an individual says: “what exactly can I do for you at this moment?” There is a huge difference. One offer is empty. The other is not. The nuance is glaringly obvious to the grieving individual.

I was dismayed and dumbfounded that only two people (beside me, of course) had the courage to say goodbye to Jim before he passed away. They thanked him for being in their lives. What a beautiful, priceless gift they gave him!

Why did the rest stay silent when they had an opportunity? Was it because they had brokenness that could not or would not be surpassed? Did they miss the chance because they didn't keep in touch?

Now we get to the hard questions of self-inquiry. Feel free take an intermission or else click out of this post permanently. Only you, your computer, and God will know.

If you ever have a God-given opportunity to say goodbye to someone who touched your life and thank them, will you seize it? Will you recognize that it is a gift for you as much as it is for them?

If you have a chance to comfort someone who is broken with grief, will you push past your own brokenness and go out of your way to show compassion? Will you show up at times of chaos and crisis, or will you retreat into the comfort of your own world? Will you listen? And, will you bite your tongue until it bleeds before uttering meaningless platitudes and problem solving suggestions?

If you have been grief-stricken and on the receiving end of transgressions, will you forgive people? Will you pray for their understanding and a healing of their brokenness?

Whew. Maybe a temporary intermission might be a good idea while all of that is pondered…

After walking my own personal path, I can clearly identify those who demonstrate love in action. They have the courage and conviction to not allow their own brokenness to be in control. These revelations will help me be a better person. I am also more equipped to guard myself against toxic relationships where brokenness has not been addressed. I am learning hard, but necessary, lessons.

God puts others in our lives for a reason. I can only hope and pray that my story can diminish someone else’s emotional pain, somewhere along their life path.

May God bless you...


  1. there is no doubt that we humans back away from painful and difficult situations, illnesses, circumstances because we are weak. we do not wish to face the horrible things folks must deal with unless we are forced to deal with them ourselves - for ourselves. in that way, we are selfish and self-serving - as if somehow we're going to save up that strength in case we need it for ourselves. instead of saving strength, we instead show those in need how truly weak and cowardly we are.

    there was a neighbor who was sort of like a grandfather to me when i was little. he went into a nursing home. my parents went to visit him. i was too scared to go inside, even though i was told he kept a box of candy on his nightstand just in case i came to see him. i stayed in the car that day out of fear. he died soon after and i never saw him. even though i was a child, i regret that still. it would have meant a lot to him to see me one more time. it's something you don't get a second chance at.

  2. I pray that God will bless you, too. I have gone through some really hard times in my life and I have lost those that I loved so I understand how hard it is. I don't know how you feel because I have not walked in your shoes. But I pray for you. And I want you to know that I care....that's why I pray. Your blog buddy, Diane

  3. Understanding someone else's pain is so very difficult. Especially, as Diane said, having not walked in your shoes. You know, I can't relate, Donna. The only way is when Ben died; it was amazing how after the few hundred people came to his funeral, that we ask ourselves where are those people now? It's true that most of us never really know what to say to the grieving widow, the grieving mother. There are no two life stories the exact same which is why we can't understand what their grief is like.

    I pray for you, and hope you know that.

  4. This sort of happened to me Donna...back in 2001 or so, I was long overdue telling my favorite niece how much I loved her and wanted her to know how special she was to me. She had previously been diagnosed with a fast growing lung cancer at the age of 38...never smoked a cigarette in her life. She had a sweet husband and two little boys. I lived in NC, she lived in GA so I didn't get to see her often. I was seven years old when she was born and she was my little "baby doll" who I helped babysit for many years. Needless to say, she was quite special to me. When I heard of her sickness, I was dumbfounded, in disbelief and sort of pretended it hadn't happened in my own mind. When I had found out through her mom (my sister) that she wasn't doing well, I wrote her a long, heartfelt letter of how much I loved her and even told her she was my favorite, and it went on and on (like this comment.) I sent the letter on one day and she died the next. She never got a chance to read my words to her and this haunted me for a long time until I gave it to the Lord. I can't explain why some of us clam up...I really can't...it doesn't mean we don't care...for some reason we aren't as strong or brave. Thank you for writing this post and I pray you continue to heal through your lovely photography and your writing. God bless you, my friend.

