In 2012, when his death was so fresh, I needed to talk. About the pain, the fear, the agony, the anger, the loss, the accident, the future we will not have, the children we won’t raise, the wedding we won’t share… all of it. I wanted to crawl out of my skin with all the pain. I talked and cried almost every single day to someone about my pain. I talked to everyone. Even inappropriately so.
No literally… I have told my story – complete with shameless tears – to perfect strangers. Including customers at the gallery I worked at, a seamstress I had hemming a pair of pants for me, and my masseuse. Really anyone was prey to my grief attacks for about a year there. Sometimes it ended up weird or awkward, but most of the time, it didn’t.
Most of the time, it would allow them to share something really vulnerable in their life (the seamstress it turns out was a widow herself many years back, and has since remarried to a wonderful man), or help them simply feel honored that I would trust them enough to share. Almost every time, we both ended up in tears and hugging each other. It turns out, it doesn’t really matter if we know each other – we can all give that exchange to one another just by listening and honoring one another where we are.
Looking back, I can begin to understand it this way:
Sharing pain transforms it back into love. I stretch out my arms – with a piece of my pain held in my hands – to someone, to anyone who will have it. It is always a risk that they will not reach back, always, but I know I need to try if my heart is to survive this without becoming hardened. So I reach and I show them my pain. And my hope is that they reach back. And usually, they do. They take that small piece of my pain in their hands. They see it, touch it, come to know it. They turn it over in their hands and take it to their hearts and feel it for a moment. And then they give it back to me, but when it is returned to my hands… miraculously, every time, I find that it is no longer pain at all, but love. They have completely transformed that one small piece – with nothing more than a simple act of acknowledging it, and therefore acknowledging me.
Because our pain, you see, is really just the part of ourselves that has loved fully and deeply and come to be broken. When we give a piece of it to someone, and they receive it with compassion, they can return it back to us as love – as it once was. To me, this has been what healing is about. Taking the chance to be vulnerable and share my pain, bit by bit, day by day… reaching my hands out again and again and again… each time holding a single grain of sand from the desert of pain that resides in my heart. And each time receiving back a single grain of love.
It is a lifelong process, grain by grain. And no, we never do turn all those grains back into love. There will always be some pain amidst our hearts, but looking at it this way helps me to see how every person who has touched my life – and everyone who will – helps me to transform my pain back into love. He did this for me too, well before I was aware. Our vulnerability with each other helped us to turn each other’s pain from the days before we met back to love. And now, by the force of his death, I am having to learn a new way to do this. It is time to let others be part of that journey… let them turn my pain back to love, and give the same back to them. I am hoping that by sharing this, it does a little of that for both you and me.