It’s difficult to open your heart when its been broken time and time again.
The first time I remember having it broken was losing my best friend and cousin, Darren. We were born one month apart. Playmates at a young age; but things began to change when we were about six. He kept falling down, and needed help getting up. Next thing I knew he was in a wheel chair. A few years later, bed-ridden with all manner of machines hooked into him to help his body keep functioning. Then, he was gone. Dead just shy of our fourteenth birthdays.
He had Duchene Muscular Dystrophy.
It was at a young age when I learned that we don’t live forever; that our bodies were fragile. Mortal. And that death was a very real thing.
Parents are supposed to be our protectors. Not just for our physical safety, but of our emotional well-being. But, even parents are humans…flawed…scarred…and their own hurtful pasts can sometime hurt the ones they loved the most. As a child, it was hard to see this though; especially when one of them continuously tore you down with damaging words, that you’re not good enough, that you were at fault for their current troubles, and that you don’t deserve anything except pain and hell. That same parent would continue to pound and belittle until they get the desired outcome…tears.
Hence, I learned to associate tears with being weak.
When I was seventeen, our family’s true matriarch, my surrogate mother and emotional rock as a child, my Grandmother, passed away of Emphysema.
Once in college, I turned my focus to hopes and dreams of a better, brighter future; however, at the age of twenty-one, I learned I was going blind. As a result, I gave up on my dreams.
Two years later, I met and married Aaron. I thought that perhaps my life will start to turn for the better; I was wrong. Less than two years later, he died as a result of a car accident.
Twenty years ago today. And I can still remember the events of that fateful day as if they just happened. The heart never forgets no matter how hard you try to push it away.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the last of my losses.
I remarried three years later. He was my best friend from college who knew of my emotional scars, my hopes and dreams, my anger…everything. Over four years into our marriage, I was nearly eight months pregnant, he began to have growing issues with breathing. He went to our family doctor who ran a series of tests on him. Next thing we knew, he was being transported to the hospital. His diagnosis: Pericarditis. They admitted him, and immediately performed an emergency operation to drain the fluid that had its death grip around his heart. But, that wasn’t the end of it. Doctors were unsure if this was viral or bacterial. Bacterial would require a heart transplant. So, while they ran further tests, they pumped antibiotics into his body. It would be days before we’d learned that it was viral, not bacterial.
Ever since this event, intimacy has been an issue with me.
Five years after our son was born, I became pregnant again; only to lose that baby.
My latest loss? My Dad who passed away less than two years ago from an aggressive lung disease. He was only sixty-seven.
Now, I realize that death is a normal part of living. The same goes for pain. But there comes a point though when one suffers so much of both that they shut down emotionally to try and protect what’s left of their heart and soul. The problem is that I have placed such a tight lid on my emotions, I don’t know how to open it.
The real question though- Do I really want to open it?
As writers, we tend to be more sensitive to various events in life whether in our own lives or in the lives of others; and because of this sensitivity, certain events- specifically those that involve losses- hit writers exceptionally hard.
Why is that so?
Speaking from personal experience, I consider myself an empath and tend to internalize emotions from others around me which at times would threaten to overwhelm me so what do I usually do? I run from them. I’ve done it so many times in the past (during the deaths of my maternal grandmother and first husband for examples). Stifling my own emotions, not allowing them to surface, I believe affected me as a writer especially when it came to developing realistic characters. How can a character be “real” when she’s not allowed to feel? After all, readers are drawn to these types of characters. And why is that?
Because readers can relate to them.
So, many of my stories tend to fall short with characters coming across as “flat” or too one-dimensional. The desire and passion to become the best writer that I can be keep growing within me to the point that it became louder than my own fears of emotions.
I forced myself to face them when my daddy died. Internally I kept going back and forth with excuses as to why I couldn’t go to the hospital and be with my family on my dad’s final night. I so wanted to run. But, I didn’t. Not this time. It was probably the most difficult thing I ever had to face, watching my daddy take those last agonizing breaths, listening to my mom and siblings weeping next to me. I thought for sure it would overwhelm me, but it didn’t. The emotions I felt was a deep sadness as well as gratitude. I was so grateful that I was there for my daddy, and for my family. I thought for sure that their pain would force me to run; instead, I found myself hugging each one of them. I even kissed my daddy’s forehead after he had passed as I said my final goodbye.
Now I can tell myself (and other writers) this: it is okay to be afraid of your emotions, of your pain (or of others’), but don’t run from them. They have a way of caching up to you. It is easier to face them head-on, and acknowledge them for what they truly are. By doing this, it would enable you to write a more fully developed characters that your readers can relate to.
“Many of us spend our whole lives running from feeling with the mistaken belief that you cannot bear the pain. But you have already borne the pain. What you have not done is feel all you are beyond the pain.”-Saint Bartholomew