Loving After Loss: Choosing a Courageous Heart
“A woman who opens her heart to love you, when it’s already broken, is braver than any person you’ll meet.” ~ Steven Benson
After the death (or loss) of someone that we deeply love, opening the heart up again to the vulnerability of love does take courage and bravery. It doesn’t really matter who we have lost – could be a partner, a child, a friend, a family member, even a much loved pet – risking love and potential loss again can be scary and uncomfortable.
Believe me, I know.
Generally speaking, I’m not much afraid of risk-taking. I have changed jobs, changed careers, moved across the country alone, jumped into big projects or ideas face first with no kind of real plan or safety net – often for no logical reason other than I simply wanted to. Things that often have people telling me how brave or courageous I am.
I’ve always felt uneasy about being told that, because I’ve never really considered myself terribly brave or courageous. I don’t see myself that way because finding the courage to love deeply and openly again after the deaths of my fiancé and two daughters has been an incredible challenge for me. And that’s probably a big understatement!
Over the years, I’ve discovered through my work and my own experience that after a significant loss, people tend to go one of two ways regarding the vulnerability of love.
For some, the intensity of grief and pain and loss breaks them open. Any defenses against love and closeness and open-heartedness is washed away in a wave of grief and love. They tend to love even harder, deeper, and more fully than prior to the loss they experienced. While vulnerability is rarely easy for anyone, it tends to comes more naturally to these folks.
Others, like me, shut down. The intensity of grief and pain and loss sends us running behind the safety of defenses and metaphorical walls around our hearts to avoid the possibility of be hurt in such a devastating way again.
For us, finding the courage to open up our hearts to love again can be a bit of a process. Slowly letting people a little further in, a little closer one-by-one to test out the strength of our hearts and the courage of our souls. Vulnerability does not come easily or naturally to us, not at all.
So, if you’re more like me and your tendency is to default to shutting down and throwing up defenses when faced with any potential for risking your heart, what do you do when you really want to live more open-heartedly and love fully and deeply again?
Well, I can’t claim to be perfect at this, but I’ve learned a few things over the years. Here’s what I am learning to practice:
Remember What Love Gives You
Sometimes after a devastating loss, it’s easy to focus on only what could be lost by loving again. Loving is a risk. When we love someone, there is always the potential that that person could die or leave us at some point and, frankly, loss hurts.
However, even if the person we love some day dies or leaves us, we still gain something from loving them.
Whether we have mere weeks or many many years with our loved ones, loving them fills us. Loving gives us courage and bravery, it gives us light and hope and joy. Giving and receiving love brings comfort, nurturing, and sweetness. Love stitches together the wounds of loss and makes our hearts strong and whole again.
Even after we might lose someone we love, our love for them can comfort and soothe. Unlike grief and pain and loss, love never dies.
Pain is Unavoidable
Here’s the honest truth, we can’t avoid pain. Or grief. Or loss. It’s all part of this thing called living and being human.
Closing off our hearts and shoring up defenses against unknown future losses doesn’t really protect us from pain. In fact, in my experience, it hurts more – damn near all the time.
It’s painful and lonely to cut off our hearts and to never really let anyone in, to never be vulnerable and open. It’s like losing those we could love all the time.
Relationships feel distant and disconnected, we feel lonely and unloved – all because we’ve surrounded our hearts with a fortress to try to prevent future grief and pain.
By trying to avoid pain and loss, we actually create more pain and loss AND we miss out on all the goodness that loving people can give us.
Only Love Grows Stronger
Grief and the pain of loss will ease with time and living. It will ebb and flow over the years, but it won’t stay that terrible, devastating, crushing pain forever. Grief isn’t strong enough to sustain itself fully for a lifetime.
Grief will always be overcome by love, because real unconditional love only grows stronger with time and living.
Grief will fail and flounder in time. Love is for always.
It isn’t always easy to love after loss.
It takes courage to leave undefended an already broken heart to let more love in.
It takes bravery to stitch back together a wounded heart and then give it to others to hold and see.
It takes strength to be vulnerable and open to love after loss.
It’s good to remember that love, for however long or short a time, is worth it.
Love always overcomes loss.