The Things That Break Us

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When you’re in pain, you can’t see a way out of it, can’t envision a future when the weight isn’t pressing down on you, crushing you, sucking the air out of your lungs. In that moment, it can be hard to imagine that the hurt you feel will ever hurt less.

A week ago, my thigh was an angry purple bruise. The very real one hundred and twenty five pound metal weight that had pressed into my skin had left it sore and ugly. I marveled over it in the shower, ran my fingers over it every time I changed my clothes, showed it to friends who shared my disbelief that such a quick incident could leave such an intense mark on me.

We never know what will mark us, what will leave us sore and bruised, which things will pass without notice and which things will leave us reeling for weeks, months, years. We are masters at pretending and protecting. We excel at thinking the things that break others will surely not break us.

And then, inexplicably, something comes along that brings us to our knees. A person, an event, a loss, a truth we weren’t prepared to hear. One minute we’re coasting through our days and the next minute we’re counting our breaths and wrestling with the unimaginable, doing whatever we can just to stay standing.

I won’t try to talk you out of that feeling, would never try to tell a drowning person to just relax and wait for help to arrive. When you’re in it, you’re in it, and there’s something to be said for allowing yourself the space to feel whatever you need to feel, as intensely as you need to feel it.  Be sad. Be angry. Be jealous, frustrated, confused, disappointed. Let it soak in, let it settle, feel the weight of it. Because you can’t expect to ever heal from something until you’ve allowed yourself to feel it in your bones.

If you love yourself enough to put in the work, someday, somehow, you will come up for air. You’ll laugh at something that tickles you, have a conversation without feeling distracted by the big, ugly thing, enjoy a quiet moment without heavy thoughts creeping in. The thing that was blocking out the sun will slowly become a shadow at the edge of your vision.

My bruise has faded. It isn’t tender to the touch anymore. And I can’t help but notice that it’s taken on the rough shape of a heart. The thing that once hurt me now looks like the thing that keeps me alive. The things that break us allow us to heal and grow in ways that shape us for the better.

That’s the choice we have to make over and over again. When things are hard, when life hurts, when moments threaten to crumble everything we’ve worked so hard to build, will we lean into it, or will we try to ignore it, bury it, wish it away? Our brains tell us to avoid things that hurt. Our hearts, if we listen, will tell us something very different. Our hearts will remind us that if we can make space for the uncomfortable and impossible moments, we’re creating space for the unbelievable and lovely days that lie ahead.










A letter to Creigh Deeds

Senator Deeds,

Three American flags, one of which was flown over Afghanistan by soldiers I do not know. At least one Virginia state flag. A dozen or so framed sketches, paintings, diplomas, plaques, and a retired high school football jersey. Stacks of newspapers and magazine articles, mostly from 2007. And, several hundred sympathy cards from all over the world.

I spent this past weekend at my mother’s house and with the help of my sister we put all of the above items and much more into what we called “Jarrett Boxes”. It’s been over six and half years since my brother was killed at VA Tech, yet my family has yet to figure out what to do with all the sympathy and memorial items we received. Nearly every room of the house has some sort of gift from a complete stranger or dear friend wanting to comfort us in the darkest days of our lives.

Somedays my grief seems stronger than God. On those days I feel that it controls my destiny and through a paralyzing power devoids me of purpose and will. Gratefully, love wins often helping me to carry on.

I’ve come to live with my grief, as I imagine people manage debilitating diseases. I do not believe it will ever go away completely, but I trust that I can find ways to life with it. (In fact, writing this letter to you is helping me recover from a weekend spent sorting things into Jarrett Boxes.)

A few of the others who lost a loved one on April 16, 2007 have been inspired to take up a cause. Somedays I wish I was the sort of person who could take up a cause. Maybe it could help me answer some of the millions of questions I have about my brother’s untimely death. And, I wonder if tying positive actions to a source that I could easily blame might lessen my pain. Not to mention, I’ve heard a rumor that if I can prevent the same act from happening to another person, then my brother’s death will not be in vain.

But, I am not that sort of person. At least not now.

My inertia doesn’t mean I lack believes. I strongly believe that each of us has a set of basic responsibilities to the people around us, especially those who need support, nurturing, and avenues to good health. We are all in this together, and when we fail to be accountable for one another life always loses.

While many of the April 16 survivors have taken up the gun control issue, I have a hard time relating. I’ve always been sick to my stomach at the thought of guns, and the images I have of what happened to my brother that day make it impossible for me to truly want anything other than a gun-free world.

And, also, a gun is simply a tool. A gunshot wound is listed on my brother’s autopsy report as the cause of his death, but that is not the entire truth. My brother was killed by people who failed to be responsible. By people who let fear and cultural pressures guide their decisions, instead of truth and courage.

Mental health is a topic that needs to be brought to the table. I’ve seen many people who let their ignorance of mental health and inaccurate social views dictate the type support to an individual struggling mentally or emotionally. The system is corrupt with fear, ignorance, and irresponsibility, and it has failed us both and our beloved boys.

Thank you for being the sort of person who can take up a cause. My heart falls to the bottom of my stomach as I try to imagine all that you must do to be able to take up this cause during your darkest days.

The only true pain-reliever I have found to make any headway on the pain of grief is love. May you and your family have moments to immerse yourselves in love for each other and your for love for Gus. Talk about good memories and seek out stories from his friends. And, may the world embrace you tightly.

With love,
Sister of Jarrett Lane