How To Go On Dreaming When Your Heart is Broken

The following two tabs change content below.
Lisa is a freelance writer, consultant and life coach. She has her BA in English and Creative Writing from Princeton and her MPA from Harvard. Lisa recently finished the first draft of her book manuscript, Burning Down the House. Her dream is to publish this first book and teach the world how to discover their hidden joy. Her post day is Tuesday.
If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

Latest posts by Lisa Powell (see all)

I can never forget. That day is like yesterday.

I remember: When the phone rings in my dorm room early that spring morning, it is jarring, much too loud. I have slept less than two hours, up until 7 a.m. listening to Mozart’s Requiem, playing sad love songs for hours before that.

I thought it was the night I was going to die. Alan was still stalking me. The death threats had continued even after I’d had him arrested. He kept showing up on campus. It almost felt like fate. I didn’t know how to stop him. Yet I survived the night.

You didn’t. Eric

And when the phone rang in the morning, I could not answer it.

I Remember…

It rings again, five long rings until the machine kicks in, and then a third time. I lift myself from the bed, walk barefoot across the braided rug, belly full of dread. The messages on the machine are from my father, my sister, your sister.

Oh no. Oh no.

I dial your number. When I reach her, your sister is crying. I am crying too. Suddenly, there is no control.

And Then, It Began….
Until I lost you, I never knew grief could be so physical. I never knew it could knock me over like a ten foot wave, take me under, clawing for breath. Happy to be spit out on the shore again.

I never knew the dead could crash about in our living rooms, making themselves known by the motion of the curtains when the windows are closed, by the songs that were your songs playing on the radio and the static that interrupts the music, by the prickles crawling up my neck and the feeling of you.

I remember sitting slumped against the wall of the train station, hugging my knees and crying, waiting for the train to take me home. All around me, the motions of daily life. Do they see it? I wondered. Do they realize the magnitude of the sky?

I remember them, the people, students, professors, townspeople rushing by, rushing to class, to the grocery mart to buy milk or the newspaper, rushing to crew or lacrosse practice, or to the liquor store for a six-pack, in a buzz and flurry of frantic energy like so many June beetles hurling themselves against a window screen, with the lights on inside and every path colliding, and how it was all a blur, their hurry and rush and sense that business cannot wait.

It can wait.

It was 16 years ago when I lost Eric. We’d been friends for nine years, and he was the first person other than my family who I truly felt loved me unconditionally. We had danced on the edge of romance for a while, and I’d always dodged his advances when he tried to kiss me.

I wasn’t ready to be with Eric, yet.

But I’d had a vision of the two of us together, in the future, at his family’s vacation home in Maine, on the couch, surrounded by a tumbling pile of kids. Our kids. I felt certain that if we “ended up together” someday we would be incredibly happy.

Then, he died at age 23 of a congenital disorder of the connective tissues – Marfan’s syndrome – which weakened his aorta. It was so unfair.

I would never get to show him how much I truly loved him. We would never get to live a happy future together.

Life Can Be So Unfair

I was reminded of how much it hurt to lose Eric this past week, when I got some very sad news. My friend Keith Shapiro died in his sleep. He was only 31. He left behind a loving wife, Summer, and two young girls, Ella (nine years old) and Anna (two years old).

Keith and Summer Leigh Shapiro LOVEThis came out of nowhere.

Keith was happy, healthy, with so many friends who love him.

The swing dance community that we are a part of, with which Keith was heavily involved as a dancer, DJ and organizer, was just stunned by the loss. And everyone has rallied around Summer and the girls.

Right now it feels as though the pain will never end. I remember that feeling.

The Eulogy

I delivered a eulogy for Eric at his funeral, all those years ago, on behalf of all of Eric’s friends. I had spent the prior New Year’s Eve with Eric and some other friends at a party on Long Island. As the clock ticked closer to midnight, I went to look for Eric.

We were all inside watching the ball prepare to drop in Times Square, and Eric was nowhere to be found. Finally I found him on the back deck of the house, outside the sliding glass doors.

“Hey,” I said. “There you are. I’ve been looking for you! Why don’t you come inside and watch the ball drop with us?” Eric insisted on staying outside. He said that he was happy where he was, and that he was content to watch us from there, and just to know that we are happy.

I shared that story with everyone, adding that I felt that he was somewhere out there now, watching over us, wanting us to be happy. “He wouldn’t want us to be sad forever,” I said, “although it feels now as though the pain will never end.”

All these years later, I still read Eric’s horoscope every day when I read mine, and I still believe he’s out there watching over us and wants us to be happy.

Tell People You Love Them…
Because of Eric, I always make sure to tell the people I love how much I love them, because you never know how long we all have on this earth. I am gentler, kinder and more loving to both myself and others, as a result of knowing him.

My prayer for Summer and the girls is that the day will come when the happiness in their lives will outweigh this great sadness again, and when they will still feel Keith’s love, even as they live their own happy lives. I have to believe that he would want them to be happy, that he would want that for everyone, because that is who he was.

I know what it feels like to lose someone you love unexpectedly and unjustly, at a young age. Yet I cannot even imagine Summer’s grief, multiplied, by the years of love they shared and the family they created together.

My book, which is nearing 250 pages includes stories about Eric, and Alan, and how I found happiness again after such a sad time in my own life.  We go where life calls us to go.

How do we go on dreaming when our hearts are broken?

