Mental Health

Remembering the Sweetness at the Bitter End | by Crystal Jackson | Fearless She Wrote | Dec, 2021

How to honor love when the relationship ends

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

I’m crying, and I really wish I’d stop. I don’t have to look at a calendar to know exactly how many months have passed since the end, but part of me feels a deep sense of shame that I can still feel this much grief so long after it’s over. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Our feelings don’t end tidily when our relationships do. They endure, and so must we.

Today, I lean a little further into compassion and away from shame. I know it’s a beautiful thing to love as strongly as I do, however imperfectly I do it. It doesn’t feel beautiful when tears are ruining both my makeup and my carefully constructed composure. It feels raw and a little ugly.

I know my grief is exacerbated by a bitter ending, and it takes effort to remind myself of the sweetness inside the experience. It’s there. I remember it. Those moments of perfect joy now cast a shadow I’m having to learn to live inside.

I’m trying to honor both the love I feel and the relationship we had, and to start, I have to address the grief. I’m going to have to feel the full weight of it if I ever want to lay down that burden and stop carrying it around. Months of trauma therapy have taught me that we cannot avoid our pain if we ever want to heal. Instead, grief is a riptide, and we have to surrender, trusting that we will eventually be carried safely to shore.

There is no timeline, no expiration date to grief. It takes what time it takes, and no amount of wishing it gone will make it so. It’s funny how we can feel like we’ve moved on when we’re hit with the same old pain reminding us it hasn’t yet left the building. Feeling the pain is hard, but it’s also necessary. Only when we fully feel it will it finally go.

No relationship is all bad, or we wouldn’t have found ourselves inside them. The one I grieve was filled with so much love and joy. For a little while, I had everything I ever wanted and more than I ever thought I’d have. My mind wants to tilt toward that ending and cut myself against the loss, but I’m looking for balance instead. It’s time to look for the love and the beautiful memories and stop counting up all the times we felt unloved, unappreciated, or unworthy.

For a little while, I felt perfectly safe and cared for. I felt seen in a way I haven’t often experienced. I felt attraction and passion, chemistry, and so much love. I didn’t think he was perfect, but I loved his imperfections. It made him real and warm and beautiful. I reach for that balance when I want to remember an end that broke my heart but brought him relief.

The trouble with a bitter end is that we can’t always make it right. We can’t always undo the damage however unintentional it may have been. I’m not saying we shouldn’t apologize if we were in the wrong. We absolutely should. But as much as we want the other person to gift us a sense of closure, it’s something only we can grant ourselves.

We have to make peace with the fact that we can love people who won’t love us back. We can make peace with the fact that some people were only meant to stay in our lives for a season. If we can find peace, we just might find closure inside of it.

I learned so much from that relationship. I learned that I could never love someone else enough to make up for a lack of love. I learned that I had more triggers from past trauma than I ever knew. I learned how to more effectively communicate and how to fight fair. I learned that I could love someone to the very best of my ability and it still not be what they want or need. I learned that I could survive losing this person I loved, even though I wasn’t sure I could.

There are so many lessons in loves that we lose. There’s an opportunity to learn more about who we are, how we love, how we want to be loved, and how we exist inside relationships. I can see things I would have done better or differently with the benefit of therapy and hindsight. I can’t change the past, but I can certainly learn to do better going forward.

I’m still grieving, and some days are worse than others. I wonder sometimes if I’m still experiencing grief from the relationship or if I’m grieving the lost dreams I built inside of it. Sometimes, I’m sure my grief stems from that feeling of inadequacy that comes when the person we choose to love doesn’t return our feelings. How much of my relationship grief is tied in with that childhood feeling of unworthiness? Maybe more of it than I’ll ever know.

Part of my healing has involved sending love out. I don’t wish him anything but happiness. I still want the best for him and still believe in his innate goodness. For a little while, he was my favorite human being other than my children. I remember that, and I send love out.

I’m also letting my heart heal in the open. The next lover doesn’t get my dark and shuttered heart but a fearlessly open one. I have loved well, even if I have sometimes chosen those who did not feel the same. I know that I will love again, and it won’t be a watered-down, leftover version of love. It will be as strong and powerful as any other.

Endings are often bittersweet, but do we really savor the sweetness at all? I wonder. After choking on the bitterness and trying to ignore waves of grief, I’m softening. Beautiful love stories don’t always end in diamond rings and an exchange of promises to love, honor, and cherish. Sometimes, they end in tears with both people choosing to love and honor themselves.


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