  5. All I can say is that I am guilty as charged. Many times I've told people call me if there is anything I can do. It was mainly out of lack of something better to say. I've also been afraid of being a further burden to someone who is already suffering, I've always been a pretty solitary person and it shows when I'm the one in need. I think I'm the perfect example of the phrase what goes around comes around.

  6. Can I just say that you just nailed that on the head. It's like I was reading straight from your heart, which I'm sure I was.
    I was talking to my hubby the other day and I'm like, why do people wait until someone is gone before they say how much that person meant to them. How about telling them while they are alive and can enjoy hearing it? I know I've been guilty in the past to thinking I had plenty of time but I lost a dear friend of mine a couple of years ago to a massive heart attack that noone saw coming and never got to tell her how much she meant to me. Hardest loss to date for me.
    I take lessons from people like you who are learning them first hand and try to glean off of you so I can be a better person when the time comes.
    I can guarantee you that your story is helping those of us who read your blog and have come to "know" you through this avenue. You are touching lives my friend. Keep sharing your story, your pain and your wisdom through this road you're traveling. And more importantly know that you are loved by many.
    BIG HUGS!!!!

  7. Thank you for sharing your heart again Donna. I read every word and the guilt is there in my heart too. I am one of those people who shies away from these things and so is my husband. I think he's worse than me so I just tend to follow suit and not follow my heart and act. I am learning, though, to face these situations and act on them. I am so very sorry that you have had to bear this burden alone the past 2 years and your sharing with us has really made us realize we need to be more pro-active in these situations and not let a friend or loved one travel this road alone. Blessings to you. Hugs. Pam

  8. This post is truth to those of us who can hear it. I often pull back because, if I don't, I am too present, too in someone's space. I wait for an opening and sometimes I live with the regrets of making a mess. I have made a few with you, but I am still here. How often I have wished that we lived closer! Thank you for teaching us, Donna.

  9. I have to say that I'm guilty of backing away when I probably shouldn't have. When my mom passed away I was so caught up in my own grief that I forgot that my father, who was married to my mother for 48 years was grieving too and I don't think I was much comfort to him. It makes me very sad now 12 years later. I tried to do better for him when his girlfriend passed away last year but it was not the same. I am trying as I get older to reach out to people that are hurting more than I used to. It helps to try to remember how much the other person appreciates it. Thanks you for the food for though today. You are as always in my thoughts.

  10. Thank you, my friend, for being open and honest. You have touched my heart and I know there are others who will be touched - and changed - by your words. Some don't have the courage to speak such truths. Our family has been touched by grief and loss in the past weeks and I've been there to give and hold and love. But the person whose presence and caring meant the most, I'm sure, was our dear daughter-in-law who had gone through the same grief a few years ago. She stepped right in and offered assistance with the difficult phone calls and decisions. She loved and hugged and cried and prayed - and blessed by being herself. Out of her own broken place. What a big lesson for me to learn again. This was a much-needed post and you have said it well. Thank you!!!

  11. Nope...not clicking away. I, like some of your other commenters, appreciate your sharing from your heart. I am trying to learn from your experience what is helpful to others who have similar burdens. I believe that there are many people like me who care, but are sometimes unsure of what to do or what to say. Your perspective is valuable.

    I continue to pray for you as you walk the path of brokenness. The verse from Psalms that you shared is very poignant.

