A MANUAL FOR HEARTACHE.
Loss, in whatever form, is the heaviest burden I think we can bear. And whilst there is no right or wrong way to navigate your way through those murky waters, it can feel somewhat of a release to know you’re not alone.
My friend Chloe, who I interviewed for my podcast Listen Louder, shared her experience of loss and grief with me. And during our chat, she recommended a book. Cathy Rentzenbrink’s A Manual for Heartache. When I lost someone incredibly important to me last month, the first thing I did was order that book. And last night I inhaled it.
I’ve always felt a bit iffy about self-help – god knows why. But something loss has taught me is to leave all my previous conceptions at the door. I owe it to myself to be more open minded and willing to explore ways to heal. I am learning to accept that I alone, do not have all the answers. And who am I to dismiss someone else’s experience?
This isn’t so much a book review, more a sharing of parts of the book that really hit home. And the inspiration it gave me to share my own feelings with you.
Cathy’s words sank deep into my heart with every turn of the page, because, she was speaking my experience. And that’s it. That’s the thing.
‘All loss, feels as though it’s specific to us, but is actually universal. I began to see that in sharing our suffering and acknowledging the pain of being human, we not only ease the burden on ourselves, but also help those around us see themselves as part of the same whole’.
What a comfort. We aren’t alone in our suffering, nor are we unique in it.
Yet we feel so isolated in our grief, that no-one could possibly understand or comprehend the pain we feel.
But maybe learning to be okay with showing that pain ‘IRL’, be it online or off, could be the way we ultimately come back together? For us to step away from that isolation we wrap ourselves in. Authenticity and truth aren’t easy things to face, but perhaps they’re key in us learning that to feel is normal. It’s natural and not something we should be afraid to share for fear of making others uncomfortable, or ourselves vulnerable.
We all feel these feelings and yet pushing them down behind an ‘I’m okay!’ feels like the right thing to do.
What if your worst fear wasn’t realised? What if you shared your truth and people didn’t roll their eyes and call you a Debbie Downer? What if, their response was to say: I am here for you and I love you? What if they understand?
I started therapy earlier this year and something my therapist and I discussed was me leaning in to being more vulnerable. Had I ever considered the impression I give? Perhaps people I love think I’m coping well, because I’m not saying or showing otherwise. If I need an ear and one doesn’t feel readily accessible, maybe I need to be open to asking for it.
Honestly, I recoil at the thought. What I want, is for people to know that I need them without having to make it abundantly clear. But how does that fit in to the narrative that we are all carrying our own burdens? We are all feeling our own feelings, but not expressing them. What if the person I need, is isolating themselves with their own shit? It’s a vicious cycle of us needing support, but not wanting to burden others and feeling like no-one could ever know what we’re going through.
But if you’re nodding your head to any of this, maybe we’re wrong? Maybe leaning into the pain rather than avoiding it makes it part of who we are, not just something that happened to us.
That doesn’t mean we need to be defined by it, or that we can’t continue to live happy, even joyful lives. It’s to say that to have loss is to have loved and that it is all part of the story, the fabric of us.
Cathy also touches on our own feelings not being superior to others. Basically, your pain is not greater than anyone else’s. The death of a loved one doesn’t trump a messy divorce, and vice versa. Loss is universal, and repeat. It comes in so many shapes and sizes and we are all worthy of the time, respect and care it takes to work through those feelings.
I guess it’s just important to remember, we don’t have to do that alone.
If you’d like to buy Cathy’s book, you can find it here