The road to healing from heartbreak

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Some years are marked by tremendous challenge and heartbreak.

This year, some people very close to me experienced unthinkable losses.

My friend Suzanne lost her 22 year old daughter to a heart attack, only to lose her daughter’s best friend to the same cause a few months later.

My friend Laurie was diagnosed with Ovarian cancer, and has been bravely undergoing surgery and chemotherapy treatment.

My Mom has been on a journey of mourning for my Bonus Dad Larry, who passed away in February.

Many friends have struggled with finances, with loss, divorce and addiction.

And just this past Friday, my friend Sophfronia had the unimaginable happen at her son’s school, Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT. Her son survived. Her godson did not.

Witnessing all these things happening is absolutely overwhelming.

How can any of us go on with so much heartbreak around us?
Will things ever be normal again?

The road to healing from heartbreak

For those who have gone through tremendous loss, their lives will never be the same. But that does not mean that they will never see beauty, feel love and create meaningful things in their life. They will create a new normal that can still include joy, at the same time that they integrate loss and sadness into the fabric of their life story.

These four things have helped me to overcome challenges and heartbreak.

  1. Fall apart
    As soon as I heard about what happened in Connecticut last Friday, I was sickened and shaking. I felt the same thing when I heard of the death of my friend Suzanne’s daughter Teal. When terrible things happen, feel them. Cry. Hug someone. Grieve. It is perfectly natural to not want to get right back to business when terrible things happen. Express the emotion.
  2. Honor what you have
    As a parent last Friday, it felt so conflicting to hug and squeeze my own kids while I knew that there were parents on the other side of the country who were in agony because they would not see their kids again.Author Brené Brown, quoting from her amazing new book Daring Greatly, said this in a recent blog post:

“When I asked people who had survived tragedy how we can cultivate and show more compassion for people who are suffering, the answer was always the same: Don’t shrink away from the joy of your child because I’ve lost mine. Don’t take what you have for granted–celebrate it. Don’t apologize for your healthy parents or your great relationship. Be grateful and share your gratitude with others.

One quote that I heard over and over was simply: “When you honor what you have, you’re honoring what I’ve lost.”

  1. Never forget, but choose to create a new future .
    While in the midst of a huge, painful challenge, it is impossible to imagine a new future. You want to slug anyone who suggests that “everything happens for a reason.” The meaning to be made from any negative experience belongs to the person affected. It may never make sense, to you or to them.Yet over and over again, I have seen people rise from huge heartbreak and build a new life.  My client Sarah has been working on an amazing fair trade project with Rwandan artisans, called Songa Designs. If you know anything about Rwandan history in the 1990s, you know that it is filled with unimaginable terror and genocide. Yet tremendous beauty exists in the art and economy being built by Rwandan people today.  In the words of Abe Cajudo, who produced Songa Designs current Indiegogo campaign:”So much growth and beauty in that country that needs to be shared and celebrated, not hidden behind what Google and History has branded it. Let’s change the world’s perception of Rwanda FOR GOOD!”

    We can learn from those who have witnessed the worst of humanity and still choose to build the best for humanity.

  2. Be held, and hold others.
    My husband’s older brother was killed when he was 18. When I have talked about it with his Mom, mixed with tears and pain, she always tells stories about the people who were so strong for her and held her closely when she was overcome with grief. And I have seen her be strong for others who have experienced their own losses. We never know when we will be the one who does not have the strength to go on, and needs to surrender to the arms of our loved ones and community members. There is no shame in surrendering, and there is great valor in holding others in times of unbearable grief.

I sincerely hope that challenge or tragedy has not visited you or your family this year. But if it has, know that you are not alone. We see you, we feel you, and when and only when you are ready, we will help you create a new normal worth living.

Big hugs and many blessings from my family to yours this holiday season.

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24 Responses to “The road to healing from heartbreak”

  1. Cecily says:


    My six siblings and I lost our Mom in March to a farm accident. It’s been a rough year for us. Honestly, an incredible amount of good has come from our loss. Our family has grown so much. We’ve paid an unimaginably high price for the prospective we’ve gained, but the appreciation we have for each other couldn’t have come any other way. It’s been nearly a year. Sometimes I think the world expects me to be over it, so thank you for acknowledging and honoring our loss. Loss changes you in a lot of ways, but ultimately it has made me realize that I have more to give than I ever imagined.

    Thanks again for the shout out and happy New Year, Pam.