  • First we start by remembering to breathe.  Sometimes in heartache it feels like we cannot breathe.  A long, slow walk can help with this.  Go outdoors, take a walk.
  • Reach out to the people you are closest too.  Allow them to nurture you.  Don’t shut people out.  Allow them to come over, fix you some soup, do your laundry, wash your car – anything that needs doing while you nurture your broken heart.
  • Remember how strong you are as a person and that you have the ability to survive this.  Take it one day at a time.  In time you will be able to assess the painful experience and put it into greater perspective.
  • When you feel ready, start something new in your life – like a class at a local college, join a gym, learn something new like painting or making wine – as long as it is something that doesn’t bring up painful memories.  Maybe there is a big dream you have been putting off that you can investigate now?
  • If you feel you get stuck in your pain, seek help from others.
  • And finally remember that time helps us heal.  Give yourself plenty of time.  Be kind to yourself. Expect that you will have happy moments, sad moments and angry moments that unexpectedly show up in waves as you heal. Give your life the space it needs to heal.

And I promise you and I will heal.



  • Julita

    I lost my dearest childhood friend, Maciej Michniewicz, when he was 35 years old. I had no idea that I was never to see him again when I went to Paris on a spring break. I knew that he was so close to Paris, living in Germany. I offered to see him during my visit but at the last minute decided against it. how I wish now that I saw him that last time, in March 2004. I will never get a chance to talk to him, to laugh with him. yet I can still hear his voice calling his siter who was one of my dearest friends growing up. I remember us playing with puppies, or just talking when we were children. we used to send emails to each other every morning for so many years, while he lived in Sweden, Germany or Poland, and I lived here in the States which made my lonely existance so much more bearable. I so miss him, that sadness I feel when I think of him will never leave my heart. RIP my dear friend.

  • hey Niki I love you :) and am so sorry that this was the first thing you saw when you got home from Maine… Life *does* go on, as it should, as Eric and everyone who leaves us behind would want it to… I wrote this knowing that Summer (my friend who lost her husband) is still raw, too, with grief… hoping that someday she will find happiness again. I trust she will…

    Life is a total mystery and who knows why things unfold as they do. I’m just honored that I knew Eric, and Keith. And grateful to be alive. :)

    All my love,

  • nkoszalka

    Or maybe life is fair, maybe life is death and living….maybe it is all as the creator plans it. Maybe death should remain sacred. Spent time at the “family cabin” this past few weeks, it continues, so should we. Maybe we should take death as a tool for growth, not to dwell on. Dwelling has it’s time and place but there is a time to let go, to continue without the hypothetical. I am raw right now, this blog hurt me.
    -The Sister

  • Lisa, what a sad story. I am thinking of you all! It’s one day at a time. Missed you last Saturday.
    Blessings and hope, Laurie

  • that’s Ella (9) and Anna (2). I type too fast. :) Love to all.

  • @Remy thanks sweetheart and I’m so sorry for your loss! It is so sad to lose someone so young and so unexpectedly…. And thanks for your kind words. :)

    @Cath, I love this – “But these people give us such a great gift. They give us the gift of living in the now, an understanding to take advantage of each moment in life, and to tell those people we love that we love them, even if they don’t feel the same about us.”

    So true is this is just what Eric taught me… I see it now with Keith, how all of his friends are feeling the weight of his loss along with the preciousness of life and love… We are reminded again how precious life is.

    I ask that you please keep Summer and the girls, Ell and Anna, in your prayers… their loss is just staggering and they need all the love they can get right now.


  • Pingback: Tweets that mention » How To Go On Living When Your Heart is Broken, 8 Women Dream --

  • Catherine, Site Admin

    I refer to these moments as,”when the universe throws ice water on our souls.”

    It is a place you are transported to where days run into nights, then stretch out for what seems like years. You find yourself wondering what day it is, what week it is, what month it is, what year it is. You don’t remember what the sound of your own laughter feels like.

    It’s like your trapped in some long dark tunnel that never ends.

    It slowly gets better. Time heals all wounds, and you are able to go on, but you never forget.

    Ah yes, I know it too well . . . and I am so sorry Lisa.

    I often think how much my father would have adored my son and spoiled him rotten, how different my life would be if he was still alive, and how life would be for my mother – growing old with the love of her life.

    But you are right. Life is unfair.

    Sometimes we don’t get to be with our soul mates, sometimes we don’t get to be with a parent, sister, brother, mother.

    But these people give us such a great gift. They give us the gift of living in the now, an understanding to take advantage of each moment in life, and to tell those people we love that we love them, even if they don’t feel the same about us.

    We enjoy every moment with our children, our families, hell, even our pets. We take moments to appreciate roses, smell redwood trees, flirt with the checkout clerk at the store, because we get that each moment is such a rare gift and it can all change in an instant.

    We appreciate life – what a gift it is, and the people who are in it with us.

    That is the legacy they leave us with, and we must go out into the world and show those who don’t know that life is a precious gift, and to not waste one moment of it.

    Because we get it. Someone who loved us taught us this.

    Love, Catherine

  • Remy G

    I lost one of my dearest friends a few years ago – he was 37. It was a case of an accidental mix of prescriptions and he went to bed and died in his sleep. It is still painful to even think about, but over time I know I’ll have to sort it out. I’m really sorry Lis. Cling to your friends during this time. There is comfort in that support. Love to you. Rem