It’s Okay to Hurt

hurtheart1Sarah was just a child when she lost her big sister.

A gorgeous 17-year-old. Stricken with cancer. Died in her bedroom in her father’s arms.

I’ll never forget it because it was my first funeral.

Second grade. Sarah was 8. I would turn 8 a couple weeks later.

Sarah watched her parents lose their first born. And she watched her four younger siblings struggle to make sense of it all.

Thrust involuntarily into the eldest-sibling role, she was forged in pain. In loss. From some of her earliest memories.

Now, Sarah’s a mom. She gave birth to two children. And after learning she would never bear children again, she and her husband adopted a child in 2010. Not two weeks old.

Baby M.

He was a beloved member of their family before he even got there. A brother to an adoring big sister and big brother. And the pride of two parents who felt immeasurable joy being able to love and raise another child.

But Baby M’s birth mother lied when going through the adoption process. Hiding the identity of the birth father.

The birth father discovered he had a son and eventually filed for custody of Baby M.

The court had to choose between a biological parent whom the child had never met, and a loving family who had raised Baby M for more than two years—his entire life.

The judge awarded custody to the birth father in a case that set legal precedent in their state of residence.

Sarah watched her two children lose their brother.

She watched her husband crumble under the weight of it all.

And she watched her baby get taken away, and handed to someone else.

Her marriage disintegrated.

And she’s now separated, too. Just trying to figure it all out. Just trying to keep her children in one piece.

She recently attended Baby M’s fourth birthday party. She maintains an as-pleasant-as-possible relationship with the birth father.

She watched her son—who doesn’t remember her as his mom—open presents. Play. And do all of the things she must imagine him doing in her quiet moments of reflection.

And then, at the end of the evening, she had to crouch down in front of him. Say goodbye. And hope that she’ll get to see him again next year.

I don’t have many friends that I’ve known longer than Sarah. I certainly don’t have any I respect and admire more.

As such, we have a close relationship, where we talk about all of the messy stuff.

All the stuff that really hurts. 

The Hurt

The first thing to go is your breathing.

What you do reflexively about 15 times every minute of your life becomes work.

The chest and stomach respond accordingly. Tightening. Unforgiving. A reminder of our weakness.

Our muscles tense. Our heads ache. Our eyes water.

Our hearts break.

Not in pieces like we watched in cartoons back when life was simple.

They simply stop functioning properly.

They break down.

Then we break down.

When it hurts too much.

Then We Reach Out

Because that’s what people do. We connect.

To not feel alone. To not be alone.

Sometimes we scream. Sometimes we hug. Sometimes we cry.

Almost always, we talk.

We write.

The most tried-and-true forms of therapy since the dawn of the mental health profession.

Sarah and I reach out to one another when it hurts.

And that’s when it always hits me.

I’m crying about losing my son 50 percent of the time.

But she has LOST her son. Someone took him away. Forever.

I’m crying about divorce, isolation, loneliness.

But she has had it so much worse. And now divorce may be on the table for her, too.

I’m crying about financial concerns as I continue my adjustment to my one-income life.

But the legal fight for their son wiped them out completely.

Sarah would NEVER try to one-up your story. That’s not who she is. But she can always do you one better.

Sometimes I realize the absurdity of my whining relative to all she has been through.

And that’s when she stops me. Because she really dislikes that.

“It makes me sad when my friends minimize their troubles or pain because they think mine are greater,” she said. “There is no need for that. I don’t hold the monopoly on pain.”

And while she’s being noble and selfless, she’s also, just, right.

Your Pains Are Yours

I’ve never lived in a place without running water before.

So it was hard for me last week when my pipes were frozen and I had to go a couple days without indoor plumbing at home.

It is frustrating when you’re without electricity for a long time.

It is challenging to not have internet access in 2014.

When that’s all you know.

You just broke up with your girlfriend? Your dog needs surgery? You have expensive car repairs?

Your pains and fears are real. And it’s okay to hurt. And the people that love you will invite you to talk about those things and not trivialize them.

You mustn’t either.

Sarah’s so tough, I could go on a weekend Vegas bender courtesy of her credit card and it would only be the 27th shittiest thing that’s happened to her in the past few months.

Kurt Cobain. Junior Seau. Ernest Hemingway. Countless others.

Beloved celebrities. Adored by the masses. Had all the financial resources in the world.

How is it even remotely possible for their lives to suck?

Yet, they sucked. So much so that these people took their own lives because being dead sounded better than feeling hurt all the time.

Everybody hurts. In their own ways.

And people shouldn’t be ashamed of that. People shouldn’t have to apologize for the pain they feel.