  2. Jonnie says:

    Hi Pamela, loved your post. You are full of wisdom in may areas. Happy to have heard of you on accidental creative today. Look forward to getting to know you more as well.
    Kind Regards,

  3. […] Learn from others.  This post by Pamela Slim gives her experience dealing with grief.  It’s elevated due to the shootings at Sandy Hook, but […]

  4. Yes! I have lived these steps, this is exactly how it goes. Except of course you don’t know it when you are in the beginning or even the middle. Thank you for this article, look forward to sharing it with others. Have a wonderful holiday too!

  5. Stanley Lee says:

    Speaking of the topic anyway.

  6. Stanley Lee says:

    I think your readers may be interested in this quote by a friend of yours:

  7. Denise Green says:

    Pam, this post is divine. I’m sending a link to my small tribe. Thank you so much for sharing. My heart goes out to you and all the people in your note. This year I experienced a big loss and several books helped. Most of all was Tiny Beautiful Things by Sheryl Strayed. Here’s one of my favorite excerpts: “I had this feeling you get–there is no word for this feeling–when you are simultaneously happy and sad and angry and grateful and accepting and appalled and every other possible emotion, all smashed together and amplified. Why is there no word for this feeling? Perhaps because the word is “healing” and we don’t want to believe that. We want to believe that healing is purer and more perfect, like a babny on its birthday. Like we’re holding it in our hands. LIke we’ll be better people than we’ve been before. Like we have to be.”

    With love and gratitude, Denise

    • Pamela says:

      Thanks so much for writing Denise! I am so sorry for your own loss. The quote is beautiful. I can really relate to it based on what my Mom is going through. Big hugs to you, Happy Holidays!

      • Denise Green says:

        I’ve written several posts this fall about overcoming obstacles but I had yet to tell people what was going on in my life. I was just about to publish my newsletter to go out tomorrow morning and share my story. I edited it to add your post as a resource. I hope that’s ok.

        Your title reminded me of Winston Churchill’s advice: “When you’re on the road to hell, keep going.”

        I’m glad for your mom that she has you.

  8. Cheryl Friscia says:

    While I didn’t have a direct loss, living in the next town over from Newtown has been heartbreaking. I want to reach out and hug Sophfronia and all of the other parents there. My daughter is a kindergarten teacher, about the same age as Vicki Soto and I can’t imagine the loss. I just want to bring love and healing to everyone. I hope that in the wake of such a tragedy, that we as a nation will finally come together to make the changes that are long overdue <3 <3

    • Pamela says:

      I can’t imagine how everyone in CT feels, Cheryl. Sending big hugs and lots of love to you and your family. I know how much they mean to you — enjoy your time together!

  9. Laura Simms says:

    Thanks, Pam. Simple, sound, soulful, active.

  10. ” We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars” – Oscar Wilde
    Your have an upward gaze Pam <3
    Merry Christmas.

  11. faisal says:

    Live the present and think about the future, very difficult but we have little option.

    • Pamela says:

      Thanks Faisal! I am so appreciative of your continued connection with me and my community. Have a wonderful new year!

  12. What a moving post, Pam. I’m grateful for you.

    I have been going back and forth between sadness and gratefulness after the Newtown events and also wondering how I’ll ever let my daughter out of my sight. Its just so scary the lack of control we have to make the world safe as parents. And I drive myself crazy wondering how my choices could benefit or harm my child. Its tough out there but I guess we all have to accept that loss is a part of living (albeit a pretty lousy part) and not having control is definitely something we have to accept. I just try to remember Brene’s words to fight fear with gratefulness and I just continue to savor every kiss, snuggle and dance party with my little one.

    • Pamela says:

      I am thankful for you Rachel!

      I know what you mean, you can drive yourself crazy as a parent trying to control risk. And then sometimes, in the apparent safest of places, terrible things happen.

      Do your best and keep snuggling your little one. 🙂

  13. Sheldon says:

    My wedding anniversary is 9/11. I went to NYC Sept 15 and stayed through mid November doing site response with Red Cross. I live in Tucson and knew folks involved in the tragic events here. I have seen and heard things I never expected to, both by myself and through the eyes and memories of hundreds of others. In ways I hope you do not know, your advice is spot on. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Pamela says:

      I can’t imagine what you witnessed Sheldon. Thank you for being strong when others needed you. Big hugs to you and those you love this holiday season.

  14. Brian Shea says:

    Beautiful post, Pam. Best wishes for the holiday season.

    • Pamela says:

      Thanks so much Brian! You know I have your back, and I am sure you will have mine if I ever need it. Happy holidays!