The loss of a love is a nearly universal emotional crisis, whether the end is divorce, desertion, or a mutually agreed-upon separation. At first, friends and family are there to offer a shoulder to cry on, but after a few months there's an expectation that we just need to get over the crisis and move on. Thus, unprocessed, painful feelings are buried, leaving us numb. Or we repeat damaging relationship patterns over and over again.
The situation doesn't have to be like that. Healing a Broken Heart guides those of us grieving for a lost love through four metaphorical seasons of recovery with provocative questions and journal pages on which to respond to help move us forward.
The four seasons serve as powerful metaphors for the stages of the grieving process. Summer is the season for charting the course of a relationship: remembering hopes and expectations, the warning signs that went unheeded. During autumn, journalers accept the reality of breaking up and acknowledge things about the relationship that didn't serve their needs. Winter brings the pain of grief over the profound loss. Finally, spring and, with it, renewal invites readers to examine and understand how their family history may have affected their past relationships.
Punctuated throughout with poems and moving meditations, the thoughtful, interactive approach of this book offers the time and space we all need to heal when our hearts are broken.
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About the Author
Sarah La Saulle, PhD, is a marriage and family therapist.
Read an Excerpt
"Is it or is it not the end?"
This first season is full of vacillation. Whether you have just ended the relationship or it is about to end, at least one of the partners is probably full of doubt. Maybe one of you can't make a commitment, is too controlling, or is simultaneously involved with someone else. Summer's ambivalence and confusion may stem from other roots. Maybe you feel strongly that this relationship won't work out, but you just can't end it. Perhaps you've already ended it, or your partner has left you, but you can't stop thinking about whether it should have ended.
The end of a relationship is complicated by the fact that the coming apart takes place on many levels. There is a physical separation that may include getting your personal belongings back, moving, an absence of daily contact, or a change in your day-to-day activities. Emotionally you are in turmoil, because the reality hasn't sunk in yet. You may imagine you are in the middle of a bad dream, that soon you'll awaken and find everything the way it was. Even if you saw the end coming, it's still a shock. You might initially feel relief, but this is followed by the uncertainty and pain of letting go.
When you have been "dumped," the experience is intensified and embellished by feelings of anger, betrayal, abandonment, and disappointment. Equivocation and self-doubt color everything.
We are about to begin a journey together. It is a journey that includes revisiting the good and the bad of the relationship. Along the way you will be asked to examine who you were when the relationship began, what your needs were, and what motivated you to enter into this relationship. This may bring up old wounds, wounds that have been waiting to be healed. We will walk through the feelings together. Before you try any of these exercises, take a moment to quietly settle into a comfortable spot. Take a deep breath, read the following questions, and then write down anything and everything that comes to mind. Don't plan your thoughts; simply share them as if you were telling a dear friend.
The following questions bring you back to the beginning of the relationship. Take yourself back to the time when the relationship began. Close your eyes and let your mind fill in the details of that phase of your life. Think about the texture of your life; the questions you asked yourself and the dreams you had.
What was happening in your life just prior to meeting your loved one? How were you emotionally? Mentally?
what will be
if it is.
-- Robert Creeley
What were you working on in your life?
What were your goals?
Where and how did you meet or get together?
Copyright © 2003 by Sarah La Saulle, Ph.D., and Sharon Kagan, M.F.A., M.A.
Losing a lover through a breakup or a divorce is one of the most profound and painful experiences of life. This book is specifically designed for anyone who is having difficulty letting go of a romantic relationship. If you are considering ending a relationship, have just recently ended one, or you broke up with a loved one twenty years ago, this guide will facilitate your movement toward resolution.
No matter how much support you have, it can be a terribly lonely time -- because of the grief itself but also because it feels as if no one can go through it with you. This guide was created as a companion. It will ask you to consider all the areas of the relationship that you will need to recognize in order to fully let go of it. It will accompany you through the process as intimately as a therapist and a best friend.
The pages that follow are separated, into seasons as a method of dividing different periods of mourning, since grief can be a long, undifferentiated experience.
The four seasons symbolize a complete cycle of grief, each season or stage of grief is a distinct emotional experience.
