How to Avoid the Shattering Effect of Loss — Or Can You Really?

Thoughts on being shattered after the death/loss of someone you loved.

The world never seemed so quiet the day they took my Mom from her bed. I was downstairs as they carried her lifeless body down the stairs — wrapped in a sheet.  They placed her on a gurney by the fireplace.

I couldn’t help but take a look as they situated her covered body and laid a corny fake rose over her stomach. The two young men tasked with taking Mom away stood quietly waiting for a signal from me to let them leave.

Panic ran through my body, knowing she’d never be home again.

They took her through the garage and placed her in a van. I could see the outline of her toes under the blanket.

They drove away.

Silence. The early morning was  so silent.

Shattered.

That’s how I felt. That’s how my sister felt.

Inside the house, we were surrounded by objects we’d seen most of our lives. The things Mom had so carefully collected over the years were in their places. Her clothing still hung in the closet. The signs of her struggle with cancer remained — the morphine, mouth swabs, and various comfort items kept by the bed.

“Where do we go from here,” were the words that we couldn’t say. They drifted through the early morning air.

I know that my story is no different from yours – or from someone you know. People die. Moms die.

“He said the world is filled with people who have suffered horribly and crawled away broken. They never reached catharsis; they just got shattered and stayed shattered,” writes Elizabeth Gilbert in a article entitled “Your Pain, Your Gain.”

After reading these words just a few minutes ago, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’m one of those people. Of course, I want to say “Hell no. When I fall down, I get up and keep moving.”

I  want to be tough, and some of my questionable actions reveal my false sense of strength. It’s easier to laugh it off when you want to cry your eyes out — or pretend that you don’t give a damn when your heart is broken.

But those moments creep in — when the shit hits the fan and the broken pieces reveal themselves.

Shattered.

A perfect example is a handful of weeks ago when I dove for a ball during a softball game. My finger dislocated, and I’d never experienced so much pain. I tried to get help — someone who could put it in place, but I was forced to do it myself. I almost fainted the moment it slipped back into position.

I did everything not to appear shattered. My teammates scurried around to help find ice and pain meds. I joked and did everything I could not to break down.

Once I collected myself and got into my car, I drove home and cried like a baby. I sobbed and sobbed.

Yes, my finger hurt so badly, but there was something even more devastating. This was one of the first times I couldn’t call my Mom to tell her I was broken. More sobbing — at one point I cried out to the universe and asked why I couldn’t have my mom anymore.

So what’s the secret to not being irreversibly shattered? How can we keep from being shattered?

I’m realizing that there is no such fucking thing. From the time we come out of our mother’s wombs, we are shattered.

It’s just that for some reason we don’t want to embrace that part of ourselves. We’re so driven to “survive” that we create defenses that tend to shatter us into even more pieces.

It’s obvious, there is no magic formula to heal from loss and pain — whether it be through death, a broken heart, or thwarted ambitions.

What I do know is that it’s important to admit our brokenness and not be afraid of what this does. Healing can only come from a deep sense of inner truth. One that says, “I hurt” and “I’m vulnerable.”

In admitting these things, it is then possible to surrender. To throw our arms up to the heavens and sob like a baby.

Don’t hide away from what is happening. Don’t medicate with a false sense of strength that will eventually kill our most beautiful parts.

I’ve been asked many times by my friends who haven’t experienced any significant deaths yet, how I do it. How do I keep my chin up? How do I not stay shattered?

My answer is this… I will always be shattered. The best thing you can do is be both shattered and brave. In the realest way possible, acknowledge the loss and allow the love you received from that person to live within your heart. Shout out to the heavens if you need to. Ask why. Be upset — then quickly forgive. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and admit that you are shattered too.

Every time I visit my hometown, I stop by and visit my mom and dad at the cemetery. Sometimes as I’m sitting in front of their shared headstone, I secretly hope I’ll get some sort of message from beyond. One that will help me be a little less shattered or help me understand where I need to go from here.

Usually I don’t notice anything significant. I walk back to my car with tears in my eyes knowing that I’ve got to keep balancing surrender and the push forward.

I’m learning to embrace myself just as my mom use to — but now from the inside out. When I was a baby entering the world frightened, she was there to hold me, but now I’ve got to learn to soothe myself and sometimes even ask to be soothed by someone else.

Sometimes I want to push love and support offered by others away — maybe out of fear they’ll wander away too or that I’m appearing too weak. My lesson there is to open my heart and let others in. Quit saying I’m fine when I need a hug.

Being shattered isn’t a horrible thing. Actually, I’ve heard it “lets the light in.” If we’re brave enough, we can embrace that light and become real, authentic, and brave in the most honest way possible.

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