How to Mend a Broken Heart

This week I’m delighted to feature a guest post from psychotherapist and author Christine Webber.  If you have angina, talk to your doctor, but if your heart’s broken, you need Christine’s wisdom.

Chris WebberIs there a worse pain in the world than heart-break? I don’t think so.

It can happen if you’re made redundant. Or if a parent or partner dies. But most of us associate it with being dumped. And that is one of life’s truly devastating losses.

You lose your partner. Your investment in the past and future. Your certainty about who you spend Sundays with. And – most distressing of all – you can feel that you’ve lost your judgement too.

As one heartbroken client of mine said: ‘I picked him. Then I put up with all sorts of awful things when we were together – but soldiered on because of our children. Now I wonder what on earth I was thinking when I got together with him in the first place.’

So what can you do to get over your broken heart?

First of all, don’t make things worse than they already are by assuming that life is going to be hateful for ever.

Often, when people are heart-broken they say: ‘I feel rejected, and miserable and low …’ This is entirely logical, and understandable.

But then they compound their distress by saying something illogical like: ‘And no one else will ever love me again, and life will be total hell from now on.’

However, without a crystal ball, they can’t possibly know  that!

broken heart

So, no matter how hurt you are, try to confine your focus to what’s happening now, rather than making painful assumptions about your future.

Secondly, accept that the relationship is totally over. It’s agony acknowledging that your partner has really gone for good – but it’s easier in the long run than living in hope that he or she will have a change of heart.

Another thing you need to accept is that you may never understand why you’ve been dumped. Often people insist that they can’t move on till they know for sure what went wrong. This is a waste of time and energy. Vast numbers of individuals never feel satisfied with the reasons their ex gives them for wanting out. So the sooner you give up on getting a plausible explanation the better.

Next – no matter what the temptation – don’t try to be pals with your former partner. He or she may try to persuade you to stay friends, in an attempt to lessen their own guilt. But this is unlikely to benefit you. You’ve got friends. You wanted your partner to fulfil a totally different role. In time, perhaps you will be able to restore some sort of friendship – especially if you share children – but not now.

Above all, NEVER HAVE SEX WITH YOUR EX. Afterwards, you’ll feel more lonely and wretched than ever.

Of course your ex-partner may hint that he or she has made a terrible mistake. If that happens, you should talk together, have dinner, talk some more …  But don’t let this person join you in bed unless the relationship is fully back on track.

Finally, write a list of things about your ex that you don’t miss. This is very therapeutic. Carry it with you at all times and add to it every time you think of another negative aspect of this person who has hurt you so much.

One day, like the characters in One Night at the Jacaranda, you’ll realise that you’re ready to start dating again, and that you’ve got a whole lot of living to do yet. I can’t promise you when that will be, but it will happen.

Christine Webber is a psychotherapist who specialises in sex and relationship problems, and the author of How To Mend A Broken Heart.

10 Ingredients for a Perfect Funeral

I don’t like funerals.  They mean the loss of family, friends, or patients, none of which I welcome.  But sometimes a send-off works out really well.  Here’s how we did it.

1. Great weather helps.  Rain is all very well for cemeteries in TV thrillers, but in real life you don’t want frizzy hair, steamed-up glasses, or trench foot while standing at the graveside.  Result # 1: the weather turned out to be amazingly sunny for the end of winter.

2. Black is drearily Victorian, and charcoal is frankly a cop-out. When in black, I look so bad I may as well be dead already, so I was only too pleased to comply with my mother’s wishes: wear bright colours.

3. A good turn-out.  Funerals are frankly dismal when it’s just five people rattling around a crematorium.  I’m so pleased I went through her entire address book.

address book

4. The major coup?  Getting a good spot in the cemetery.  Not just near the parking and the tap, but a prime plot right next to Granny’s grave!  I was bursting to share the news with my mother, who was sure to be as excited as me. Unfortunately it was a little late for that.

5. A smidgeon of ceremony.  In this case, two bearded priests with what looked like saucepans on their heads, plus a bit of incense, a lot of chanting, and the sign of the cross made from right to left.  It was all Greek to me. Still, that’s what you get in a Greek Orthodox church.icon

6. An uplifting venue.  Outside, it looked a nuclear bunker.  Inside, the walls were covered in icons.

7. A personal touch, in this case The Grandmother Tree, a moving poem written and recited by one of her grandsons.

8. A hint of altruism.  What’s the point of a mountain of blooms or the word MUM spelled out in white chrysanths?  Whether it’s in a newspaper announcement or an email to friends, it’s getting more common to ask for charitable donations in lieu of flowers.

9. Peace.  Memorable punch-ups sometimes break out at weddings, but funerals should be more decorous.  I’m especially grateful to my husband and ex-husband who hadn’t met until the day itself, and were both charm personified.

