Death, Divorce, and Heartbreak Part 4: Allow the Space to Become More God-Like

images (8)How to deal with Death, Divorce and Heartbreak

Dealing with suffering is not a new topic.  I’ve read and listened to wonderful books and teachings on dealing with grief, divorcing with integrity, and what to do after a bad break up.  Much of them say the same thing and where brought forth in Part 1 of this blog series:

  • allow the space to grieve
  • see the relief and joy
  • be accepting of what is
  • look for the blessings
  • embrace the excitement of creating a new life
  • learn from the person and experience
  • honor what was
  • believe and hold on for the rejoicing to come

Often when I see the word “God”, I will read it as the word “Love”.  The pain of death, divorce, or heartbreak can increase our spiritual connection with GOD, it can grow our LOVE, if we choose.  This is where FREE WILL, our ability and gift to choose, can be our best friend or our worst enemy.

Love is a choice.  God is a choice.   We can choose Love/God when we are facing painful experiences.

The foundation of a wholehearted life is to choose Love/God in the context of all our experiences—good ones, painful ones, everyday ones.

So how do you choose Love/God in the midst of painful experiences like death, divorce and heartbreak?

Looking at the list above, there are several things on there that seem totally impossible in the initial stages of deep sorrow and heartbreak.    I want to touch on the importance of the first one.

Allow the Space to Grieve

Allowing the space to grieve, to feel the pain of the situation, is so important.  It is not in our nature to turn towards pain. We can engage in many activities physically, emotionally, and mentally to avoid it.  Ultimately, however, any tactic we use to avoid pain will only cause us more pain.   And that pain will disconnect us from others.  It will not allow the love and our true self in God to come through for our self or others.

Brene Brown, one of my favorite authors and researchers, has a cute video that explains the difference between empathy and connection versus sympathy and disconnection (Click here to see video).   When we feel our pain we grow in empathy.  When we can empathize with others, we are connecting with others.    Most people who sympathize, who try to make us see the brighter side of things too soon, are avoiding their own pain and yours thus producing disconnection.   Connection was God’s ultimate goal for us through Jesus death.  We can’t connect if we are avoiding our own painful experiences.

Ultimately, allow yourself to feel your pain so you can empathize with others—so the true you, the love in you, the God part of you can grow, be shared, and connect you with others.  This is a choice to love.  This is a choice for God and to be more God-Like.

Recently I heard someone say that we need to deal with painful things in “skillful” ways–ways that are non-harming to self or others.   What does it look like to allow yourself the space to grieve or feel the pain in “skillful” ways?  Here are only a few (I’d love for you to share more “skillful ways” in the comment section):

  • Cry when you need to. Rage when you need to. Just do it in kind ways—kind to yourself and others.
  • Find a friend who won’t get tired of you talking through the things that bring up the pain. Seek a counselor if you feel you are wearing your friends out.  When my mom passed, I found certain things triggered my grief.  It might have been a significant date, a holiday, finding a note she wrote, or a time I wished I could have called to talk over something with her.   With divorce and heartbreak the same is true.  It will take awhile for all the triggers to come and go.  Dealing with the triggers will help them recede and lessen more quickly and thoroughly.
  • Journal your thoughts and feelings. Grief is often accompanied by anger, guilt, shame, fear, anxieties, and other emotions that effect living fully.   Journaling is a safe way to get those feelings out without them being projected on to others potentially hurting yourself and others. I often see journaling as praying to and talking with God who is big enough and empathetic enough to hear and hold our pain as often as we need to say it.  Write to God every hour if need be.
  • The pain from grief and heartache often bring up big spiritual questions. Find support in your church or community of believers to ask your questions.
  • Read your bible and/or pray. When I have been in times of deep pain and choosing not to turn to other things to deal with it, I found myself restless and unsettled.   The last thing I thought I could do was sit still and read the bible or pray.  However, when I finally choose (and, honestly, made myself) get in a chair to read the bible or pray, it only took that one time to experience its soothing, calming, and healing power.  My chair is the first place I turn to now.

The ultimate goal of dealing with any kind of painful situation is to come out on the other side with more love, more God, more connection, more ability to connect with others.

Recently I read this definition of hope:

Hope is the fruit of a learned capacity to suffer wisely and generously.