  12. Continued from previous comment: But then I think of her babyhood, her childhood, the horrible teen years, and the woman and mother and wonderful friend that she ended up being, and I know I would have missed a lot of happiness and pleasure if she'd never been here. She was quite wonderful. The hole that's in my life because she's gone is huge, really really huge. Even though it hurts dearly, and I wish it didn't, would I wish her importance to my life away? No. I can't. There were too many wonderfuls, small ones and big ones, in her 42 years that I would have to give up forever, eternally, let go of, forget about, never known. I'd hate that. I want to keep every funny saying she had, all the advice she gave me, the cute looks, the love and care she had for me as her mom, yeah, I want to keep all that in my heart. I'm not letting it go, no way. So I sit here and cry but the "other me" who is outside of the one who sits here and cries, watches and knows that all the things that made up our relationship, our love for one another, is part of why I am who I am, and I like me and I do not want to kill any part of that. So there's the pain, the tears, the hard, hard hurting, the double-think, the what ifs, and there's the fact that she lived and I loved her and she loved me and she was my daughter and I was her mom and I'm not giving any of that up! I have to integrate her loss into my life just as I had to integrate her life into my life. The former is painful, the latter wasn't painful. So I take what I've got, what I don't have, and I say, "this is it. This is my life now, that was my life then. Then was better in so many ways, but I can't let my now life be completely miserable. So I look around every day to find some things that make me happy. I find that I can notice really super good stuff that I see happen between people and see it in a different light than before. Unfortunately, I also see the bad things that people do to me, to each other, and now I see how seriously sad that is, and I feel completely powerless to help them stop doing that. It just is the way they are until they get better at loving. Grief, hard as it is, is one thing that teaches people how to love.

  13. Continuing from previous comment: I pray for you, all the time, Donna, and seeing Psalms being quoted here on your blog made me very happy. God wants us to turn to him and we do and he loves us all the more, and we love him all the more. He wants our love, God does. Even (or especially) in our sadness and pain and anger, he wants our love. When we give it to him, he gives us blessings of the spirit that even though we sometimes realize we can't use them all the way while we are here in these stupid flesh bodies, we still know they are special gifts, and that they are continuing gifts that our spirits will be able to use better later.

    Anyway, one thing that I want to say to you is that your self portrait here is beyond amazingly wonderful. Beyond a doubt, fabulous. Such an honest expression of beautiful, poignant art, I was breathless to see how well and how beautifully you communicated with it. Very touching.

    Hold on, Donna, find the good things and smile when you can, feel the warmth that anything that can make you smile gives, and go with that feeling for as long as you can. You wouldn't have given up a day of that time with Jim in order not to be suffering now. Other people can't help that part of you, they weren't part of the good things that you and Jim had, so they can't provide any of that good stuff to you. They can slightly skim the top by caring, loving, helping, holding on to you, but they can't give you any replacement. That's kind of why the relationship was so special, because it could only be with him. And the loss of him is completely crippling to your life. (continued...)

  14. Continued, final: But what if this is only a tiny portion of your life? What if this pain and agony is going to end, and a much longer version of all the beauty of your former life is restored to you, complete with Jim, alive and well and just as much (no, more) in love with you as ever? It's only 70 years, give or take, that we are stuck in these flesh bodies. And while right now a day is 24 hours, when we are not in these bodies, a day is 1,000 years. We haven't even lived a portion of a day in these lifetimes here on earth, compared to what we will have once we get out of these bodies. There is great hope in our future, let's hold on to that. Yes, we want it now. No, we cannot have it now. So we wait with bated breath for the future, and in the present we do the best we can to be charming and lovely people and treat everybody as well as possible no matter how unhappy we are. And we are unhappy, to the core. But we can't give into it. The days go by and if we can inject any grace into any part of those days, we've done a good job. Luckily for us, our days are numbered, as they say... so let us try to look forward to the future when we are no longer obstructed by these bodies and this world holding us back. Don't yearn for it - wait for it. Know it's coming. Be ready for it, but don't hate the present while you are waiting for the future.

    I'm on your team, Donna, in your court, on the same wavelength, living the same sad existence, and I know we can do a good job of this sad part of our lives while we are waiting for happiness to return. It will. I know that it will. We just need to be patient. Just as God has been long-suffering with us (and oh boy, he's had to put up with a lot more than we have), we have to stay patient and know that there really is an end to the hard part of the story, and there really is a happy story coming for each of us who know and love him. And that's the way it is, on this day in the Year of Our Lord 2015. God bless you, dear woman. :) (the end, at last!)

