Heart Holes

image

It’s impossible for me to suppress feelings of grief or loss. Even if the losses seem irrational, unreal or invisible. I don’t believe that it’s a healthy habit to smooth over or pretend hurt doesn’t exist. Can you grieve the loss of something that you crave so desperately but that you’ve never actually had?

Well I do and I’m certain that I’m not the only one. It can be a complicated and isolating type of grief. Most people typically don’t dive head first into the deep end of life’s sad realities. When your grandmother dies, and you’re grieving, it’s perfectly acceptable and understood that those around you will outwardly express their sympathy with hugs, cards, tears, and conversations. However, when some life event or experience sparks the brush pile of your invisible loss, the hidden flames of sadness often have the fuel to grow pretty quickly.

Only those who know you in the most vulnerable way may ever recognize the flames. Perhaps nobody will ever know.

Sometimes specific settings or conversations or experiences can shake you up. It can feel like you’re driving over a giant pot hole. You can prepare yourself beforehand, but you know that it will inevitably jar your spirit and temporarily hurt. Always. Just like a familiar pothole on that street that you have to drive through. The feeling of bracing yourself for the broken road doesn’t go away. Maybe ever.

In humans, like me, it feels more like a heart hole.

On some bright and sunny days, you can maybe handle one of the heart holes. You might swerve around it to avoid it. Maybe leave the room at the perfect time or don’t ever walk into the room where that routine casual conversation is not so casual for you. Because it hurts. Because you have an open wound that’s tender, and perhaps it won’t ever heal. You can try and plug up heart holes, but it’s only a temporary fix. They always come back.

Grief hurts. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. Hurt slowly burns. Then, it can leave your eyes dry and your heart and body all sore and achey. When my husband opens his arms and holds me and let’s me cry the tears, my real tears, mean a loss is a loss. His presence tells me that it’s okay to feel the invisible weight of hidden or invisible losses. I don’t have to justify them to anyone to know that my pain is real. Validated. Visible. Even if I have never received sympathy cards. And most likely, never will.

I don’t want to take my pain or losses out on anybody else. That’s one of the reasons I write and how I experience the unfathomable joy of this world along with the deep pains too.

I can sit with my son as he draws a “ginormous smile” on himself in his picture. The green marker smile goes off of his stick boy drawing and around and around the scene because “he’s that happy.” And so am I sitting next to him. Then as suddenly as a car shifts into second gear, I can drop him off at preschool and then switch gears and cry until I reach my husband’s embrace. There’s something so healing in these kind of tears. I can cry some more because he understands my grief. Because of how deeply he cares for me, my struggles become his struggles too. He rides over the broken parts of the road, sitting right next to me. And this makes me cry all over again. Grateful tears for his endless love for me.

I am aware that I am not the only one who grieves the losses that nobody ever saw. I know this. So, I share to let another know that it’s okay to hurt. And it’s okay to cry. And it’s okay to be upset and grateful and joyful. We are beautiful, complicated beings. Why would our emotions and feelings not be overlapping, entertwining, connecting and complicated in the same way as our physical bodies?

Ready or not, here I come. It’s a bit like hide and seek grief. You may unexpectedly stumble upon one of your losses hidden away in the closet or the cabinet up high. Or perhaps somebody else will unintentionally reveal one of your hopes, dreams unfulfilled or losses. I hope you will give yourself permission to grieve. And I hope you will let another share the extraordinarily heavy weight of your invisible loss so that it may become more bearable.

Work Spades

image

I could tell you a million sad stories about a million hard things that happen to kids. And their families. Well, maybe not a million. But eleven years worth. I could tell you about horrible, awful things. Worse than you can imagine. Worse than you’ve seen on TV. It would alter your mood. And change the vibe of your get-together, if I’m honest. I know better. I won’t do that. I will listen to you talk of work stories. And I will let you insert hard things for me to hear like “you have such a fun job” or “I could never work in a children’s hospital” or “I don’t know how you do it.”

It really would not be fair to follow up your bad day at work story with one of mine. That’s because when it comes to sad stories, I’ve got a hand full of spades. Every single time. Pretty soon you just won’t want to play with me anymore. You won’t ask about work. It will be the elephant in the room, the one in the corner making herself a drink. Don’t worry, its okay. I get it. I do understand. It’s hard for me, too, walking into the hospital on some gorgeous happy sunny days. You never know what you’re walking into. You never know how hard your hands will be squeezed. Or how many times your heart will be flipped upside down. How many screams or cries you will hear. Or how hard it will be to hold back the tears building a sad castle inside. You never know how many times you will need to go to the bathroom. Or how many times you will just have to keep holding it. Or if you will eat anything other than a donut and cheez-its. It’s an unpredictable environment, to say the least.

