Silver Linings To Heartbreak, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:19am

I’ve been thinking this week about heartbreak. There’s a small epidemic in my online world. First, the blogger Beverly Like Hills reports that her husband has asked for a divorce. Then one of east side bride’s readers writes in to say her fiancé has called off their wedding, after 7 years of relationship.

At 57, it would not have been possible to have escaped heartbreak. And at 57, it would have been foolish not to have recovered, given the good fortune that graces me.

What then does recovery feel like? Very physical. I think they call it heartbreak for a reason. Some linkage we haven’t yet named must break, rupture, bleed or tear.

Remember? Remember waking up in the morning, that brief minute before your new reality hits? Remember driving and you miss the turn and a motorcycle policeman pulls you over and you want to say, “But I couldn’t pay attention to the lane. Your ticket is just water on a drowning woman?” Remember the endless attempts of your mind to rework the puzzle, to forcibly and logically unpick the sadness?

Maybe that’s only me. There are so many possible responses.

And then remember what it feels like as you get better. Over is the wrong word. You can’t get over it, it’s too high. Nor under, too deep. All the Motown songs apply. So you put one painful foot in front of the next, and the day comes when you think to yourself, “Wait. That didn’t hurt so much.” And you wonder how you missed the beginning of better.

I find it’s also true that the real hurt never disappears altogether. Like the ankle ligaments I tore at 25, the blond rugby player from New Zealand still owns a small sore place inside me. If I could put a finger onto the realm of past loves, I’d feel the little crackle.

I saw him at my 25th college reunion. He told me I looked happy. I wasn’t, in the way he thought, as I was on the way to the end of my marriage. I was just happy to see him and not mind. And, as you can imagine, the New Zealand rugby player who became an cardiologist was not the worst pain. He’s just an avatar of the experience.

Heartbreak, once you move through, is like a video of fireworks. It’s in front of you, recognized, but you feel it from a distance. When your heart first breaks, it hurts like a toothache, right up close to where you know what you are. As you get better, something comes between your locus of self and the pain.

I wonder what it is. I wonder what that layer of salvation is made of? Felt. Honey. Other substances of comfort and solace. Something smooth but not slick, very thin but not narrow. Like breath.

So what to do, if it’s going to get better, but you can’t snap your fingers? Slog along?

Just try to avoid more harm.

If your heart is broken, watch out for traffic cops. Be careful when you back up your car. Send all the thank you notes, invite anyone who might be offended by exclusion, keep your feet warm. Kiss only the right boys – I could have saved myself months of anxiety if I’d avoided subsequent athletes.

Do yourself no more harm. And then the sorrow you now feel will become something you cuddle up to. Because it will be a sign that you let yourself be vulnerable, that you weren’t the jerk, that you invested. There should be no shame in having been foolish, only in having been cruel.

Maybe that imagined substance that eventually sheaths the tracks of sorrow is our real silver lining. Nothing to do with clouds.


The ramblings of a middle-aged lady. Have a wonderful weekend everyone.


Oh, and go read Miss Whistle, the real chronicler of heartbreak and its recovery.

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  • Perfectly timed, thanks.

    12:58 pm
    Sydney Shop Girl said...


    SSG xxx

  • Heartbreak…while at the time seems unbearable; it does flicker and fade. Not sure it ever vanishes – just becomes more translucent. It’s difficult to explain it to someone going through it…but you’ve managed to breathe hope into the hopeless feeling that comes with a broken bond.

  • Beautifully expressed; at 46 I still think of the boy who broke my heart at 18. In retrospect, I can catalogue every stage of heartbreak that broke me down and am thankful for it. I have been happily married for 19 years to a better man, with two gorgeous boys, yet that pain is part of me and who I am. To this, and so many other gifts this relationship gave to me; I will always be grateful.

  • “There should be no shame in having been foolish, only in having been cruel.”


    So, so true…I shall fancy it up and print it out (and be sure to credit you). ;-)

    Your post really spoke to me today…thank you!

    12:38 pm
    Flo said...

    “There should be no shame in having been foolish, only in having been cruel.”

    We highlighted the same sentence! But it IS cruelty that I was guilty of, and I DO feel shame in having committed it, alllll these years later I wrestle with the torment of having deliberately tried to make someone hurt to the extent that he’d hurt me. Guilty as charged.

    3:11 pm
    Lisa said...

    The cruelty of the wounded has some excuse.

    11:08 am
    Flo said...

