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  • Writer's pictureMandy Hughes

Facing Heartache

'...This world so full of joy and pain

Was more than one heart could contain...'

"All Of It Was Music," Over the Rhine

transformational coaching
from Unsplash (photo by Sara Codair)

It's Thursday, and my dad is still in the hospital. A rational part of me says there is no reason to doubt he'll recover from his surgery, but my body knows trauma too well to trust the truth of today. There's always reason to doubt. There's grief also: whatever the outcome, it hurts to see my dad suffer. I'm weary from holding his fear, and weary of trying not to. But hope is exhausting, too: it seems every time things take a turn for the better, setbacks follow and time in the hospital lengthens. So as I write, I tell you what day it is, because I'm trying hard to remember. It's not only that trauma makes my brain lose all sense of time; in some spiritual sense, too, this week has held lifetimes.

Meanwhile, the life outside my window mirrors my own...

In May, I planted a butterfly habitat in my backyard, but I only had hope enough then to imagine a monarch might pass through one day; instead, multiple monarch butterflies have been drinking nectar from my milkweed plants each day, throughout the day, for weeks now. Almost two weeks ago, I found my first monarch caterpillar (and I've found countless more since). I say "my" even though the caterpillar doesn't belong to me, and I can't ensure its survival any more than I can take away my dad's pain. (How I hate feeling powerless.) I've read that less than ten percent of monarchs make it from an egg to a butterfly.* Honestly, I'm beginning to marvel that any of them do.

On Wednesday, I found a young larva in the clutches of a spined soldier bug. It was too late to save the caterpillar, but I killed its predator in hopes of sparing other monarch larvae, and I wept. Then, mere seconds later, I noticed an adult monarch perched on the underside of a milkweed leaf, preparing to lay an egg. Soon after that, an eastern tiger swallowtail showed up — the first, as far as I know, to visit my garden. Seeing both the horror and the joy just a few minutes could hold reminded me that all of life is a rollercoaster, and nothing is permanent. Even death is not the end.

There is always hope...

It's Friday morning, and my mom texts to say Dad can leave the hospital tomorrow. Between client sessions, I've been reading Pema Chödrön:

"Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy." I know I cannot save myself, let alone the world. I know today will end, and life's rollercoaster will continue. In many ways, I am powerless. But there is power in my choice to face it all — the heartache and the joy. My hope is not in the chance I will avoid suffering or death; my hope is in the fact that glorious life will always find a way of rising up again. This journey of becoming is brutal, and everything often falls apart. And then joy finds us — again, and again, and again.

Transformational coaching
from Unsplash (photo by Joshua J. Cotten)

*This statistic comes from Monarch Joint Venture's website, and you'll find it in the "predation" section of the FAQ page.

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