“Suffering wisely” is dealing with your pain in loving ways leaving behind any tactics to avoid it.  “Generously” is the ability to empathize with others because you understand and know pain.  By not avoiding it, you become a Godly, loving support and a beacon of hope for others.  In addition, the fruit of hope you gain from suffering wisely makes the other things on that list above possible.


Many times I’ve heard that if I trusted God more, believed the promises of the bible, or loved God more than anything else that I would not feel pain.  That is a bunch of hooey!   Jesus believed, trusted, loved, and even was God and He felt pain.

John 11: 33 (Voice) says:   When Jesus saw Mary’s profound grief and the moaning and weeping of her companions, He was deeply moved by their pain in His spirit and was intensely troubled.

A few verses later “…Jesus wept and everyone noticed how much Jesus must have loved Lazarus.”

Jesus was grieving, feeling, and empathizing.

Allow yourself space and time to feel your pain.  This will grow you in love and being more of and for God.

cropped-011114_2043_selfcompass1.jpgEncouraging Your Whole Heartedness:

I’d love to hear your heart on this topic or any “skillful” ways you’ve used to deal with pain from death, divorce, and heartache.


Gentleness: A Fruit of a Whole Heart Life

LINKUP-GRAB-BUTTON-2-01Today I’m linking in with BE STILL BE FREE.   I love their weekly podcasts and blog posts.  Wednesdays are their link up day where other bloggers can post a thought, story, or pondering about a specific topic.  Today’s topic is Gentleness. Be sure to click on the BE image to the left  and enjoy their podcasts and wise words.

imagesI truly need a doggie door on my beautiful screened in porch.  My faithful companion, Allie, Border Collie extraordinaire, likes to open the screen door to let herself out to roam.   As smart as she is, I have yet to train her to shut the door.

On more than one occasion, while the door has been open, birds have flown in and become trapped on the porch.

When I find the frightened little souls flying about banging into the screen, their feathered breasts beating fast, and squawking frantically, I start talking to the bird in a sweet, gentle tone. 

“It’s okay.  No need to be afraid. I’m not going to hurt you. The door is right over there. I just want to help you get free.”

I talk quietly and peacefully as I slowly and steadily coax it towards the door.  I am also a bit scared it will fly right at me and get tangled in my hair, or worse case scenario, peck an eye out!  Oh, not to mention that it might relieve itself on me in its fear-filled state!

I think this is a common reaction upon finding helpless beings–a bit nervous with a desire to help.  Deep down in our nature we understand fear and being gentle, soothing beings.  I find this especially true for most of us with animals.

What about with scared and fear-filled human beings?  

What do we usually do when someone starts banging around and squawking?

In relationships, when we have triggered someone’s fears, the behaviors don’t generally send us into gentleness mode.  The frightened partner can become defensive, critical, large, and angry.  Or they may become incredibly quiet, distant, and defiant.  Our tendency is to run the other way physically or emotionally, get our battle gear on and squawk back, or become so overwhelmed we do nothing!

When God or an angel showed up in the bible, they were always reassuring their encountered person with “Do not be afraid.”  No doubt their presence was a bit overwhelming, unusual, and fear producing.

I’m pretty sure they were not squawking or screaming “DO NOT BE AFRAID!!!!!”

I imagine it was in such a compassionate, gentle voice much like how I talk to the frightened birds.

How much different would it be if we remembered gentleness with those who have just been trapped on the screen porch of fear?    Maybe some empathy, some compassion, some gentle reassuring words would help them find the door to freedom.


Death, Divorce, and Heartbreak Part 2: A Personal Reflection

images (5)I was telling a friend, “I’m much better at death than heartache through divorce or breakups.”

I have known this about myself for quite some time.

And I have asked God, “What makes heartache so much more difficult for me to deal with than death?” 

I loved reading Nancy Drew Mystery books when I was growing up. God must remember this about me because when I have big questions He never gives me the answer straight up.  I have to become a detective being keenly aware of what He reveals to me over time to start to piece together the answer to my personal perplexing questions.   (I’m thinking many of you can relate to this, also!)

These next few blogs will present the pieces of the mystery I have so far in regards to why divorce and heartbreak have been much harder for me than death.   This particular post will talk about all the grace God has given me through my life which has made death a more peaceful process. The next posts will discuss some revealed truths about what makes heartbreak so much more difficult for me….and maybe you…and some wholehearted ways to deal with divorce and breakups.