There is tacit comfort in thinking of the mourning process as having seasons. Human beings understand that one season will definitely follow another, that spring always comes after winter. The guide communicates this idea indirectly, through the specific questions that lead the reader through a particular phase and into the following one.
Of course, the cycle of seasons never truly ends. There is always movement and change. Although we may complete or resolve a current loss, there will be other losses that will once again trigger the full cycle of the mourning process.
This guide encourages you to complete a full, healthy cycle of mourning. The greater purpose in this process is to accept past losses that might otherwise intrude on the life you're trying to live after that loss. If you have not fully grieved a past loss, it will come up again. Paradoxically, when you do give yourself the time you need to grieve, you're left with greater faith in the meaning of life.
One of the amazing things about looking into the past is that it brings to the surface unconscious patterns, belief systems, and old wounds from childhood that you unwittingly may be trying to heal through your current relationships.
We wrote this guide for many reasons. In both our professional and personal lives, we have faced grave heartbreak and loss. Each of us has explored grief and the healing process, the meaning of loss, the purpose of change, and the joy of renewal. The individuals we work with bring their heartbreak to us on a daily basis. We share the quest for answers and learn to live with the questions. For the last twenty years, we have led people to pursue a sense of meaning, to take the risks that have been avoided, to empower their lives in the midst of their deepest pain. We have learned how to create a safe environment for others to do this work in order to recognize their feelings, and authentically express themselves.
Sharon, as an artist and teacher, and Sarah, as a psychotherapist and teacher, understand the importance of process. This is a journey made up of microsteps, incremental shifts that will one day bring you to an entirely new place.
The following questions are organized in a manner that will guide you through a complete cycle of grieving but, that said, there is no right or wrong way to do this work. Some people prefer to dedicate one long weekend to this process, others take several months. If you find that you can't answer one section because it's too difficult, or you can't relate to the questions -- don't worry. Allow your heart to lead you onward to another page. Or take a break and pick up the guide again in a few weeks. There is no defined path in the grieving process. Just as we love differently, we grieve differently.
One way to use the guide is to devote twenty minutes a day to answering one or two questions. We suggest that you write during the times when you would ordinarily be lost in your grief. If you are like most people, this is late at night, when you're feeling most alone.
Whether you try to complete Healing a Broken Heart over the course of a few days or many months, we ask that you follow these simple guidelines:
- Along with the book, have extra paper prepared. Don't be confined by the space in the book. Write until you are finished.
- Set a timer for ten to twenty minutes. You'll need at least ten minutes to break through any resistance you might have to a particular question, or to the process itself.
- Once you start writing, don't stop, pause, reread, edit, or correct in any way. Just let the words flow.
- Say to yourself, "Keep going, keep going, keep going."
- Don't stop to read what you've already written. You can repeat yourself, write in fragments, isolated words, or whole sentences.
Once ten minutes have passed and you've broken through your initial resistance, you'll discover you have more to say than you ever imagined. If you find yourself in the middle of a thought when the timer goes off, keep writing!
Friends and Professionals
We all have different needs when we face the challenge of overcoming the loss of a love. For some this is, and needs to be, an independent journey. For other people the worst part of grieving is the feeling of isolation. For those of you who feel that you need support in getting through this time, we have several suggestions.
- Find a friend, and schedule times to write together or times to read sections to each other.
- Put a small group together to work through the guide as a group activity. Agree upon guidelines for the meetings. In our workshops we use a timer to limit the writing time, then everyone takes a turn reading. There is no improvising; each member of the group simply reads from the page they've written. If the group agrees, you might allow some time at the end of each meeting to share other feelings. This should be structured time, with a limit on each person's share. If you feel the allotted time wasn't enough to fully address the question, finish your writing at home. Ask someone in the group if they're willing to exchange any additional thoughts with you later.
- If you are working with a therapist, ask your therapist if it would be appropriate for you to share the guide with him/her by reading portions of it as needed. Take your journal to your sessions.
Copyright © 2003 by Sarah La Saulle, Ph.D., and Sharon Kagan, M.F.A., M.A.