Seven Helps for a Broken Heart

I wish there were Band-Aids for broken hearts—and maybe a little miracle dust sprinkled on the Band-Aid pad instead of the antibacterial stuff. Just sayin’ . . . because I really would have preferred a quick fix the other day. But I’m continuing to learn that there’s no quick fix to healing a hurting heart.

It’s Never Easy

We knew this day was coming for a while. Our 12-year-old dog, Desoto, had been diagnosed with a terminal illness more than a year ago. We watched the signs of failing health and hoped against hope he wouldn’t have to go. He was part of our family. Saying goodbye to one you love is heartbreaking, and there’s no Band-Aid or quick fix for family goodbyes . . . human, animal, or otherwise. As my daughter and I waited for our family to arrive for Desoto’s farewell, we did all we could to keep him comfortable. We played, laughed, loved on him, let him eat whatever he wanted; and we waited as time passed.

My daughter works at the veterinary clinic where Desoto was to be put to sleep, so she asked if I would stay throughout that day to keep her company. Having a companion present helps soften the pain when our hands and hearts have to let go of what we love. I often tell others about how to “be present” with someone who is grieving. But being present is difficult. Rather than being a help, we often tend to try to quick-fix a grieving person’s situation by doing any or all of the following:

  • Telling her how to feel
  • Spitting out Scripture
  • Finding a distraction
  • Filling the silence with words
  • Going to work
  • Pretending nothing is wrong
  • Talking about tough stuff others are going through, such as starving children or persecuted people

Have these ever helped anyone who is hurting deeply? NO! But they are a tempting option when sitting with a person in pain.

Being with the Brokenhearted

Because I hate someone trying to “fix” me, I forced myself not to try and “fix” her. It was terribly painful but we did it together. I listened and laughed when it was appropriate, sat on the floor with my daughter and got dog hair all over my clothes. (Who cares? Sorrow is messy anyway.) It wasn’t always comfortable because pain isn’t comfortable. But we were together, and that is comforting.

Finally, my family gathered at 5:45, took some pictures, and held our beloved Desoto; and we wept together as he took his last breath.

The Magnificent Seven Musts

There are no Band-Aids for bereavement. There are, however, magnificent movements in our souls when we walk through pain with others. Hang on to these; you will inevitably need them, or someone you love will need you to need them.

  1. Show up. Without an agenda, a Bible, a prayer book, just show up empty-handed so you can hold the hand of the person grieving.
  2. Remain present. Turn off your phone, and leave the laptop at home. Look into the person’s eyes, and ask what he or she needs. Until you ask, you don’t know. The answer may be, “Nothing,” which often means he or she doesn’t know or doesn’t know how to tell you. When you’re present, you notice tears, clenched fists, closed eyes, feelings of confusion or despair. You get tissue, hold a hand, offer a hug if wanted or needed, find a warm blanket. You wrap your love around the griever as he or she is falling apart.
  3. Help contain. We get scattered when we grieve; we forget or lose the little essential things like wallets, car keys, coats, purses, phones, stuff. Help keep a hurting person organized by keeping track of his or her essentials.
  4. Be quiet. Silence is good for the soul; don’t fill it with your own stories of loss, unwanted advice—certainly don’t tell the person grieving how to feel. Just remain quiet while you let him or her feel. God may have a few things to say anyway, and He doesn’t need our help.
  5. When appropriate, recall good memories. Desoto played in our pool and went on walks through the woods with the kids. He did some really silly stuff too. He was clunky and would trip over his huge paws. Every so often, talk about the good times and laugh.
  6. Don’t put a timetable on healing. The brokenhearted person may have loved so deeply that parts of his or her heart will always sting. Telling someone to “snap out of it” is insensitive anyway. Let God do the healing in His time, not yours.
  7. Stay connected . . . follow up. Send notes, pick up kids, cook a meal, clean the home, fold the laundry, mow the lawn; help with the daily tasks of life, because these are the hardest to keep up with when we struggle.

Let Me Hear from You

This is not a complete list; it’s a place to start. In fact, I would love to hear what has helped you heal after a painful goodbye or broken heart. Leave a comment, offering other ideas as we help one another walk though those hard goodbyes.