    What a dear you are to offer exemption, accepted! Coming from an upbringing of “turn the other cheek” being THE only suitable response to slings and arrows, I still find it hard to keep that tattered old family covenant! Thanking you SO for this marvelous essay, F.

  • Oh, Lisa, this is beautiful, moving, perfectly stated.

    One of my low points, and there were some grave low points much lower than this one, was the day in early 2008 a CHP officer pulled me over on 280 when I was on my way from San Francisco to a therapist at Stanford who was helping me find my way through a thicket of misfortune piled upon misfortune in a ridiculous way.

    The unfortunate man merely wanted to inform me that my current registration sticker was not on my license plate. I realized it was in my glove compartment. I took it out and showed it to him. Holding the sticker reminded me that my estranged husband was the one who had always put it on my car. To my horrified humiliation, thoughts of my husband caused me to break down in front of the officer, actually sobbing and gulping for air as I blurted out my history through my car window. The officer stood frozen, 280 traffic whizzing by behind him; clearly compassionate; clearly wishing he had chosen to let me drive on by, lapsed registration notwithstanding. I can smile about it now, and even then, when I told the story, I imagined the man describing our encounter as a part of one of those days when he questioned his career choice.

    After grief so protracted it almost felled me, I now feel the way a person long in physical pain, who suddenly recognizes the end of the pain, feels. I can again notice beauty, sunshine, hope, fresh air, deep breaths, relaxed muscles, new paths, and love, which really is all around you, as the song says.

    The pain of each of life’s losses does not ever completely go away, but it does shift, and the transformation can contain precious wisdom and compassion, though maybe at a price one may never be completely comfortable having had to pay. In the end, I have found what matters to me is daily love, connection, humor, and those fellow humans, whether more or less fortunate, who at any point, reach out with kindness, wisdom, experience, or expressions of their own joy that reassure you joy still exists.

    What you wrote today makes me think of Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese. Depending on one’s point within grief, the poem may not matter or may be an immense comfort. With the hope that it may provide some form of the latter for someone, here it is:

    Wild Geese

    You do not have to be good.
    You do not have to walk on your knees
    for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
    You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
    Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
    Meanwhile the world goes on.
    Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
    are moving across the landscapes,
    over the prairies and the deep trees,
    the mountains and the rivers.
    Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
    are heading home again.
    Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
    the world offers itself to your imagination,
    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
    over and over announcing your place
    in the family of things.

    —Mary Oliver. New and Selected Poems. (Harcourt Brace)

  • Dang Lisa, you’re good…

    And thanks to Katherine for the Mary Oliver poem. Another favorite.

  • At 57, I have learned to listen carefully, taking any gift of comfort, I know it will come handy along the way. Thank you

  • This was beautiful. I am in a season of heartbreak too (as you know). Devastation and recovery, death and resurrection. Still waiting on the recovery and resurrection part though, but I am on the healing path and I know that I will be okay. In fact, I am already okay, though I miss what my marriage was before the my husband left me. But I have faith I will find love again someday. And I have hope it will be with someone who will mean their vows.

    I’ve never taken drugs, but I’ve been thinking how your spouse/life partner leaving you must be very similar to going through withdrawal and detoxing from drugs. And I second the need to be careful while doing basic things in the first weeks or months. I think it is because surviving the pain takes so much energy from our body and it’s easier to make stupid mistakes with things that are normally automatic.

    3:06 pm
    Lisa said...

    Yes. And I think your list, here, of Things Not To Say, is a good one. <3.

    6:18 pm
    Jenny- Adventures Along the Way said...

    Thanks, Lisa.

  • So beautifully expressed and comforting too. Thank you.

  • I was musing on this today, before I read your post. Wondering why a phantom pain was still so present. He wasn’t my first love… and then, suddenly, I realized- He was the first who loved me back, and then…didn’t. It was all the more painful because he continued to like me, and did all that he could to continue a friendship. Later, married, I saw how my beloved questioned that friendship, and it was I who cut the cord. You expressed it eloquently Lisa, and we were moved.

  • Keep your feet warm.

  • Wow. Thank you. I have not experience this version of heartbreak, and yet it moves me deeply and seems like useful validation and comfort for many kinds of grief.

  • You write beautifully. Thank you.

  • This is a gorgeous post. Is it something about this season that seems to amplify & expedite the amount of free-flowing heartbreak in the universe? My professional life is absolutely bursting with it this time of year….