  15. I did click out, for a time, but not because I didn't want to hear about your brokenness, but simply because I know what to say to help. I'm not geographically close so I can't help with your aloneness, and I completely understand when you say "bite your tongue". I wanted to hit the person offering that advice, and I've come to the conclusion that, those offering such advice are not so important in my life, and I just dismiss their advice. Only you will know how you feel. Thank you for sharing this most difficult time with me, I am honoured, that you feel comfortable enough to with my friendship to confide such personal feelings. P.S. if you get part of a comment please delete it, I don't know what I pressed, but it just flew off my monitor to cyber space, (smoke gets in your eyes, you know).

  16. It is so hard to know what to do. I am just as guilty as anyone. We just lost another family member this past week and I almost didn't go in to say goodbye. How does one console a child or husband, mother or father. Sister and brother? Wife? How do you say goodbye? There is no goodbye!
    I can't say I know or feel your pain because is completely unique. I just hope that you can find
    some peace. I wish you strength, steadiness, positive thought and comfort.

  17. When my best friend in the whole wide world was fighting cancer and then dying, I did visit her quite a lot, but...we never talked about the "elephant". I was so afraid that I would say something to make her cry, and then I might cry and it would be such a mess. The thing of it is, she was always so positive and happy, so I tried to be that way too. Two days before she died, I visited her in Hospice. She knew she didn't have too many days here on earth, but she was still smiling. After we talked a bit and I could see she was tiring, I put my arms around her and said, "You are the best friend I have ever had." She nodded. Then I pulled back a bit and said, "I will love you forever and I will see you again...soon." Then we kissed, she lay back, smiled and waved as I left her room. It was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done and one of the best days of my life.

  18. I think people don't know what to do or say, so they stay away. I believe too that some people fear death so much, they don't want to think about it. I've known people who say "I want to remember them like they were," not thinking about the fact that the one dying is still that person inside!

    You are brave, Donna. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing this deep hurt and insight with us. It will help others to know that they can visit and support those going through these hard times.


  19. I've lost so many..family...friends, old boyfriend....feels like a war zone. Literally.
    But...I've never lost a husband, my rock.
    You're also right about how it seems our "friends" just sort of melt into the background, eventually disappearing all together when it becomes "crunch" time. You DO feel deserted...alone.
    Not everyone does this...If wishes were horses....I wish I were there to help out...I wish Jim was still with you...I wish...so much.
    Just know that as much as we can, you are loved. I know, empty words when we can't be there with you to help you through this hard journey, but just know that we all would...if we could. I don't think there's a one of us that wouldn't help out more if we could just get to you...
    SO...phones, cards...internet...prayers...we got it covered.
    I will continue to pray that God sends you friend who will see everything in you that we all do...You deserve SO much sweet Lady.....

  20. I wasn't here, because I wasn't here. I'm so sorry this happened..I didn't even know it happened. and I'm sorry I wasn't here for you. I wouldn't have left in the midst of your pain. I would have found a way to make you laugh. Some insane, inappropriate , redneck, silly thing that would just make you laugh -- maybe ten minutes after you read whatever it is I wrote here trying my damnedest to make you just smile. Because, well, you know, that is my job. I've missed you -- perhaps I will come have that Iced tea on your porch that we talked about sometime? Grief doesn't scare me away.. it's my middle name ya know.

  21. Looking at the Photo again .. I sooo Get It. I really like that. There's a word for it-- I just haven't found it yet. But I can get lost in that. Thanks for sharing it.

  22. Love this...I have known too much heartbreak in three years...all WITHOUT WARNING AND GOODBYES...the funny thing is Im the one to nurse everyones grief and walk with them...mY OWN grief is encompassing but my ability to love and care intact

  23. You were such a blessing to your Jim throughout his illness and I know he had the one he loved most on this earth beside him. I am always at a loss as to what to say when I can't just be there to hold a hand, or hug someone close. My heart hurts for you sweet Lady.


Marty, here! Donna loves comments, and I faithfully pass them on to her. Thank you so much for visiting!