I sat quietly across from a friend. Her eyes welled. A single tear streamed gently down her face. Her soul aching and wounded. Starving for someone to see her. Really see her. To see the pain that she’s been hiding. Pain that has been sitting and swelling inside her for so long. Pain that I have been oblivious to. Where have I been? Where was I that I couldn’t see it coming?
The truth is – I’ve built a wall. A wall around me. Around my life. And around my heart.
For so long I have built up these walls and the longer and longer I’ve kept them up – the higher and wider they have grown. For so long, I have been consumed by my own pain that I ignored the fact other people experience pain too. Maybe it’s because I know the level of pain pales in comparison to losing a child. Maybe it’s because it’s man-made pain. Pain inflicted because of personal decisions or poor life choices. Man-made, self-created problems that people have some sort of control over. Or maybe it is out of their control and just seemed so unequivocally petty to me at the time. Either way, my threshold to listen to other people’s “problems” was exceptionally low. I couldn’t bring myself to truly hear what friends and family were really saying because I see things so differently than I used to. Back before my world crumbled into a thousand irrecoverable pieces – I could. I could be empathetic and caring. I could be a decent listener and a good friend. But that all changed.
The walls I built have barricaded my heart. The only way anyone could get through those walls was if they too had lost a child. I didn’t have room for anyone else’s pain. Because grief can be selfish – and rightfully so. Because we have been through the war zone of life and there were casualties. We are living through the aftermath and learning to rebuild. And we’ve seen and experienced things that no one – NO ONE should have to. Things so completely against the grain of nature it’s unreal. So most of life’s other “problems” – they just fall away. They are merely specks in the universe of grief.
It has taken me a long time to tear down these walls that surround my heart. It has taken a lot of time and a whole lot of patience and grace. It has taken a long time to see that my grief isn’t the only problem in the world around me. Every day – people are hurting. Hurting and experiencing pain. Pain that is unbearable, unthinkable, and the worst ever – FOR THEM. It’s the worst they know. Truth be told – that hurt that they carry may pale in comparison to mine or to yours. But that is what they know. And their pain and hurt in no way negates the pain of losing a child.
I have come to realize that I can’t walk this earth with a barricaded heart and expect the world to see that my pain is greater than their pain. It just doesn’t feel right anymore. To compare pain. To compare one person’s brokenness to another’s. To put myself in a position to decide who in life has it worse. What good does that do? Just because their pain is not like my pain doesn’t mean they aren’t allowed to feel hurt. To feel sadness. To feel the crushing weight that life can bear onto us from time to time.
We all have different walks in this life. We all have different hardships. And different pains to bear. And we all bear them so very differently from one another.
I don’t want to be the kind of person who walls off her heart and only lets those who understand me through. Where would I have been if those around me did that? I’d be lost. Because despite their inability to understand, these people have tried to be there for me. Maybe not the “right” way. Maybe not the way I wanted. Maybe not the way they would have if they understood. But for the most part the ones closest to me – the ones who now need me – didn’t wall off their heart because my pain was different from what they knew.
That is the kind of person I want to be – one who opens her heart to others and lets nothing but love flow out into the world. Not anger – not bitterness. Just love. Love despite my inability to completely comprehend. Love despite the unfairness of the world. Love despite knowing there is little pain that compares to yours and mine.
Over time- I have learned to open my heart to others. My heart has grown and swelled – bigger than the walls I built around it. Naturally, the walls have slowly crumbled away. Piece by piece. Bit by bit. Until I was ready to see that my grief is not bigger than the world. Until I was ready to open my heart. Until I was ready to greet others with compassion and humility. To hear what weighs heavy on their heart. Until I was ready to sit with them in their pain. Until I was able to understand that all pain is different. And so is our threshold for it. Until I was able to see true hurt in someone else’s eyes – even though that hurt was very different from my own. Until I was ready to stop comparing my pain to the pain of others.
My heart has grown and my walls have crumbled down. Because now – now I love others despite my pain. And despite theirs.