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8 thoughts on “Seven Helps for a Broken Heart

  1. Hi Colleen,
    I’m so sorry about Desoto. Pets surely do become part of the family. I had a Samoyed named Misty who was there for me through a failing marriage, going through a divorce, moving back home to my parents for a time, and plenty of walks and car rides in between. I still think of her when we are having a family meal and how she used to nose her way between people’s chairs so she could lie down under the table. She went over the Rainbow Bridge 10 years ago and I really hope all dogs really do go to Heaven! (I haven’t found anything in Scripture to the contrary – it’s just one of those unmentioned things…) You were brave to do what was best for your pup and you were a good mom to walk through the day with your daughter. Thank you for the chance to reminisce about my Mistybug and for the excellent advice on what to do/what not to do when life gets very hard. *hugs to you and your family* ~ Rohna Harkless

    • Rohna,
      You are so sweet to share in our sorrow. It was such a rough day one month ago and yes, Desoto was part of our family like you mentioned…through happy and hard times, through thick and thin, he was our buddy. We are making it through as we talk about the good times, laugh at how funny he was, and make memories rather than focus on his loss alone. It is work and yes, like your Mistybug, he will always be in our hearts. Thanks again so much for your thoughtfulness. By the way, I grew up with a Samoyed and loved her to the end as well so that was very touching! Have a great thanksgiving, Colleen

  2. Hi Colleen,

    I am so sorry to hear about the passing of your family dog. Our 4 legged family members add so much to our lives and when something like this happens it is a very difficult time. Recently, we too had to put one of our cats down and sometimes in the morning I still get two plates out, I guess it just takes time to adjust.

    I really like the list you put together of the magnificent seven musts. When there is a loss or a tragic situation it is sometimes hard to find the right words to say or express what you need. Hope I will not be needing the list soon but I will be tucking it away for when it is needed. Thank you for putting that together.

    • Vicki,
      The most surprising part of this piece was how hard it was not to default to ‘fixing’ or ‘trying to make the hard truth softer’. It was a hard day and no one could fix it. I learned it takes thinking of the other person’s needs MOST, what they may need for help, support, care, even silence. A warm fuzzy blanket, silence, some laughs along the way…no path is outlined with simplicity. I’m thrilled you found the suggestions helpful…I learned a lot that day and hope it offers much to others who are in a caregiving space. No one can fix, but we can be present and caring. That is one of the greatest gifts of all….just being there. Let me know if you come across other suggestions and if you happen to use any of these. They are so valuable to keeping the heart open! Hope you are well. Great to connect. Colleen

  3. Hi Colleen;
    I’m deeply saddened to hear about your famly’ loss of a beloved family member (4 legged furry fellow). It’s always hard to lose a loved one and where the river of love runs deep, the waters of pain can run even deeper. I pray that God’s peace will be a comforter to you and your family during the grieving process.

    Thank you for sharing your pain with others so that we can have an opportunity to return the favor of ministering back to you and praying for your family during these difficult days.

    Grace and Peace Always,

    Anthony W.

    • Anthony,
      Thank you for you most kind response to our loss. My apologies for the delay in responding; our daughter was married last weekend and we’re still recovering. However, Desoto was a vital part of many milestones in our lives; the loss was far more difficult than expected. You are right…those 4 legged furry fellows have a way of running their love deep into our hearts. Jon still looks to the sky on our drive to school and says, “mom, Desoto is playing with all his friends and is happy…I miss him but know he’s in a better place”. Well said in my opinion. Much grace to you and thank you again for your thoughtfulness and empathy which brought a new set of fresh tears to my eyes. Colleen

  4. I commented and somehow it disappeared into cyber-never, neverland! These steps are so practical and powerful! Thanks for sharing your heart! These steps are applicable to all kinds of pain and those who love those in pain!

    • Ann,
      Thank you for your kind response. I have found them so helpful too. It was surprising how hard it was to really follow through when my daughter was the one hurting. How I wanted to fix or help change the pain but we sat through it and I learned a great deal. I would love to know what else has helped you through difficult times. I know you have had a few and could share some much needed wisdom on this. Thanks so much for connecting. It’s a delight to hear from you. Colleen