Love, more than any other topic, is a common theme in songs, poems and movies. Often the message is about the euphoria of loving another person, but it seems the more common story is one of heartbreak. "You done me wrong," "I can't live without him/her," and "The pain is too great" are woven throughout these art forms. I never thought about why this is until I recently found myself using the word "heartbreak" several times in one day to describe my loved ones. As faithful readers of this blog know, my son, Ethan, has spent the past nine months dealing with a painful, incurable disease that robbed him of his freshman year of college. After his fourth, but not last, surgery two weeks ago, he is once again on the road to recovery. He has become a pro at surgeries and hospital visits, an expertise he never expected to develop. As his mother, I have had more than one moment during this ordeal when I fully understood the term "heartbreak" in a way I never experienced before. Just as Ethan's birth was one of the great highs of my life, his moments of extreme pain were among my lows. I almost felt my heart breaking, literally, when I watched Ethan writhe in pain instead of being a happy-go-lucky teenager.
At the other end of the age spectrum is my 86-year-old mother who is the embodiment of love for her four children, seven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. Three weeks ago my mother fell at her home, resulting in a broken shoulder, many bumps and bruises, and a lot of pain and weakness. Since then, she has gone by ambulance to the hospital, then to a nursing home for rehabilitation, then back to the hospital, and then back to a nursing home, which is where I visited with her this past weekend. Medication to control the pain and other issues has left her with secondary health challenges. As my daughter, Danielle, said after talking on the telephone with my mother, "Bubee [my mother] sounds miserable." Even with all of this going on, my mother checked with me several times over the weekend to be sure I had her card to give to Danielle next week at her college graduation. I was heartbroken to see my mother so weak and in so much pain.
I have spent a fair amount of time this past week thinking about what it means to be heartbroken. Two of the people I love most in this world are suffering and all I want to do is wave a magic wand and make it all better. I want to instantly heal them and my broken heart simultaneously. I was stuck in this imaginary wishing until I had a light bulb moment: the heartbreak is a mere infinitesimal part of all the love I have received from and given to my son and mother, and is a small price to pay to be a daughter and Ethan's mother. Heartbreaks suck (pardon mois), but the alternative, not loving or being loved, is much, much worse.
Ethan's future is certainly clearer and brighter than my mother's. He has registered for classes for next semester, arranged to live with friends in a great dorm next year, and will resume his life as a student. He will capably manage his health and I am confident he will grow and thrive in ways that are most important to him.
My mother's path is tougher and the outcome is far less obvious than Ethan's. When I feel my heart breaking for her, I focus on the love that is still her, which she continues to give, and that flows to her every day from all the different generations. Her children hold her hand, her grandchildren give her hugs, and one baby great-grandchild even sat in bed with her. My mother is suffering and my magic wand is no match for her pain. Love can't heal her body, but I am sure it warms her soul.
So, after struggling with "this is so hard" and "this is so terrible," I am reaching a place of solace and peace. Heartbreak is tough, but only because love is so wonderful. My heart breaks now precisely because it is so full the rest of the time. I am blessed with a wonderfully loving son and a mother who has spent her life demonstrating unconditional love to each and every family member. "Just be happy and well" is my mother's concluding line to many a conversation.
After looking here, there and everywhere, I know there is no wand, but there has been and continues to be plenty of magic. It's called love and it fills my heart.