I broke after my divorce.

Broke.

Now what am I supposed to do with my life?

Who will want to date me?

How will I trust again?

I miss my son.

This house is so quiet.

The empty bed, so cold.

Who do I want to be?

Am I strong enough?

When will this go away?

There’s no fast-forward button.

The shit hits. You have to eat a bunch of it. And then you make your next move.

The clock ticks.

The Earth spins.

The calendar flips.

Then one day you wake up and the bed isn’t so cold anymore. The right person will show up.

The house isn’t so quiet. Because you’re comfortable in your own skin. Because you’re living again.

You find purpose in other things.

You give all the love you can to your child during those precious moments together.

And then you cry less.

Or maybe not at all.

You find your smile again.

Laugh.

Discover beauty.

Find joy in the little things once more.

The scars form.

And you emerge from the fire a little stronger than before. A little braver than before.

Like my friend Sarah.

Maybe even like me.

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52 thoughts on “It’s Okay to Hurt

  1. SG says:

    Love, love, love this. Sarah is a beautiful soul, although I haven’t met her. I just know it. And so are you, my friend. :)

    Like

  2. sarecover says:

    Thank you.

    Like

  3. DailyMusings says:

    Thoughtful post. Because someone is suffering pain in their lives doesn’t minimize what we may be suffering- but it gives perspective on what we do have I think. After suffering a bad injury last year and feeling I would never be out of the situation I was in, I learned that the sun rises and sets and the days move on and forward and change comes. But it wasn’t until my life was turned upside down that I came to understand that. It changed my way of seeing things and dealing with things that happen. I only understood that “the light was at the end of the tunnel” after actually living through it. It has helped me to handle things better today.

    Like

  4. Oh, I’ve been so emotional lately, reflecting on anything and everything, and just FEELING all the time (I’m blaming it on turning 40). I’m at my desk with tears. This was a courageously written post, beautifully put together, and to share what your friend went through, well thank you and her, also, for being open. I think that those who graciously endure the trials of life are our real heroes. They are the ones who help us through because we see that it can be done. In this world there is much strife-it’s all around us and beyond-but we can only deal with what we’ve been given, and with that comes the ups and downs of our own existence. There is no point in comparing apples to oranges when it comes to feeling pain. Everything in its own time, everyone in their own time and way. XOXO-Kasey

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  5. mel says:

    I almost didn’t read this post. ‘Not this week, Matt, don’t tell me this today…’ I read it anyway, because I’m an emotional masochist.

    A friend (who’ll probably read this) is helping me with this, has told me many times this week to “let myself feel it”. The hurt. Because I do feel it, and when I bury it, or apologize for it, it stays.

    But it’s hard, though, to let yourself feel it in front of people who it will hurt, or don’t understand it. In front of the people who NEED to see it. Yes, it’s ok to hurt. And to show it. And to let others help you with it.

    I’m learning that, but it is still very hard. And lately it feels harder every day. But if Sarah can do it, and she’s ok. If you can do it, and you’re ok. If my friend can do it, and he’s ok….

    How do you know you’re not going to be one of those people that it’s too much for? That’s why I stuff it down and try really hard not to feel the hurt… That’s what scares me the most.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Aw, Mel.

      Sorry to strike a nerve, lady.

      I agree with your friend. Feel it. Let it run its course.

      When you hurt, at least you know you’re alive.

      And then time march, march, marches.

      And then it hurts less.

      And you? You’re a better version of yourself.

      Please don’t bury it.

      Let it bleed. The wound will heal.

      Everything will be okay.

      Like

  6. dmchale says:

    The enormity of your honesty and beautiful voice humbles me this morning. It is a powerful thing when a writer finds himself at a complete loss for words, but your post has provoked some intense reflection, which is always better than simple words.

    I am only beginning to enter the divorce process, but because of the courage of your vulnerable writing, I don’t feel ashamed for the complexity and pain of feelings that are washing over me. I don’t feel “quite” as lost. I also don’t have a Sarah in my life, which is probably why I spend time online searching for clues to how I am supposed to navigate the loss of my marriage.

    I am encouraged by your healing, even though the description of what you’ve been through fills me with trepidation and anxiety. I’ve honestly considered a quick Hemingway-esque exit…and will probably indulge that for a while longer. It isn’t that I am afraid of pain…I have been shot, assaulted, lost loved ones to early deaths…I have run the gamut of pain and have gained an almost intimate familiarity with how to live in that state. No, my fear is living again. I just am none too sure I have the faith or the energy to rebuild a life I no longer value. But, fortunately, I am not that selfish. I’ll go on…I just don’t know that it is worth the effort.

