I could tell about halfway through my run this morning that I was going to have to quit early. It happens sometimes. I think I’m okay, and then running puts me into this zen-like place where I start pondering the big questions in my life.
And then the tears come.
Sometimes I can run through them. Sometimes I can slow down, and lean against the side of the treadmill and breathe and then start again.
But this time I had to stop. I saw the fat tears drop on my shoes and I gave into my sadness.
The tears were not about Shawn. Well, they weren’t exclusively about Shawn. I don’t know if I’ve cried since Shawn died without at least some of those tears earmarked for my grief over losing him. So when I start crying about something else, sometimes it’s hard to know what percentage is for the current issue of the day, and what percentage is for Shawn.
I started crying over something I don’t need to go into here, but suffice to say that I got my feelings hurt.
It was a relatively new sensation for me. Before Shawn got sick I used to get my feelings hurt sometimes. I’m not a super sensitive soul, but I’m socially aware enough that there were times when I felt the sting of a missed invitation or a friend who slighted me in some way. But once I was dealing with cancer and then widowhood, I just didn’t care enough to cry over anything that wasn’t a life-or-death issue.
I tried to talk to myself this morning as I took a few deep breaths. “You’ve been through much worse,” I said to myself. I looked over at the banner that hangs behind the treadmill – the one that Shawn put up. It’s the “Join, or Die” flag from the American Revolutionary War. He was somewhat obsessed with everything American, and he loved that image.
“God,” I thought, “it’s crazy how much I still miss him. Still.” Looking at the flag I felt the grief shift from the present moment to the past, and it almost overwhelmed me. That pain – the grief I felt from losing him – struck me and held on.
It was overwhelming. It always is. I let myself wallow in it for a few minutes before I went back to thinking of my current problems.
“Careful,” I actually said. I’m not sure why I felt the need to say it out loud, but sometimes I talk to myself about my emotions. I put my hands over my face and tried to pull myself together. I knew that if I became swept up by these new painful feelings – ones that were mostly unrelated to Shawn – there was a chance that I could get really hurt.
But I can’t get hurt like that again. No, this minor drama of the day isn’t going to rip my heart apart like Shawn’s death did. Nothing ever can. But if I open up my heart – to friendship, or really any kind of relationship – there’s a chance that someone is going to hurt me. It might be unintentional, but the risk is there.
I’ve engaged with the grief surrounding Shawn’s death. I feel okay leaning into it. Sometimes I even like it. I like feeling that pain again because it means that he’s still there with me.
But I feel myself holding back – and being careful – around my other relationships. I need to make sure to protect my heart, because I can’t again survive something like the pain of losing Shawn….Hell, I can’t survive anything even close to it.
In some ways, I am stronger. I can let things roll off my back that used to bother me. I can navigate difficult situations because I know what really matters and what doesn’t matter at all.
But in a lot of other ways, my heart is weaker. And so to protect it, I put up barriers. These barriers aren’t impenetrable, and over the past year I’ve become more open to letting people through them. I want to engage with the world, and I want to have deeper and more meaningful relationships, even if that means I might get hurt. That’s what life is, right?
Still, when I think about the people in my life – the ones whose lives are intricately connected to mine – I hear this cautionary voice in my head. I can’t quite make it go away.
“Careful,” it says.