The meaning of being broken 2

I have started to contemplate a word, maybe even dislike it a little. I have used it before. It gets used in this context a lot. The word is “heartbroken”. We say things such as “I am heartbroken” or “something is heartbreaking”. It seems like a fitting word to describe emotions and the devastation we feel after losing a child, so why don’t I like it anymore?

1) Nothing is broken.
I don’t want to state the obvious and I get the idea of speaking figuratively. However, reality is that my heart is technically not broken. My body is functioning normally as it always has. Yes, I am grieving and grief comes with physically felt pain, but at the end of the day I am still here, functioning, heart beating while my children are dead. I just doesn’t sound right to me any more to say my heart is broken, even though dreams have been shattered, bonds torn, emotions unleashed. It is part of the problem of the normality of everything. The world is still turning, everything keeps on going, even my heart. And that just feels incredibly unfair.

2) The heart is associated with feelings.
I am not sure why that is the case. All emotions seem to belong to the heart. We can lose our heart to someone when we fall in love. On Valentine’s Day everything is in the shape of a heart. We keep someone in our heart. How did this come to be? Granted, the heart is a pretty important organ, but so are all of our vital organs. Failure of any organ can kill someone. Maybe it holds a special status because we can hear it beat and that’s why it is associated with life. Arguably though all our emotions, memories and feelings are controlled and stored in the brain. Shouldn’t that be considered our most precious organ? But nobody would say I am brain-broken. That does sound rather funny than dramatical.

3) Associations of broken.
Last, but not least broken seems fitting, but at the same time has many other connotations that I might not want to associate with my current situation. What are some of the things that come to mind when you just use the word broken, e.g. in a materialistic context:

  • Something that is broken needs fixing.
  • Something that is broken has less value.

Both of these make no sense. Anybody who has experienced grief and loss will understand that some things will never be fixed and we should not even try to fix them. Yet, we sometimes seem to have a hard time to accept the simple fact that not everything can be fixed or needs fixing. Hence, the constant question by everyone if they can do something for us. Even I ask my wife if I can help her somehow when I should know better. Absolutely nothing can be done to fix this. Don’t get me wrong: I do appreciate that people want to help and make things easier on us. I just have to remind myself that it is neither fixing nor getting over it. We have to learn to live with the pain and that is where support can help.

Moreover, if an item breaks it typically loses its functionality, it becomes useless and we often toss it out. This is absolutely not the case in this context. It might even be the other way around. Because of the incredibly painful loss, we might be able to appreciate a lot more things than ever before. I came across this quote recently “I am stronger because I know my weakness, I am wise because I know I’ve been foolish, I laugh because I’ve known sadness“. I don’t at all feel like laughing, but I can see beauty in the little things and appreciate the amazingness of life. Things I might have not noticed before. Bereaved parents I find just don’t take anything for granted anymore and that is a different perspective on life.

In a medical context broken might indicate pain. If your leg is broken, we all immediately think “ouch”. That is the only thing that I can really connect with. It is painful, emotionally painful. Often so painful that it becomes physically painful. And maybe in that sense it is fitting to bring it in context with the heart if we just accept it as the center of emotions.

By the way: my wife does not agree with me on this one. Maybe now that we have talked about it, I might not even agree with me on this one. Not sure… I will still post it and quote Adenauer who said something like “What do I care about what I said yesterday. Nothing stops me from becoming wiser”.

Help break the silence!

2 thoughts on “The meaning of being broken

  1. Reply Louise Feb 21,2013 8:31 am

    I find I use the term when the emotions are so overwhelming that I can’t put into words how I am feeling. I FEEL pain throughout my body, but definitely concentrated more around the heart as I grapple with my emotions and thoughts. Wikipedia has an entry on “Broken heart” that discusses both the emotional and physical aspects surrounding the concept of a broken heart, and even points out the condition Takotsubo cardiomyopathy that causes pain in the heart.

  2. Reply Bora Mar 6,2013 4:24 am

    My 2 cents about it:

    I do agree with you on the “not broken” part. I think it is a bad attempt for people to describe the feeling they have.
    For myself I think of a “broken heart” like an overworked computer, that looks like it is nearly hung up. The emotional centre of one’s being is so overloaded with processing this pain, that there is simply no or nearly no capacity for the “usual” things in life. Hence we look like broken from the outside as we don’t function in the usual pattern. And this also makes us feel broken as on at least a subconscious level we want interact with the rest of the world.

    In some part we get “fixed” as we process enough to become part of the rest of the world again, even though some people never do. On the other hand a broken heart is a transformation. Things are never the same again as before. Stronger and weaker at the same time.

    Thank you to Louise for the reference to Wikipedia. It’s obvious that the heart isn’t really broken, but as the condition Takotsubo cardiomyopathy shows it actually can effect the real heart. I guess it is hard to differentiate between the logical and the emotional brain, so our society just moved the feeling part to the heart.

    Thanks Jens to put the question out here as it made me clarify my own thoughts and my own understanding. Hope I will never have to use it, but that would be unrealistic.
    I would be interested to hear what other’s think of this and how they make sense of “a broken heart”.

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