June 29, 2015

Voids and Vulnerabilities

The photo above is titled Touching the Void by Darla Hallmark. I love it. It beautifully illustrates what's in my heart as I write today.

Experiencing several significant losses in close succession has left me feeling a bit off.

 It was not the feeling of completeness I so needed, but the feeling of not being empty.
 - Jonathan Safran Foer
The thing about losing people is not just the missing of them. It's the void created where they used to be. Even if we didn't see them daily they occupied our consciousness. Thoughts of them rambled around the corridors of our minds - our hearts were occupied by their essence. They were like opened but minimized programs running in the background on our computers - using energy and filling space. Now they're gone.

 There's just something obvious about emptiness, even when you try to convince yourself otherwise.  - Sarah Dessen

What's next, for me at least, is disorientation. I am a person of deep faith in an afterlife. I believe that I will see these lost loved ones again so it doesn't rise from the "What happens to them?" question that many struggle with. I know there are those who would argue my position - but I question the motivation for that. If my beliefs get me through the day, what is it to them? It's not like if I'm wrong and there is no afterlife I'm going to be met by a collective "I told you so" on the other side of nothing, so where's the downside in believing?

No, this disorientation comes from the void. The "What do I put in the place that was once occupied by time spent thinking about, visiting, and being concerned for these loved ones?"
My world is different and that means realigning. I'm no longer the "quick adapter" I was when I was younger - made possible by denial and pretending. As a teen I made believe that my grandfather, who once lived in Kentucky, moved back to Kentucky and I'd see him again on my next visit. It made having to realign unnecessary - temporarily. I've since given up on denial. Instead, I take time to feel and accept the consequences and changes that come along with separation. I accept loss as a necessary part of learning and growth and as an unpleasant reality attached to life and loving.

Acceptance doesn't change the fact that there's a vacancy - time and space that needs to be filled. That's where I'm at now - figuring out who I am without these people in my life and how to fill the void.

Youth always tries to fill the void, an old man learns to live with it.  - Mark Z. Danielewski

(I like this quote. It appeals to vanity.)

The other thought occupying my mind is that of vulnerability. Immediately following the most recent loss came gestures - unexpected acts of kindness - that I struggled with. The idea of people caring enough about us to invest time and effort to console and lighten our physical and emotional burdens wasn't a foreign concept. I try to do those things for others regularly. It was allowing that was an uncomfortable necessity.

 For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Calls came with offers of help - "anything you need." It was painful to admit that I needed anything - to accept it. If it wasn't for my husband, I'm not sure I could have. Yet in the accepting I found something I wouldn't have believed existed. 

To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength. - Criss Jamiee
I would never have believed that there was strength in accepting. It was emotionally exhausting to ask for what we needed and emotionally nourishing to allow those needs to be lovingly met.

I realize that I'm not alone in my extreme need to cling to the illusion that I'm self sustaining - an impervious mountain of efficiency and "can do."

  The strongest love is the love that can demonstrate its fragility. - Paulo Coelho

I don't know of any who share this plight who enjoys the self imposed apart-ness. It's just the price, we decided at some point, was necessary to be "safe." We built walls to hide our weaknesses and isolate us from the real or imagined consequences of others knowing we're imperfect and unsure.

Somewhere deep in our psyche is the belief that to be less than able to handle everything is a flaw that would make us unacceptable - unlovable - unworthy. What caused us to do it is of little consequence compared to what having done it now causes.

It causes us to be unnecessarily overwhelmed and stressed out by trying to do things ourselves that we could ask for help with. It shouts "not good enough" when we finally reach exhaustion and can do no more. It makes us feel outside - different than - alone.

Even worse, it causes us to become frustrated with others who should be able to read our minds and jump in without requiring us to admit we need them to. 

Walls have one purpose - to separate - and that's what even imaginary walls do. They separate us from others. They isolate us from potential pain. Walls are not discriminating however. They just "keep out." They keep out intimacy as effortlessly as they keep out assault. 

When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability... To be alive is to be vulnerable.”
 - Madeleine L'Engle

I've reached the point - much too late - where I'm ready to accept the challenge to "tear down that wall!" I have no illusions that this will be a one hit with the wrecking-ball type of dismantling. My wall has been in place for a long time and was well built. It will take willingness, overcoming fear, accepting and allowing. It will take diligent attention and patience with backsliding. Most of all it will take courage.

 What happens when people open their hearts? They get better. - Haruki Murakami

I'm ready to get better!

How about you? Is it easy for you to be vulnerable? Why or why not? 


  1. Admitting and accepting vulnerability is seemingly one of the most difficult things. It means, I think, first of all changing your beliefs that exposing your core, who you really are, to the opinionated world is a good thing. I believe it is, but not for the faint hearted. It takes a lot of courage, conviction and strength of character. The reward though is worth it. People become genuine.
    I like your post. It deeply resonates with me.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts Radina. I agree it's not for the faint hearted - but how do we become stronger without opening up to those risks? Genuine people - what a lovely concept! So glad my post resonated with you.

  2. Very thought-provoking post, Anita. I'm just as afraid to tear down that wall as I am that if I allow myself to really give way to crying, I'll never stop.

    1. Suzan, I have felt and said that very same thing before - and then I cried. I cried till I was nearly dehydrated then I cried a bit more - but it finally did stop. After that came such relief. I don't hold back anymore. I never try to suck it up or delay sadness or grief. I've found that they find a way of creeping into something unrelated where they're out of context and misunderstood. I've decided that being a cry baby is mentally healthy and more emotionally mature than trying to pretend I'm hard cored. Give it a try. You have nothing to lose except maybe some mascara. :)
      I do delay anger however. I use to let it fly when it hit. Now I take time to let the wave sweep over me and go back out. Once it's gone I can clearly see what's left on the shore. Then I deal with the issues instead of the anger. Less clean up that way.

    2. My Crying doesnt stop. The rain doesnt stop. I like that all there is to lose is my eye make up. And its a fierce grace but grace non the less x x

    3. I'm so sorry to hear of your heartache Catherine and the sad way it came about. Loss is one of the most universal yet highly personal things we're ever called to face. Although everyone goes through it, it's unique to each person - and so is the healing process. I wish I could give you a date that it will stop hurting - because I believed at the time knowing would help me somehow - but no one can. It's so important that in spite of how much it hurts right now, you believe that it eventually will feel better. Losing someone we love isn't something we get over, but with time and the support of those around us we do get through it. Please keep in touch and let me know how you're doing. You'll be in my heart!

    4. Catherine - if you ever need to vent, you can email me at anita@lifeisntbroken.com.

  3. On finding my life partner of 30 years dead beside me the walls came crashing down. There is nothing to rebuild Reaching out to others with a heart opened in hell has saved my life. My Vulnerability is all I have . Thankyou all for sharing bigtime x