Your Feelings Can't Break You
Three Things You Need to Know for Rock Solid Relationships — Part 1
In the Spring of 2015, my Dad had a heart attack and went into the hospital… that was on a Monday. They put in a stent, and he stayed in the hospital to recover. I flew from Massachusetts to Colorado to be with him on Thursday. Saturday, we got to bring him home… the doctor said he was in fine shape, it was all standard procedure. Sunday, my brother and his family came to the house, we had a lovely day together and my Dad started to perk up a bit, smiling and laughing.
That night I kissed him on the forehead and said, “Good night.”
He was sitting in his cushy lazy boy recliner at the top of the stairs in the living room. The table lamp next to him was the only light on. It cast a soft yellow glow across him and the chair. He was wearing his woven cotton pajamas that had a button down shirt. They were probably crisply ironed, like all his other clothes, but I couldn’t tell because they were covered by his high thread count bath robe. He looked like a gentleman, but then he always looked like a gentleman. Very dapper and distinguished, even with his thinning gray hair and exhausted countenance.
He had earbuds in and was listening to the iPod I’d bought him a couple of days before. I thought he’d enjoy listening to stories while taking his walks that the doctor had ordered as part of his recovery. That night he was listening to a book I’d downloaded for him, “My Family and Other Animals.” It’s one of my favorites and I was delighted that he was enjoying it as much as I had. Throughout the evening I’d heard him chuckling as it played.
I was already calculating how long I could stay with him. How many months my life back home could wait, while I focused on going on walks with him and helping with his recovery.
He said, “Thank you for coming to see me.”
I said, “Of course, I wanted to. I love you.” I gave him another kiss on the forehead.
He smiled and said “I love you too.” He gave my hand a little squeeze, then I walked downstairs and went to sleep.
The next morning, he was dead. Just like that, the world I’d known shattered. My dad had always been the reliable one, the one who “took care of me.” Even though I’m married, and have a family of my own, he would still call to check on me, to make sure everything was ok and to make sure I had everything I needed. Without him, I felt exposed and alone.
My stomach tied up in knots, I couldn’t eat for three days. I’d never experienced that type of literal gut wrenching pain before.
I think I would have splintered into a million fragments, like a piece of glass blasted by a baseball bat, but there are two things that I knew to be true. Two things that saved me...
#1: I have a psychological immune system, we all do, that works over time to heal.
No one talks about this, and I’m not sure why, it is SO important. We know our physical immune system will kick in, but for some reason, a lot of people miss that we have a psychological immune system as well. It is always there for us… sometimes in surprising ways.
#2: I know my feelings can’t break me.
They can hurt… that’s for sure. I was in great pain when my Dad passed, but not broken. When I was preparing to give birth to my son, I was terrified. My midwife gave me an audio with affirmations and there was one that always stood out for me, “Your contractions can’t be stronger than you, they are you.” It made so much sense, yes, they were MY muscles creating the contractions. Likewise, it was MY body bringing to life the feelings I was having.
I grew up in the desert, and if you ever have the chance, I recommend experiencing a desert lightning storm (from a safe place of course!) at least once. The air buzzes with the power of it; the light and sound are surreal. It’s terrifying and mesmerizing all at the same time. But after the storm passes, the sky is left unharmed. We are like that too. Our feelings can bring strong vibrations and rock us to our core, terrifying and mesmerizing all at the same time. They throw us around and shake us up — and then they pass by.
For many months after my father’s death I would have moments of despair, hopelessness, or distress… even now, four years later, a memory of that time will come to me and I will feel it, tears often swell up. But every single one of those feelings has passed through, just like my beloved lightning storms.
One of my favorite quotes from the spiritual teacher Sydney Banks is, “If the only thing people learned was not to be afraid of their experience, that alone would change the world.”
How many conversations are avoided, how many truths withheld, because we’re afraid of how we’ll feel. There are some conversations that of course will have tangible consequences… if I tell my boss to shove it… there will likely be a consequence. But many conversations are averted because we don’t want the feelings that we think will come with it.
We hide our true selves because we’re afraid of how we’ll feel if we’re exposed.
How freeing to realize that we can be authentic, true, and open… and whatever feelings show up, they can’t possibly be stronger than we are.