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feb. 8 how to mend a broken heart

February 08, 2002

How to mend a broken heart

By KATE COLEMAN
katec@herald-mail.com


Have you ever had a broken heart?

If you have, you know what it means and you know how it feels.

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Webster's defines heartbroken as being overcome with grief, sorrow or disappointment.

The heart has long been viewed as the center of emotions. The idea of heartbreak is probably related to the physical feelings that accompany grief, loss and sadness, says psychologist D'Arcy Lyness of Wayne, Pa.

Just as you talk about butterflies in your stomach when you're anxious about something, you say you have a broken heart when you suffer a loss.

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Any loss can cause heartbreak - loss of a love, loss of one's dreams, illusions, says Deryl Fleming, director of pastoral care services at Brook Lane Health Services.

What can you do about it?

"Do your grief work," Fleming recommends.

Grief is the response to loss. Whenever there's change - even desired change - there's an undertone of loss.

So how do you mend a broken heart?

You have to work through it, Fleming says.

First, you have to get through denial. You do that by acknowledging your loss and the pain of the loss.

"Let yourself be sad," says Lyness, who is psychology editor for TeensHealth, on the Web at www.teenshealth.org, an online project of The Nemours Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to children's and teens' health.

Next comes the bulk of "grief work" - identifying and expressing your feelings of anger, fear, guilt or regret and sadness, Fleming says.

How do you express your heartbreak?

Talk it out. More than once. That's what friends are for - but don't rely on just one person and drive him or her crazy. Studies show that the larger a person's support group, the better they cope, Fleming says. Beyond friends are the options of talk and group therapy.

Writing is another way of expressing feelings. Write nasty letters you're never going to mail. Keep a journal. Write a poem; write a song.

"Half the songs in the world come from broken hearts," Fleming says.

Wendy Hite's heart was broken when her six-week-old daughter died of sudden infant death syndrome in 1983. "I didn't really know how I would survive," she says.

Is her broken heart mended?

"Yes," she says thoughtfully. "That's not to say I never cry," she quickly adds.

How did Hite get from heartbreak to healing?

First she was angry. "I can remember being angry at God," she says. She would go outside and scream into the fields "Why? Why?"

But God also was Hite's greatest comforter. "I knew who God was, but I never felt that connected," she says. She'd choke down tears with other people, but Hite felt God with her when she cried when she was alone.

A couple who had lost a child came to talk to Hite. Talking to someone who had been through the experience helped her.

She turned to her Bible. In second Corinthians, Hite found a message that inspired her to reach out to others: "Comfort people with the comfort I've given you."

At first she read obituaries and called people whose babies had died. "Everybody I called was so glad," she says.

She helped to start a support group. Labor of Love, open to anyone who has experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or newborn loss, has been meeting monthly at Washington County Hospital since 1963.

For Hite, talking about your loss - expressing your feelings of hurt is like letting them out of the little box in your chest where they are locked. When the hurt is out of that box, you can fill it up with good things.

"You can have the memories - the good memories," she says.

If your heart is broken, let yourself be sad, Lyness says. But don't wallow in it.

"Take a break from the sad feelings. Do something fun. Replace them with good feelings," she adds.

And keep going.

"The only way to get through grief is to go through it. It is the way home," Fleming says.

Does time heal all wounds?

Does time heal a broken heart?

How much time?

People and their heartbreaks are different, so there can't be just one answer.

But a commerical Web site - Heal My Broken Heart at healmybrokenheart.com - features a Heart-Repair Calculator, a tool for figuring out how long it will take your heart to recover. (The site also sells T-shirts.)

There are formulas for short relationships of three months or less, mid-length relationships of one year or less and long relationships of one year or more.

For example, to figure out when you'll begin feeling "normal" after a mid-length relationship ends in heartbreak:

A. Count the number of months that you were romantically involved.

B. Count the average number of days per week you saw him/her during the romance, and divide this number by 2.

C. Multiply A and B - that's how many months it will take to begin feeling normal.

In reality, how long it takes to get over a broken heart after a long-term committed relationship ends, such as one with a spouse, is a little more complicated.

It's OK to be lighthearted once in a while, to think about when you'll feel like yourself again, says psychologist D'Arcy Lyness.

It's OK to take care of yourself.

Take a break. Look at the site as a distraction, a fun step in mending your broken heart.

If you're a teen, or the parent of one, try www.teenshealth.org. Click on "mind matters" then "feelings" and discover that you're not alone.

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