I could hear her crying from her bedroom. By the time I entered her room, she was saying, "No, this isn't happening. This can't be real." Her face was soaked in tears. Her boyfriend of nearly four years, her high school sweetheart who had just left for his senior year of college a week earlier, called and broke up with her over the phone. Her agony was palpable. He had just shattered her heart. Her world was in a million pieces on her bedroom floor and I had no idea how to help her make sense of it all. I held her, cried with her and began to think about how to best help her pick up the pieces.
Days passed without her eating. She wasn't talking, laughing or wanting to do much of anything. She had just lost her best friend and I knew she was in the grips of grieving that loss. I have been there too. Her dad walked away from us and chose a different path that eventually ended his life. The pain of that loss, the what could haves and should haves, still creep in from time to time. But although I have personally experienced heartbreak, even on more than one occasion, I was navigating it for the first time on this level as a mom watching my child curl up in a ball for days desperately searching for answers and understanding. The one thing she wanted was for him to change his mind and that was the one thing I could not give her, or make him do, or fix for her.
How do I help her through this? What can I do to make it even slightly better? What are the right things to say and what should I not say? What are her triggers going to be and how do I process my own feelings about this person no longer being a part of our family?
These and so many other questions bombarded my mind. I began to seek clarity of my own and ask for some divine guidance in order to be there for her in the most positive way I could. By day four I had a plan and knew exactly what I needed to do in order to guide her through this very difficult and emotional time in her life. I put my five-step recovery plan into action!
1. Be An Amazing Listener
I knew that when she finally felt like talking about it and about him, I would be there to listen with an open mind and without judgement or heaping phrases on her like I would have or you should have. Pushing my idea of what she should have or could have or what I would have done on her would only do one thing: push her away and make her feel even more alone. I knew I needed to keep that language out of all conversations and instead share my heartbreak stories with her in a way that was not a comparison, yet opened up a dialogue about feelings and emotions that we have in common when it comes matters of the heart.
2. Read Her Body Language
Reading her body language was almost a full-time job the first few days. I would say subtle things like "Big Brother is on tonight" and wait for a reaction to gauge where she was at in terms of even being able to watch one of her favorite shows. Start with the small stuff and see how she responds was my strategy. By day three, I said I was going to the store and she finally asked if she could go with me. When she looked at me with those green eyes and sad face asking me if she had to change her clothes, I said 'no way.' Her getting out of the house was good enough for me. I looked over at my girl in her sweats, hair in a bun on top of her head with puffy little eyes and to me, she looked like an angel in the passenger seat on her way to first love heartbreak recovery.
3. No Ex-boyfriend Bashing
Her ex-boyfriend was a part of our family for almost four years, and we love his family. Just because he chose to move forward in his life in a way that did not include them as a couple does not erase any of the past four years. That is exactly what I wanted her to know. Did he handle it the best possible way? No, not really. But she was his first girlfriend, he is 22 and a senior in college in New York, and definitely enjoys a good party. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out he has very little experience at this sort of thing. Plus, I love this kid too. He is a great guy and someone I will always be grateful for my daughter sharing that time in her life with. They had an incredible first love experience together and even if they didn't, bashing the ex-boyfriend isn't an example of class or grace or love. Saying things like his loss would show a lack of emotional intelligence and isn't going to help anyone and besides, it is a loss for everyone involved. I wish him the best and hurt feelings on my part about him ditching my daughter doesn't change that. He did what he felt was best for him. Even though that does not make it easier or less painful for my daughter, it was important that I let her know that his decision was all about him, not her, and she needs to cherish the love and friendship they shared as she heals and moves into her own future in a self-loving and love preserving way.
4. Make Her Something Special
I knew her appetite was shot with her stomach in a knot and a huge lump of emotions in her throat that would not allow food to pass. But I also know how much she loves chocolate. I went to the store just to search for something special she might be able to tolerate. I settled on an old-fashioned favorite: homemade chocolate pudding. Roaming around the store I had to keep in mind that it had to be something easy to eat and not too heavy or require much effort. Remember, when you have a broken heart that bad, even chewing can be a chore! I saw a glimmer of joy on her face when I got home and showed her what I was going to make for her. An hour later she was checking the fridge to see if it was ready to eat. (My plan was working!)
5. Heartbreak Road Trip Time
We have always loved taking road trips together. Even when she was in elementary, middle and high school, we would drive the coast with a smoothie after school to talk about our day. When she was diagnosed with MS, we took her from the hospital on New Years Day to go see the ocean and even though that was not a road trip (unless pushing her wheelchair down the street counts), I knew getting her out to see that there was still beauty in the world, a whole life out there beyond her hospital bed, was going to be a big step in helping her recover in a positive way. This was the same sort of scenario. She was going to head up to Cal Poly in a few weeks to tour the campus for possible transfer next year, so my thought was why not go a few weeks early and take a last minute road trip? Getting her out and showing her that life still can be beautiful, fun and an adventure was the goal. Plus, I selfishly wanted to see her smile again, hear her laugh, and us on the road together usually did the trick. We started out camping in Pismo beach... in a tent... and I forgot the blow up mattress. The comedy of that entire night was priceless. She laughed so hard that I almost cried hearing it. The spark was slowly coming back and by the time we drove the coast up to Pebble Beach, visited Cal Poly, wine tasted in Paso Robles, listened to live music in an old saloon in Cambria, met a sweet old couple that gave her some great advice and ended up back home five days later (no more camping after night one), I could tell she was definitely on the mend.
Love songs come on in the car and I look over and see if she is OK. Sometimes she is just singing along and other times she looks at me like really and changes the station. She is back in the kitchen helping me cook and getting some of her appetite back. She is starting to be stronger about how to deal with communication between them and sees that maybe making her life so much about another person isn't the best move. She took all online classes to be able to travel to visit him on his schedule. Now she doesn't have classes to attend to help her engage with others on a collegiate level. She has so much time on her hands without talking to him, texting, Skyping and planning her life around him. So now what?
It is a time of growth and evolution that I remember well. The lessons she is learning and the wisdom and knowledge she is gaining are priceless, even if she doesn't understand that right now. She has to learn to navigate through her life in a new way, single and confident. It may be difficult right now, but it may also be the best thing to ever happen to her. We can never know what the future holds. They may still end up together, she may find someone that is a much better fit for her personality, she might meet him as she travels to Europe as a single, dynamic young woman in her early 20's. Who knows. Time, I always tell her, is the great revealer. It will reveal to you all that you need to know.
My final words for her after her first love heartbreak: Love yourself and be patient. It is time for you to live your life for you now. I am right here when you need me as I stand by you and watch you blossom as a single, amazing, loving, fun, smart, compassionate and incredibly lovable young woman.