  • God I have had my heart broken SO MANY TIMES. But it’s part of life and part of growing up and it gives you a good dinner party anecdote and paves the way to finding the man you will be able to rely on. Divorce sucks. But until there is an end there can real be no beginning. Your beautiful heart decoration sends its love x

  • A beautiful post Lisa. And it’s not just loves who break our hearts.

    10:29 am
    Emmaleigh504 said...

    So true. The worst broken heart I ever had was when a dear, dear friend dumped me and took our mutual friends with her. That was the hardest heartbreak to get over. Luckily, my family hasn’t broken my heart. I have a really good family :)

  • This is so beautiful. SO BEAUTIFUL. I am bookmarking this page.

    Heartbreak transforms, sometimes into something invisible, sometimes into something beautiful. Time is required and so is good music. For me, St. Lucia’s album “When The Night” helped in one such chemical reaction; in another it was the Presuntos Implicados album “Ser De Agua.” It never goes away, but sometimes you do end up thankful for what it brought in its wake.

    7:48 am
    Lisa said...

    @Andrea, Thank you. Music is a universal help in getting through heartbreak.

  • Lisa – this is so powerful to me on so many levels. Wow. Such a wonderful post and one that needs to be shared with anyone in the heartbreak or heart repair season of life. Your writing is so eloquent. Your words say things so perfectly. Thank you for your blog.

    Have a great day! XOXO

    P.S. I’m Preppy 101 formerly. :-).

  • A beautiful piece of writing , Lisa

  • Wow- just what I needed! Thank you for sharing.

  • Allowing yourself to go through the grieving process while taking very good care of yourself are the most important things you can do. Writing out the anger, sadness, confusion in a journal also helps in sorting things out. The first few weeks of numbness are the hardest to navigate, forcing yourself to go on one day at a time, one foot in front of the other. Somehow, we find hope to continue on with love from others.
    Thank you for this post today.

  • A beautifully written article. It never ceases to amaze me how much good writing there is to be found online. And the comments of your readers are just as thought provoking. Wishing you a lovely weekend.

    7:49 am
    Lisa said...

    @Cornelia, My readers are the best.

  • Katherine C. James I am going to share your poem. So evocative as your vignette. Lisa you saw my feedback at facebook. thank you again for being so … yourself!

  • by the way, you have worked out the equation between the greek sturdy gal and klio kehagia at facebook from greece, right?

    7:49 am
    Lisa said...

    @greek sturdy gal, Yes:).

  • Well said. Extremely well said.

  • I first read this last night, was very moved by it, and have come back again the morning to reread it, and comment.

    It is because of posts like this, Lisa, that I think you are one of the most compelling voices on the blogosphere. Beautifully written, spot on, we all identify with what you relate here. Once again you nail it, with grace, sentivity, perspective, and compassion. Thank you for this and all other reflections that you share with us, your fortunate readers. Hats off. With appreciation, Reggie

    7:54 am
    Lisa said...

    @Reggie Darling, Thank you very much. Hat off in return.

  • That’s too perfect that your heartbreaker is a Cardiologist!

    My favorite thought about heartbreak comes from Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, “Animal Dreams.” The dotty father tells the girl that he’s seen many a damaged heart be sewn back together, but broken livers just crumble in the surgeon’s hands.

    Hearts will get broken, but they’ll heal if you let them work. Don’t drown your heartbreak because your liver doesn’t swim in toxic waters.

    7:55 am
    Lisa said...

    @RoseAG, Ha! Cardiologist! Didn’t even think of that!

  • You are on pace today Lisa… beautifully thought and expressed… thank you … xv

  • I had not thought in a long time about past heartbreaks and the fact that they linger somewhere. I often think that if you really love someone, that love always remains with you.

    My favorite part of your post is your statement that you could not have reached age 57 without heartbreak and your assertion that it would have been foolish not to recover considering your current state.

  • The way you write is nothing short of brilliant. Have you ever considered a book?

    7:59 am
    Lisa said...

    @Stacy, Thank you. I am thinking about a book – having put it all on a shelf for my job, I might just relaunch the effort.

  • What is it about New Zealand Rugby players?

  • Oh this hurts so very much to read… hurts to the core…

    Sometimes I wonder if I suffered from heartbreak or hope-break? Are they different or one in the same?