    I wish for you immense peace and joy in your life. Thank you for sharing this story. You may feel like you are just writing what needs to be written, but you should know that many people you don’t even know were touched, and altered, by your truth.

    Thank you~

    Like

    • Matt says:

      I’m a little speechless myself.

      Firstly, I’m so sorry. Beyond sorry. Because it is hard. And there’s no way out of it. You just grit your teeth and soldier on.

      The only solace is hope.

      And it’s not bullshit. It really does get better. The pain fades. Smiles and laughter return.

      We chat about divorce around here, mainly because I’m self-centered and whine about it a lot.

      But I really do want to encourage people who are going through it. In whatever small way a kindred spirit can help.

      It was so important for me to find people who understood who I was feeling.

      If that’s important to you, you’ll find those kind of people here.

      Please reach out anytime.

      I can’t speak for anyone but me.

      But one of life’s great lessons is that we’re not so different. Not deep down in the places we don’t usually talk about.

      Please fire a note anytime you’d like, publicly or privately.

      Wishing you well.

      Like

  7. Reading this made my chest hurt. Twenty years ago my cousin arranged a private adoptiion, brought the baby home for a few days, and then the birth mother changed her mind before the final sign-off. At the time my ex and I were contemplating adoption, and I knew that I couldn’t risk that kind of disappointment. But to actually spend two years raising a child and THEN have him taken away– I can’t even begin to wrap my head around what your friend has suffered. People like Sarah always make me think of diamonds– jewels of great beauty and value that have been formed by the application of tremendous, crushing pressure.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      It’s one of the most-tragic, heartbreaking things I’ve ever heard of.

      I had to wipe my eyes a couple times writing the post.

      He was (is!) a precious child, and they were a beautiful family. And every single person involves deserves better than the world delivered.

      Thanks for saying hi.

      Like

  8. suzjones says:

    Reblogged this on It Goes On and commented:
    I often say that writing through your pain is good for the would. I would like to introduce Matt to you. His writings touch my soul again and again. He has made me cry and made me laugh. And I admire him. Please enjoy this post.

    Like

  9. Sue did introduce you, and I must say, you are writing very, very well.
    You just got a new follower.
    Irene

    Like

  10. What a beautifully written reminder that our pain is our, our pain is real and our pain is okay. It’s a good reminder for me to take the time to process, all the time I need!

    Like

  11. tric says:

    Great heartfelt post. My greatest friend buried her 13 year old six weeks ago. Today is his 14th birthday. She was told recently by someone who lost a child that every day she will heal a very tiny bit, but she will heal. That is exactly what she needed to hear.
    All pain is real regardless what causes it.
    My own brother was so broken eight years ago after his marriage broke down. It took ages but this year he married again a girl who we all agree seems to be his soulmate.
    I wish you well in your own life and for myself I am glad I read this post via Sue, especially today.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thoughts and prayers for your friend and everyone touched by the loss of her child. Unimaginable.

      That’s the only scenario I believe could break me for good.

      Healing has been such an interesting, eye-opening process.

      Like

  12. mewhoami says:

    Matt, this was one of the most beautiful and sincere posts, I’ve read in a long time. Everyone’s pain is their own. Everyone’s pain hurts. You’re right – we should never be ashamed of our pain. Everyone experiences it and we are no different than them. Sometimes we have to talk about it in order to work it in our mind minds and we should feel the liberty to do so. We should feel free to feel our pain. This was truly beautiful, and as always I love your transparency.

    Like

  13. Dawn says:

    Truth…so much complete and udder truth. I know people who try to “one up” you on your pain. We all have it, we all feel it. We NEED to feel it…break down. It’s part of growth. Think of the mighty oak, if the seed and not cracked, there would be no glorious oak tree.

    Great post Matt!!! Just great.

    Like

  14. linds_r says:

    Beautiful post. When you started to talk about the breathing, I could feel what you were saying in my chest. Xx

    Like

    • Matt says:

      It’s hard to hurt as an adult.

      When all the innocence is gone.

      When you feel like you just might die.

      But then it gets better. And it’s sad we have to go through the horribleness to get there.

      But it’s wonderful when it gets better.

      When we can breathe again.