Seventeen years ago I watched as my mom battled cancer for two years and then pass away.  Just 4 weeks ago I watched as father’s body was overcome by cancer, and he too passed away.

In each of those instances I was fortunate to be prepared for their deaths.  

I was given time to talk with them,  say what I’ve always held in my heart about them, and hear what they wanted to say to me.   Though my mom was too young in my eyes to leave this world, it was God’s grace that I was given notification.   With my dad, he lived a full life, and in God’s grace, again, I was given notification.

Working in a hospice for a short bit in my 20’s, I learned that time is precious.

Don’t wait till the “notification” comes to deal with something or say something you’ve always wanted.  

That was a lesson I integrated wholeheartedly, so in the last few days of each of my parent’s lives, my heart found only a few questions I had always wanted to ask—what they enjoyed most about their lives, what were their spiritual beliefs that I didn’t know, how my mom felt about my dad, what my dad had always wanted to do but didn’t, any last words of advice they wanted to pass on.  The information from those questions has been precious to me.

I was fortunate in their deaths to have time to prepare and send them off with love. 

The heartache from my parents’ deaths was a mix of sadness and joy:  I miss them yet thankful I had them for as long as I did, I became much more aware and grateful for what they taught me and passed on to me, there was no more suffering for them to endure, and I was peaceful about their belief and trust in God to take them to heaven where I’d see them again.

Obviously, having spiritual life makes death and dying more peaceful.

Knowing that my parents are finally with God and that they are more loved and joyous then they were ever on earth makes their going much easier.

I have been fortunate.  My close family has not experienced sudden deaths, tragic deaths, or unexpected deaths. In High School several of my classmates were killed in car wrecks and I did observe, from afar, the mournful cries and moaning of their families.  Something I’ll never forget.  And I knew the anger and the “words can’t describe” shock and pain I felt at the loss of those friends. I have walked a few friends and clients through the process of sudden child or spouse deaths.

But for the most part death for me has been easier to deal with and adjust to than divorce or relationship heartbreaks.

I have never been afraid of dying.   I have had fear about HOW I will die, but that seems to be waning as well.   Someone once said that I was probably not scared to die because my spirit remembers where it came from and longs to go home.  That made sense to me, even though this was said to me during a time when my Christian walk was trying to come back to life! I was “saved” at 11 y/o but spent many years between then and 45 y/o walking in and out of churches like a Velcro ball that lost its place to stick or stickiness.

Have I wished for death? Yes, I have wished for death…but never after someone dies only after heartbreak! 

I’ve had 3 significant relationships (one engagement, one with my husband of 20 years, and one long term relationship) with men I mindfully chose to put forth effort for a lasting, committed relationship.  The ending of those relationships were devastating to my heart and mind.  I was a mess!  I’d cry for days, and honestly, even months or years later. Part of me felt lost or gone.  Direction and goals I had disappeared. I felt empty and alone. Life seemed dark and hopeless.

Death wishes would come sometimes as fervent prayers for God to take me home and sometimes just as a comfort and an escape.

I have a daughter who I love wholeheartedly and even that didn’t keep them from coming. I didn’t like that.

At some point don’t we realized that life is all about relationships (not work, money, things, etc)?  My relationship with God, YES…yet others, too!   But if this is what life on earth is like with relationships, then I can’t wait till I’m gone.

I remember sitting in church singing songs about how everything will be amazing and wonderful when we get to heaven, and listening to sermons on the hardships of life but we had heaven to look forward to.

These were all well and good, but what am I to do in the mean time till I get to go to heaven?   

I would have thought that death would have brought such a reaction for me.  I know it has for others that have lost children, spouses, and parents.  And I do believe, if I had tragically lost my ex-husband during our marriage or tragically lose my daughter, some of those same thoughts would appear.  But my deep down grief and sorrow have come after relationship loss and not death loss.  What was the difference?   Why was this seemingly so much harder?  How could I bring the peace I experience through the loss to death into the loss of a significant relationship?

(Come back next week for some things God has taught me about this.)

012014_2108_SelfCompass1.jpgEncouraging Your Whole Heartedness:

Can you relate to the difference in my reactions to death and heartbreak?  I’d love to hear your heart.  Leave me a comment or a snippet of your story on death and heartache.