    I am still fairly newly divorced – about a year and a half. I was the one who asked for the divorce. I was the one who uttered those words. I was the one who caused heartbreak. My world and my marriage had become so toxic that I was a shadow of who I had become… My world, despite my smile – the greatest mask of all – was tears, sorrow, sadness and loneliness. I couldn’t take anymore. I simply could not and the only way for me to see my own silver lining was to ask for a divorce. It was not all rainbows and sunshine from that moment on… far from it. I was met with an angry, hurt and resentful soon to be ex-husband who lashed out, causing more sorrow, pain, heartbreak,etc. I truly did not think I could handle any of it. I had to. I had to pick myself up for the sake of the children. Had I not had children I am not sure I would have endured.

    Even though the divorce was my idea, it hardly meant that I too was not suffering heartbreak and hopebreak. I knew my world was going to change… I knew this would affect the children. I lamented and tormented over their beings, present and future. I lamented and tormented over my need to get out of a toxic relationship and how my desire for inner peace and happiness meant the death of a dream… the dream of a happy united family… the dream of being able to give my kids a complete and nurturing home.

    My life, over the past couple of years, hasn’t been easy but I have my freedom and I have found happiness again.My children are well and happy. Their lives have changed and we’ve all gotten used to a new kind of living. We are all, because of this, happier, better, kinder, more patient and more tolerant.

    But I don’t stop hurting. My emotions are still raw… I still experience heartbreak, hopebreak and loss… Some days are better than others. The holidays are tough. But I hold out hope. Hope, and promise are my words. I own them. For we have nothing without them.

    I never planned on traveling down this path, but I was led here somehow and I know, that this very path will lead me to a better place. I want, like everyone else to experience love and joy again – to have a full heart, but my own heart and hopebreak, they are forever a part of me and always will be.

    While I was going through my own divorce I reminded myself, over and over again that it was not about waiting for the storm to pass, but learning how to dance in the rain. I lived by those words.

    And because I saw such storms, I appreciate the sunshine like never before!

    I think unless you’ve been down this path, you can sympathise but you can’t empathise. My heart goes out to both Beverly Lake Hills as well the bride to be… but I guarantee you both, you will be ok… you will both be better than ok!


    5:45 pm
    Flo said...

    I’ve been down your precise path, Jessica. You put it so well, you get nothing but sympathy from me. The one who leaves has his/her own kind of torment, VERY few understand that those who make the choice to depart a relationship are equally deserving of support and kindness. I can still feel the stings coming from certain people, along the lines of “Well, YOU’re the one who left, what right to YOU have to pain and sorrow.” They don’t know, they have no clue, yet they have no problem leaving this burden on your shoulders. I grew an extra hide through the process, sounds like you did too!

    8:00 am
    Lisa said...

    @Jessica, I know you’ve really been through the wringer.

  • I always enjoy your ramblings; they are always good reads.

    Yes, we all eventually do feel better and I also believe we ‘become’ better.

  • Very well said, Lisa. Heartbreak can come from many different corners of our world. It’s not always a lost lover. Sometimes it’s a family member or just a friend. Sometimes the loss is due to intentional severing of a relationship, but by the time you’re my age, it can also be due to death of almost anyone who was loved. I would give anything to have my parents and in-laws back. Life is less rich without those we love. But you’re right about recovery. To recover as well as we can is to continue living a worthwhile life. You touched a sore spot today, and I’m grateful that you did.

  • thank you Flo!

    5:59 am
    Flo said...


  • thank you, lisa, for this beautiful post.

  • So well said. You have eloquently transcribed the pathology of heartbreak.

  • Beautifully written, and so true.

  • I had written, some months ago, on recovering from late-life heartbreak, because all of a sudden a half-dozen friends faced it.

    I do believe it’s different from young heartbreak, or even that in mid-life- yet regardless of age, all share that out-of-body (and sometimes out of one’s mind) grief.

    Of the six friends and acquaintances, all but one are, two to three years later, doing much better, which is not to say their lives are light and uncomplicated. One returned to the partner and is miserable.

    8:00 am
    Lisa said...

    @Duchesse, Yes, I remember now. If you could post the link here it might be helpful to people.

  • So beautifully written, Lisa. Thank you.

  • Thank you for admitting that the hurt never completely goes away. During my past 2.5 years of fighting to survive the snap of my 13-year relationship and marriage, you are the second person to openly state this, and your honesty is comforting. Everybody else smiles and says “time will heal all wounds” but even after this time I doubt it is true. My goal is to learn to live with what happened – it is good enough.

  • Glad I read this today.

    Thank you TM.