      Like

  15. Thank you Matt. {{hugs}} to Sarah. I can’t even imagine the pain.

    Like

  16. Emotionally charged in every verse..every line carry so much. Sometimes we truly think that the heart can only take so much…until it expands again, and it actually grows bigger than it was previously. We do become better at griefing and loving again. This is what I discovered in my own journey too.
    All the very best, Matt! :)

    Like

  17. […] read a post on Must Be This Tall To Ride. (Check it out – it’s pretty powerful stuff.)  I started following this blog because […]

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  18. sinecostan says:

    Wow, Matt, this was a beautifully written post and a hard one to read. (By the way, Aron here… had to change the Guacamole screen name due to technocrap.) I fear that pain is a constant, a given, a part of the human condition. Reaching out to each other is one way that we can work on lessening our pain and those of others.

    Regarding the particular type of pain that occurs when an adoption is forcibly reversed by the legal process, there IS something we can do about that. In the U.S., this is largely a matter of state law, not federal. And that law can be changed. Write or call your state senators and assemblymen and let them know how you feel. Ask them to draft and support bills to make the adoption process airtight. Judges often have no choice but to make horribly scarring decisions because they are stuck with bad law. Remember, your legislators are elected by you and are there to serve your needs. If your needs are not being served by your state law, speak out. The 1st Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. The internet in general, and blogging in particular, is a powerful tool. Gather signatures on petitions, conduct a letter-writing or email campaign, let your voice be heard. You don’t have to suffer this kind of pain because your state has shitty adoption laws.

    Like

  19. Love your honesty. I don’t think anyone gets through this life thing without suffering and its wonderful to have a place or person that you can just be honest with. Chances are they will understand, and if they don’t yet, they just might one day.
    You’re hope shines through your writing. :)

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you. I do hope. All the time. That’s one of the things I’m really good at.

      So glad you read and liked something. Please have a great weekend. :)

      Like

  20. M. Safranski says:

    More amazing wisdom, Matt, truly. It’s almost better coming here to this blog late and seeing your journey as it went (and goes), all at once. Perspective is quite a thing. Our own hurts are valid, yes, but life has a way of pointing out what’s really important, eh? Right when I was in the middle of hunkering under the blanket last fall, the man who I thought would be the rest of my life *gone*, my heart drawn and quartered and crushed into a billion tiny pieces that I couldn’t quite get a grasp on, we found out my mom has cancer. My problems melted, not completely away, but enough to smack me the hell around and make me pull out of self-pity mode and realize I might lose my MOM. This isn’t like losing some asshole who clearly saw me as disposable, this is my mommy, the one person in my whole life who will never stop being my biggest fan, the glue that holds my family of origin together. This is THE SHIT. This is the real thing. This is life’s messiness and life’s lessons and just life, and it ain’t all about me anymore.

    Hugs and love to Sarah, and to you. Again. :)

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you.

      Yes.

      Perspective. Over and over again, perspective has been such an important thing these past months.

      Is your mom doing okay?

      Like

      • M. Safranski says:

        She has just finished radiation and chemo, which caused their own problems as treatments often do, so we don’t really know yet. The kind of cancer she has doesn’t often have a great prognosis, so we’re trying to come to terms with that and hang onto every day, every moment.

        Thank you for asking, that is extraordinarily sweet and considerate, esp in the middle of all this you’re managing with the blog exploding, plus the rest of real life. <3 I don't know where you are in Ohio but maybe sometime I'll hop the border and buy you a drink or three. ;)

        Like

  21. dorothyemyers says:

    Finally made some time to start reading your old posts. This one struck my nerve that needed striking. I’m going to sit with this finally.

    I haven’t yet, really confronted the pain I went through with my divorce. I had to be OK for everyone else, and since it was 50 percent my choice, I didn’t feel allowed my grief. And married people don’t get this (my friends and support people are all married), and people are afraid of pain.

    That was my wordy thank you, thanks for making me laugh, laughing is good, but also, thanks for making me cry. I’m finally crying.

    Like

  22. kiran prasad says:

    thank you. i am hurt and i was hiding it all along.. letting everyone believe i am strong. i keep saying how could i have been so stupid to have stayed in this marriage for so long. i got struck by panic attacks. and it scares me. i asked a friend if i was going crazy. sure feels like. i am glad i read you post.. its okay. everyone hurts. and i am only human..to hurt for having wasted 12 years in a marriage that was not worth it.
    your post gives me hope… knowing that i will survive.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      You most certainly will survive.

      I’m sorry you were hurt. You definitely don’t need to hide it. People understand. And if you’re brave enough to talk about it maybe others will be too.

      And then a lot of people can start the healing process.

      Wish you well, Kiran. Thank you for reading and taking a moment to say hello.

      Like

  23. […] lot of people live there. We all needed to be there, because it’s okay to hurt. But we’re always on the lookout. For a vacation out of there, or better yet, a permanent […]

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