10. Light refreshments at home afterwards, surrounded by all the things that illustrated my mother’s life: the books she had written, photos of her grandsons, and above all her exuberant paintings of cats and dogs, hanging in haphazard fashion on the walls of the flat where nothing matched.  She had meant to rehang some paintings and replace others, but no lifetime, however long, is enough to finish everything.

cats-rue-des-chats (1)

Rue des Chats

A funeral shouldn’t be an occasion of pain and regret.   It should reflect the person’s life.  I feel fortunate that my mother’s death came at the end of nearly 90 years lived well, and creatively.  How much harder it is for those who lose someone suddenly, prematurely, or violently.

Learning to be Sick in Washington, DC

When my mother went to live in Washington, DC, in the 1960s, she discovered that being ill there was not like being ill in her home town of Alexandria, Egypt, where everyone fussed over her and soon made her feel better.  Here’s one of her stories.

“When will Dr Smarts be able to come and see me?” I asked the receptionist who’d answered the phone.  His name had been given to me by a friend.

The receptionist laughed. “Come and see you?”

“I have a sore throat and a temperature, my nose is stuffed up, and I can’t taste food.”

“I have a cancellation for 3pm tomorrow. Take two aspirins, drink plenty of fluids, and we’ll see you then.”

“Doesn’t Dr Smarts make house calls?”

“Not unless you’re in your 80s.  Even then, he prefers to see patients in the hospital.”

Hospital? I shuddered.

I called the school where I taught to say I was ill and wouldn’t be in. The secretary was understanding.  “There’s a virus going round.  Drink plenty of fluids.”  What was a virus? No Alexandrian had ever mentioned the word ‘virus’.

It was a miserable day spent alone.  My friends were either at work or otherwise engaged.  The only visitor I had all day was the building engineer who came to check the air conditioning.

Polish TV

But there was American TV, to which I had quickly become addicted. Alas, the early afternoon movie was an old one, Suez, and it made me homesick for Egypt.  When I saw all that sand and all those familiar persistent flies, I burst into tears.

Where was Nagibeh, our old housekeeper, to sit in my room till I fell asleep, and my little sister’s nanny, the fat Dia with her rosary and fervent prayers? Where was my mother to read me stories? Where was the kind Greek doctor who puffed his way up the stairs and who made me feel better even as he blew smoke rings into my face?

The following morning my temperature was up.  Although it was a warm September day, I was shivery.  I wrapped up as for a polar expedition and walked the one block to Dr Smarts’ office.  How extraordinary that he did not make house calls, and me so nearby too.

Dr Smarts was unimpressed with my symptoms. So I coughed over him and exaggerated my aches and pains. I did such a good job that he decided to run some tests.  He also wanted to know the medical history of every member of my family.  He was beginning to get on my nerves.  All I probably had was a bad case of la grippe, which some nasty-tasting medicine would cure in no time.  And here he was asking me about my family.

Sick as I was, I gave him a colourful account of being ill in Egypt.  Egypt? He wasn’t quite sure where it was. I even told him about the time I was so sick with indigestion, Father called the doctor in the middle of the night. I’d eaten a whole kilo of sudanis, delicious peanuts bought off a street vendor, and had thrown up 10 times.  Nagibeh had cleaned the carpet with savon de Marseille.  Dr Smarts had never heard of savon de Marseille.  His general knowledge was pitiful.

“Couldn’t you have just put the carpet in the washing machine?”

To give him credit, Dr Smarts was a good listener and jotted down everything I said.  No doctor I knew ever wrote anything except prescriptions.

“What do you normally eat during the day?” he asked.

“I have an English breakfast: eggs, bacon, toast, coffee.”

“Lunch?”

“Well, first there’s elevenses.”

“What’s elevenses?”

Ignoramus, I thought.  “It’s a mid-morning snack” I explained patiently. “I have hot cocoa and biscuits.”

“How many biscuits?”

“In our culture it’s considered rude to count what one eats.  However, if they’re chocolate, most of the box.”

“Lunch?”

“Where I teach, lunch is usually cold cuts and salad.  I’m not fond of lettuce.  I’m not a rabbit. But at 3pm before I pick my daughter up from her school, I have a chili hot dog at People’s Drug Store.  My main meal is dinner: chicken or meat, potatoes, spinach, a banana. No dessert. But sometimes before bed I have a tuna sandwich with mayonnaise.”

The doctor put his pen down and looked at me. “It’s a wonder you’re not the size of a house.”

“I ate much more in Alexandria” I replied hotly.  “My father and grandmother ate like horses, and weren’t fat at all. My mother hardly ate a thing and was always ill.”  Dr Smarts looked shaken.

“You know, Dr Smarts, in Alexandria they say ‘Eat, eat, bil hana wal shifa.’  That means with pleasure and good health.  We also say ‘Bon appetit.’ And doctors all make house calls.”

“We used to make house calls too.” He sounded wistful.  “Anyway, you’ll be fine.”

“What about a prescription?”

“Just drink plenty of fluids and take aspirin.”

I bundled up again under the amused eye of the receptionist.

As I walked home, I thought of what I’d write for La Reforme Illustrée, our friendly Alexandria Sunday paper. No house calls, no prescription, counting biscuits! How uncivilised.

I resolved never to be sick in Washington, DC, and you know what?  I never was.

© Jacqueline Cooper