But, it’s not all ace of spades sad trumping stories. Or none of us would do it. There are victorious, fist pumping small miracles happening. All around. I could also tell you of some of the most inspiring stories. The times where I’ve witnessed love in it’s purest, most raw and unconditional form. When I’ve held back both happy and sad tears as I left the room to go grab a warm blanket. Or a glass of water for a parent. I can attempt to describe to you the thrill of working on a team where each member excels in different roles but most have mutual respect and adoration for each other. And every member has the same goal: to help make things better in both gigantic life-saving ways and the seemingly small, dignity reviving ways. We all show up and hope to help kids and families overcome. We aspire to make the world inside a kid’s hospital better.

If I could see that you truly wanted to listen, I would highlight all the joys and all of the many pains. The frustrations. And the necessary humor. Definitely the life-changing moments. The many heroes and heroines. You would hear all about the kids who proudly shouted “I did it!” after completing something really scary and painful. And excruciatingly hard. I wouldn’t forget to tell you of the time where I witnessed a teenage brother sit on the bed and comfort his younger sister in the most inspiring, compassionate way. A way that reminded me of my big brother. Or the time where I stood beside a father who held on so tightly to his daughter’s head and hand, never letting go, as she screamed in pain and begged him to hold her. I think she was begging him to make it stop. To rescue her. But he couldn’t do that, so he did what he could. He held onto her through the hurt.

I would need to tell you of the innocent, gigantic-hearted children who say things like, “I want to stay at your house” or “do you want to go to Worlds of Fun with us?” And of the painful, heartbreaking realizations that tumble out of kids’ mouths like… “He was just a kid. And he died.” I would have to boast about the littlest interpreters who carry the weight of speaking English at the doctor and Spanish at home. Who speak for their mother or father, all the while trying to play and just be a kid. Just a few weeks ago, one sweet seven year old boy fumbled and told me, “I got lost in a word.” How perfect. I knew exactly what he meant.

I get lost in words too. Especially when I try to explain what working in a hospital is like. Most people have a hard time listening. So I stop talking. I recognize that maybe you just wanted to hear something less heavy. More happy. Lighthearted.

Unfortunately, I think I can usually trump any sad story you tell. That doesn’t mean I should. Or that I want to. I usually won’t. I try to hide what I hold in my hands. And in my heart. Unless I know that you carry a hand of spades too. I will not unravel in front of you. I will hold my cards tightly. To my chest. You will never know of the faces, the sounds, the room number. The smells. The horror. The memory triggers. I know I can’t tell you about this. If I told you about it, you may not understand. You would wonder how I can talk without sobbing. You would think I’m some sort of sick human being. You may think I just don’t feel anymore. Or that I’m insensitive, maybe calloused. Burnt out perhaps. You may say something like “I just don’t know how you do it…..how you don’t cry.” You forgot to ask me the question. You assumed that this work doesn’t affect me. Maybe not like you imagine it would affect you. You forgot to ask,

“Do you ever cry?”

Because, if you asked this, I would answer, “Yes.” Exhale. “Yes, I do cry.” Not in front of you though. Not right here. Not right now.

I cry as I turn my back to you, quick tears that never exit. I cry in the halls and bathrooms at work. Bent over using the cheapest toilet paper or paper towels to wipe them away. Or in my office. I cry at home in my kitchen into a dish towel or on the tread mill into my t-shirt. I cry in my bedroom into my pillow when my kids are sleeping or getting ready for school. Just because I can stand in this room or tell a story without crying doesn’t mean I don’t feel the utter sense of loss and pain and unfairness that you felt upon first imagining it. I’m only human. I’m actually a lot like you.

We all have different strengths. And different capacities. Limits. Gifts. Yet, we all have weaknesses. Vulnerabilities. Every single last one of us. There is a completely different language that takes years and years to recognize and learn. A language we will never fully understand. And the more time you spend around this unspoken language, the more deeply you feel. In happy or sad moments. It’s the language of hurt. The language of pain. The language of unexpected life-altering circumstances. It’s too difficult to try and understand in a moment. In a conversation. In a day. It’s much too complicated. It often feels foreign, uncomfortable. You just can’t fathom the all-encompassing, overwhelming and sometimes heart-stopping beautiful feelings that accompany holding these cards. So, I will nod. Put on my best poker face. And most likely I will never let you truly know what it feels like to work in a children’s hospital. It’s easier for me to just hold my cards closely, tightly, right up next to my beating heart.