There is a woman I know to whom sorrow clings like dew to grass on a Southern summer morning.
Once, she got a bad break in life. That isn’t unusual for anyone. Life bruises us all, even bloodies us up pretty good from time to time. But for her, sorrow has become a close, trusted, constant companion and she refuses to shed its friendship. Apparently, she likes its company.
After decades of marriage, her husband up and left. Not for someone else or because of something else. He simply had ceased to love her, he said to her in the kindest way possible.
Words like these, though, are never easy to hear. They tear at the heart like the teeth of a determined squirrel that is capable of cracking open the toughest acorn. Oh, for a quite a while, her friends anguished with her. Her grief was so palpable that you felt it was your own. Slowly, though, the friendships all began to melt away and disappear. People, you see, have compassion for a short, finite amount of time. Then their sympathy evaporates.
Months went by; a year passed and there was no improvement. Loved ones and well-meaning friends sought to introduce her to handsome, nice suitors and, half-heartedly, she played along. But she always found fault with the beaux and finally admitted she’d rather bask in her pain.
Her heartbreak happened 10 years ago. And today, she is no better in spirit and recovery than in the initial days when she first come undone. Her children, who loved their mama always, have gradually drifted away because the darkness of her spirit dulls the light of their own worlds. Now, they see her only as they are obliged to, which means holidays and special occasions.
“When I have to call Mom, I take a deep breath and with absolute dread I dial the phone,” one said to me. “She just can’t get over it. She won’t let herself move on.”
Her face has aged and her heart has grown old. Joy and happiness will, most likely, never be hers again. It is so sad.
A while back, I was dealing with a heartbreak and I, like most, was sad about it. My friend, Debbie, brought me a casserole and a half gallon of decadently delicious ice cream. We sat in the swing on the back porch, drowned my sorrow with ice cream smothered in fudge, chocolate bits and caramel as I sniffled my way through the conversation.
The next morning, another friend called. “How do you feel this morning?”
“Well, I feel about like I did last night when I talked to you. I’m still sad. Not much has changed except that I gained two pounds from all the ice cream I’ve eaten.”
“You’ve had a night’s sleep and 12 hours. It’s time to get over it.”
Now, that was a bit hasty and it wasn’t advice that I exactly appreciated at the time. And, in all fairness, it was rushing it a bit. But in a couple of days, I saw the wisdom of it all so I decided to pick myself up, figure out what lessons I had learned in it all and then moved on. I thought of my friend and how sorrow has weighed her down and kept her anchored in the same place for many years.
Sorrow owns her. It bought her for a cheap price but has made her continue to pay heavily in the years that followed.
In this world, we will all have trials and tribulations but the difference is how we handle them. Ernest Hemingway said, “Everyone is broken by life and afterwards some are stronger in the broken places.”
So, I guess it comes down to choosing, doesn’t it? You just have to get over it and become stronger.
Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of the new book, “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Sign up for her newsletter here.