Soul-deep grief changes a person, or at least it should. I still don’t feel much different, and yet I’m gradually finding small differences in myself. First, I discovered I am no longer impatient. Ever since my life mate/soul mate died, there is no place I want to be more than any other place, no place I need to be. Next, I discovered I burnt my “if only”s behind me. I’d tormented myself with thoughts of what might have been if only I had done things differently, but the truth is, no matter what I would have done, he still would have died.
Recently I discovered a third difference: I am no longer a bleeding heart; nor do I attempt to be a surrogate sufferer (one who suffers so another doesn’t have to). Once upon a time, other people’s pain used to weigh heavy on me. It took the death of my life mate/soul mate to make me realize that by shouldering someone else’s pain, his in particular, I was:
a) doing him a disservice because it diminished the truth of his own experience. His pain belonged to him. In no way did my empathic pain lessen his pain. In fact, it made him feel worse, knowing how bad I felt for him.
b) not really feeling his pain. I was feeling what I imagined I might have felt in his situation, which means I was feeling my own pain, not his.
About a year before his death, he took a huge turn for the worst. We hugged every day, knowing each day might be his last, until one day I inadvertently jostled his ear (apparently the cancer had metastasized to that part of his body). An arrow of agony through him, and he pushed me away. From somewhere deep inside me, somewhere deeper than thought, came the harsh words, “He might be dying, but I am not.” (I’d only heard that voice once before, and it was a couple of minutes after I met him. Back then, the voice wailed, “But I don’t even like men with blond hair and brown eyes.”)
So, during that last year, he kept pushing me away — figuratively speaking; I didn’t touch him again until he was on morphine lest I cause him more agony — and I let him. I went about my life, untwinning myself from him as much as possible and cocooning my feelings so that I could survive his dying.
Afterward, I agonized over my dissociation from him. Once he had been everything to me. How could I have possibly have left him to his own pain?
Then I had an epiphany. (October 23, 2010 to be exact.) I realized if, during that last year, I had let myself see what he was feeling, let myself feel what his dying and his death would mean to me, I would have been in such agony I would have cried all the time. He would have hated that he was causing me so much pain, which would have made me feel even worse. I still couldn’t have done anything for him, so eventually I would have blocked out all that was happening. I would have gone on with my own life and left his dying to him. I would have become impatient with the restrictions of our life, with his weakness, with his retreat into himself. In other words, even if I could have gone back and relived that year knowing the truth of it, my behavior would have been the same. And he would still have died.
Ever since this epiphany, I’ve never bled for another person. A dear friend has been struggling with cancer. I feel helpless since there is nothing I can do except send messages of love. Part of me feels I should feel her pain, but mostly I know the truth — that it won’t help her — so I continue with my life and wait for her recovery. (She is surrounded by family so I am not abandoning her.)
Oddly, despite my non-bleeding heart, I have tapped into a deep well of compassion, especially for the bereft. I understand what they are going through, I connect to so many of them, but I don’t feel their pain as if it were my own, because it isn’t my pain. It belongs to them.