Unlike the real Mrs. Bailey, I was a romantically dramatic teenager. There were loser boyfriends and break-ups and get-back-togethers and heartbreaks upon heartbreaks. I grieved in my room for days sometimes. I made mix tapes and wept to girlfriends about the loss on the black rotary phone in my bedroom. In college, there was a heart-wrenching break-up that nearly took me over the edge.
When I met Mr. Bailey, I thought to myself, I won’t ever have a broken heart again! Hurray! Adios, sad sack mix tapes!
Life makes such fools of us, doesn’t it?
Two years ago, my mother, the rock of my life, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
My Mom is very sick now. Late one night about a week ago, after being up for nearly 24 hours, I was driving home from my parent’s house. Trying to stay awake, I had the windows down, the music playing. Up from within me, a deep hollow pain started to rise. The warm evening breeze blew through my open window and wisped through my chest, curling around an abscess of aching beginning to spread.
It seemed a discomfort that was familiar. In my sleep-deprived stupor I could not at first place it. Tears came, a reaction to the pain. A song playing hit an empathetic tone and I reached to increase the volume. I wanted to feel the vibration of the song in my chest, curve my body to it so it would fill the space now opening wider.
That’s when I recognized the pain – it was heartbreak. It was a heart shattered with loss, dislocated due to a discombobulated reality that was utterly unwanted and impossible.
Only then did the foolishness of my newlywed glee become so completely ridiculous to me.
There are many different heart breaks in life, I thought, and no one comes through unscathed.
What was losing my mother going to feel like? I had wondered during these last 700 days. It was going to feel like the worst broken heart I had ever had. And it wasn’t going to go away. Ever.
The heartbreak would be total, I knew, and irrevocable. Unlike the delivery of the shoebox of mementos ceremoniously returned to a ninth-grade boyfriend designed to facilitate a visit, a short talk, maybe a last kiss, any one-last-talks with my Mom would be out of the question. And contrary to what that guy in 12th grade told me as I cried, never speaking to my mom again was not going to make it any easier.
I knew, then, this whole heartbreak would have to be endured. Like I had done anytime I had bid farewell to treasured parts of myself in the form of boyfriends, outdated friendships or un-nurtured creative passions or the independence of single, childless life. Just get it done¸ I would tell myself.
The endurance is what gets you through heartbreak. You just outlast the most bitter parts and, at some indefinable nick in time, it ceases to sting so much. Your mindful memories remain and guide a new you, sewn together at surprising junctures. The wind moves around your chest warmly, but then doesn’t penetrate, because the heartbreak has made you stronger at the broken places.