The Joys of Heartache

Into every life a little rain must fall, but I don’t remember hearing anything about downpours.

Heartache is never fun, but there are some benefits. When I was 16 the “love of my life”, Steve Bates, took me home early from the drive-in because I wouldn’t go to second base. I was devastated. I remember distinctly lying in my mother’s lap while she tenderly stroked my face keeping the hair out of my tears. I was sobbing, saying I would NEVER fall in love again and to this day I love my mom for not laughing out loud. At that age, I hardly noticed that my love bloomed again in a week or two.

In my 20’s, heartache crept into my life again. This time, my then husband, Michael, decided that I could not be myself. On a very fundamental level, I just knew that was wrong. His solution was another woman. I remember sitting in a chair for an entire day crying. Not really sobbing this time, but just sort of dazed, allowing the tears to roll down my cheeks, each one like a river carving out a little bit of my soul. So it felt. I just could not move. In the midst of that pain, loneliness and low self-esteem, I had enough presence of mind to realize that it was not the last time I would feel like that in my life. I remember thinking that when my mom died, assuming that was before me, that I would feel that deep intense pain again. That revelation put the experience of disappearing love in perspective and allowed me to leave the house the next day. I went tubing with friends, and kicked the water like a child as I giggled and floated in the sun of the Sierras, in the clear waters of the lazy river. My new outlook allowed me to survive …. and laugh. It taught me that I was in charge of how I saw the world and my experiences as a part of it. I had a choice to wallow or move forward. What a great lesson to learn. One I would utilize in many situations. It would serve me well in my life to come. I was beginning to learn the “joy of heartache.”

The day did come when my mother passed away. She was one of a kind. In the dictionary under “unique” there is a picture of my mom. She knew the “Joys of Heartache”. Her first deep wound was the death of my father when they were in their early 40’s. Although she would marry several more times, he would always be the love of her life. In the earth she lies, right next to him. For her, adversity was a reason to rise above and climb a bigger mountain. However, there was always time to sink in, feel the pain and let it cleanse her. She was a great teacher. I am grateful that she lived long enough for me to know how smart she was, as she passed out of this life while in my arms. For when I was a teenager, she was pretty dumb. My joy was being with her as she took her last breath and letting her know I would be “OK.”

The truth be known, I got a cramp in my arm as it held her head as she slipped away. In the midst of this incredible woman, my best friend and mentor, leaving my life, my body was having an argument. On one shoulder was that caricature of an angel, halo and all, saying, “Who cares if you have a cramp in your arm, your mother is dying.” While the little red devil, pointed tail and all, stood on the other shoulder saying, “But it really hurts, I think I am cutting off my blood circulation.” Somehow I was refereeing in disbelief that this conversation was going on at all. It was humor observing the absurdity of what we allow to the forefront of our brains sometimes. This was surely a survival instinct. Like the time my mother told me and my two brothers that my father, killed in an air disaster, had just enough time to say, “Son of a Bitch!” She made that up to shed some levity on a tragic situation. No wonder I am not unfamiliar to the blessings of humor and the joys of heartache.

Just in case I thought that I had experienced the worst…are there joys in the end of a 30 year relationship? I could say yes, when the heartache has passed, but does it ever? That is the easy answer, but by the time this event took place, over an elongated span, the heartache became my teacher. Now at 60, I no longer felt, “I would never love again”. I knew how to grab a new perspective, sometimes every minute. I practiced letting myself delve into the depths of hurt and disappointment so that as I experienced those emotions they would bathe my core. I learned how to forgive everyone involved, especially myself. Not only could I find the joy in heartache through the miraculous lessons I learned, but I could orchestrate a time to stop crying and laugh out loud. (I think they used to lock people up for that.)

So here I am now. December 28th, 2012. It is my first holiday season in a new location, much smaller than whence I came just a short 9 months ago. I am alone, except for the dog and in a personal relationship situation where I cannot have what I want. (In my office I have a sign that says, “All I want is everything.” Below it says….”Is that a problem?” I like to keep humor close by); and so, I feel the heartache once more to remind me that I am not in that much control. I sob like a teenager, which is very strange at this point in my life. However, I am so happy that I allow myself to do that. It does purify me and in a special way increases my self-worth, while prioritizing a world that makes me smile.

The year comes to a close, a new one is formed. That can be said of every day and every moment. This is what I know now that I did not know at 16. My heartache comes, so I take a walk to change my perspective. I see the full moon and my insides twinge again, so I go to YouTube to watch Laurel and Hardy dance to Santana. It makes me giggle. I appreciate the friends who reached out to me, some being unaware that they filled a void and warmed my heart. I now have the capacity to stop my crying and laugh out loud instead…if only for a moment.

In my newest book, A little bit of GRATITUDE goes a long way, I wrote the following:

“I am thankful for the heartaches I have endured. Heartache gives me the occasion to recognize what is truly important in my life. Pain gives me a springboard for the opportunities of joy. The art of letting go gives me the ability to make sure heartache is short lived. Forgiveness is truly a gift I give to myself.”

So into every life a little rain or downpour must fall. It is our responsibility to make it a gift by learning a lesson that will keep us ever more true to ourselves …. even if we don’t like the choice we have made at the time we make it. No one ever said we would immediately find the virtue in all of the good choices we make in our lives, but if you will keep the light on in your heart, joy will find its way in.

Attention media. This article is available for reprint as long as you include the following information: Julie Ann Sullivan has been engaging people with her workshops and interactive presentations for more than 20 years. She speaks to corporations, educators, students and professional organizations about life’s journeys. She is the author of Life Lessons, Shape-Up for Success and Pocketful of Inspiration. Julie Ann lives in Pittsburgh PA with her poodle Lucky. Learn more about Julie Ann by visiting

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