The Day I Could Not Make It Down the Stairs or Why I’m So Wise (sometimes)

Wisdom is nothing more than healed pain. Robert Gary Lee


The Day I Could Not Make it Down the Stairs


One day,

in the middle of my divorce,

I started to walk down the stairs,

from my bedroom

to the first floor.

It started out like any other

trip down the stairs,

with purpose and rhythm.

Suddenly, at about step 6, a memory hit my heart,

hit it hard, like an arrow in

The Last of the Mohicans,

and I fell to the ground,

but not in some dramatic or painful way.

I fell in slow motion, or rather,

I sat down, or crumpled.

I sat on the stairs of the house

that held us all,

that loved us all,

when we thought it would last forever.

My mouth fell open,

silent wails fell out,

my hand moved up to cover the cries,

and I shook from the loss

and the hit to my heart,

from the exhaustion of extrication

from a lengthy and magical dream,

from sadness.

and after a long time there,

I stood up, blew my nose,

and went on living again.

by Kimberly Graham, copyright 2012

When you’re in the storm of divorce or a relationship ending, pain can hit you at any moment.  That day, I felt ok until a poignant memory came out of nowhere.  One second I was Tiggerifically tra-la-la-ing down the stairs and the next second I sat, crumpled and crying, in the middle of the staircase.

I’d love to give you a nice long list of what to do when grief assaults you like that, but there are only two things that have ever helped me:  breathing and letting go.

Breathing, that’s fairly easy. I bet you’re doing it right now.  (Ok, couldn’t resist.)  When I’ve been in distress, breathing and keeping my focus on the breath as much as possible have made me feel more grounded and safe again.

Letting go, now that’s trickier, I admit. One of my favorite visualizations is this:  Closing my eyes and breathing, I imagine a clear blue sky above my head.  Maintaining normal breathing, I visualize large puffy white clouds slowly drift across the sky.  As thoughts come to me, I see words representing the thoughts on the clouds, like “worry” or the more mundane like “grocery store,” whatever it is.

I just watch and breathe as the clouds and thoughts pass by above my head.  Letting them go, watching them go.

Divorce is sometimes the source of jokes in our culture, but divorce is always near the very top of the “life’s greatest stressors” list.  It’s great to have a sense of humor but anyone who has been through divorce knows there are lots of days when you can’t find your laughter.

When it’s not joked about, it’s dealt with sometimes in ways that focus on revenge, anger or grudges, rather than compassion, healing and moving forward.  While I wish I could say I always behaved like some enlightened goddess, that was far from the truth.  I had moments of anger, moments of sorrow, moments I wanted to lash out.

And then moments of feeling crushed and full of grief.

Like the day I could not make it down the stairs, there will be days when you will stop dead in your tracks, and pain and sorrow will come to you.  It’s ok.  The more you resist pain and sorrow, the longer they remain.

By choosing to be with the pain, accept the pain, and to be mindful of it, I could move through it faster and with less suffering than I otherwise might have.  It’s ironic and true that diving into uncomfortable feelings brings us to the other side faster and more whole than when we try everything we can to avoid them.

Many years after my divorce, I still have moments, though rare, when a memory hits my heart and takes my breath away for a second or two.  Sometimes the memory makes me cry.  Sometimes it makes me laugh.  I’m thankful for those memories.

Divorce can not take them.  Those times really happened and they were really ours and they were really beautiful and complex.

I talk almost daily with people who are in the process of divorce.  Sometimes they’ll say that things are particularly tough at the moment.  And I’ll say something to help them move through the pain.  And then they’ll ask me how I got so wise.  “I’ve been there,” I’ll say.  And wisdom is just healed pain.