And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
When you’re a mother and your child’s heart is broken, it has an odd reverberating effect. Not only do you feel your child’s pain, but you hear echoes as memories of times your own heart was broken come slipping back into your bloodstream. And if you’re a mother of more than one child and this new broken heart is beating in the chest of your youngest, you also hear echoes of your older children’s broken hearts. It’s a familiar, unnerving pulse.
Olivia’s boyfriend broke up with her on Tuesday, in the new modern way of sending a text, but while she was at work. With a month to go before prom, a prom we already have two dresses for.
A seventeen-year old broken heart is a miserable thing. It’s full of questions and self-doubts, anger and betrayal and profound sadness. As a parent, there’s not much else you can do but hold the child, who you suddenly find in your lap again, and pat her back and tell her it will all be all right, eventually. You know this, having lived through your own broken hearts. And now, you wish you could break your own heart again, in place of hers. Parenthood means bandages. Broken hearts are hard to bandage. But you try.
In a strange coincidence, an hour after my daughter received her text, I was in the AllWriters’ online classroom, talking with a client from Australia, whose college-age daughter was also going through heartbreak. “Her first serious love,” my student said, and I understood. A love that had the potential to be lifelong suddenly wasn’t.
We talked about this for a while. My first serious love, discovered in high school at sixteen, ended in divorce after 17 years of marriage, when I was 37. That was a complicated broken heart because I’m the one who threw what was left of my heart on the floor and watched it shatter – it was me that chose to walk out. But in actuality, my heart broke long before that moment where I left, and it was that brokenness that gave me the strength to close the door on what I considered my home. My student, on the other hand, was still joyfully married to her first serious love.
There just isn’t one path when it comes to matters of the heart.
As I held my daughter, I remembered when two of my older children had heartbreaks at the same time. My daughter, dumped on Facebook. My son, dumped right before what was to be an epic date. My daughter was in college and my son was already living in his own apartment, but for this, everyone gathered under my roof. I did what many mothers do – I fed them. I drove to Buffalo Wild Wings and I swear I brought home at least one of everything on their menu. There were tears and there was laughter and there was delicious aroma and spices and sauces and food, food, food. Into the night and throughout that long weekend.
And here’s the thing: My divorce was 20 years ago. I’ve been remarried for 18 years. While I still ache when I think back to that boy, then man I used to know, while I still wish sometimes for someone who knew me then, who shared my past, I’ve healed. My daughter and son have healed; my daughter is happily married and my son is still happily single. It’s the happiness that counts.
I was told by a doctor when I broke my wrist that bones that break and then heal are stronger than they were originally. I believe that to be true of hearts as well. My heart beats stronger now. It has to, so I can hold others, like the 17-year old who sat on my lap on Tuesday night.
So my moment of happiness? When Olivia came home from school today and I asked her how the day went, she looked at me and said, “You know what? It was pretty good.” And then she smiled. The ache is still there. It will be for a while. But she smiled.
I’ve told her she’ll be all right. The heart that breaks grows even stronger.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.