On Death, Divorce, and Heartbreak Part One: The Empty Hangers in the Closet

empty-closet (1)Recently I had a session of WHOOP classes with two beautiful, journeying women. Each was going through a major life change.   Six months earlier Cheryl had lost her husband, and father to her teenage son, to a heart attack.  Susan was in the midst of the final decisions and signing of divorce.   During one class, I listened as they pondered their different perspectives of the empty hangers in their closets.

Contemplating this a bit more on my own, I saw how each of their perspectives, as well as mine with my divorce and the death of my parents, had spiritual wisdom in it.

For Cheryl the empty hangers that once held her husband’s clothes were full of sorrow and grief.  They were a reminder of what she had lost.   She had items of her husband’s she just couldn’t part with in honor of him. And others she held on to in case her son could ever use or want them as he got older and more his dad’s size.

At that time she could not even think about filling the hangers or space that his leaving left in her closet and life. 

Susan loved the empty hangers.  She was busy repainting and redoing the closet. She was looking forward to reorganizing it.   Her marriage had been rocky and unpleasant. She did have grief over the loss of dreams, the hardships of joint custody with her children, and the pain of thinking about her soon-to-be-ex with another woman, but she had a secure sense that in the long run, this was the best for all involved.

The empty hangers in Susan’s closet were a sign of relief and excitement.

During my own divorce I came across a magnet that said, “The barn burned down. Now I can see the moon.”   The empty space and empty hangers became one small odd way for me to see the moon–I would have more space and take over the whole closet!

Silly and shallow as it seemed, the empty hangers were the start of looking at the brighter side of a situation I had to accept.  

I remember cleaning out my mom’s clothes after she died. Her clothes were donated to a shelter for women who were starting a new life. This was a fitting tribute to my mom and bittersweet.

The empty space and empty hangers were a sign that someone was recieving a blessing towards their renewed hopes and dreams.

Three weeks ago my dad passed.  His closet has not been cleaned out yet, but I did go look at what was there.  The closet was a history of my dad—shoes and ties from work, golf shirts and hats from golfing trips and tournaments, sweat shirts and jackets from colleges he supported because of his kids and grandkids, a wild shirt I only saw him wear in retirement.

Thinking about the empty space and empty hangers for my dad, I could see them as a reminder to carry on what he inspired in me—hard work, do something you love and are passionate about even if it is a hobby, support others in their dreams, and have fun. 

Death, divorce, and heartache are painful to our hearts whether it is a tragic or an expected death, whether it is a divorce or a break up of our own choosing or another’s.    Living a spiritual or whole hearted life does not mean we become emotionless and not feel the sorrows of life.   I’d say we actually become more emotional!   If you are looking for more joy in your life, expect to feel more sorrow.

Welcoming, accepting, and moving through the pain in a way that is most loving for God, our self, and others is living wholeheartedly.   This is when there is joy in sorrow and where grief turns into rejoicing.

The empty hangers give us some clues on how to do this with death, divorce, and heartbreak—allowing the space to grieve, seeing the relief and joy, being accepting of what is, looking for the blessings, embracing the excitement of creating a new life, learning from the person and experience, honoring what was, believing and holding on for the rejoicing to come.


Encouraging Your Whole Heartedness:

What empty hangers have you had in your life?  What was your perspective of them?  What did they teach you about living wholeheartedly?  I’d love to hear your heart!  Leave me your story!

Scriptures and Other Readings to Ponder:

Jeremiah 31:13    The young women will dance for joy, and the men—old and young—will join in the celebration. I will turn their mourning into joy.  I will comfort them and exchange their sorrow for rejoicing.

John 16:20  I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, that you shall weep and grieve, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.

Hebrews 12:11  For the time being no discipline brings joy, but seems grievous and painful; but afterwards it yields a peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it [a harvest of fruit which consists in righteousness—in conformity to God’s will in purpose, thought, and action, resulting in right living and right standing with God].

Psalm 30:11  You did it: You turned my deepest pains into joyful dancing; You stripped off my dark clothing and covered me with joyful light.

A Buddhist thought:  Suffering is our teacher, it’s through our own experience and ability to contemplate suffering that we learn the First Noble Truth–The Joy Hidden in Sorrow.

On Joy and Sorrow
 Kahlil Gibran

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.