January 15, 2014

Broken Glass & the Silence Between Words. ~ Rachael Anne Hetrick

My father’s illness and passing, was not the most difficult challenge I faced during that time.

My greatest adversity was always my own fear and my own misunderstanding of my emotions. For so much of my life, I was afraid.

He first fell ill in 1994 when I was 12 years old, and from that point on, I felt like everything had the potential to drastically and suddenly change for the worse. He was my perfectly healthy hero one day, and in the ICU on life support the next. The emotional shock of this sudden change rocked me psychologically.

Fifteen years later, I realized I had suffered from a form of PTSD. It kept me from getting close to people, trusting that others wouldn’t leave and investing in my own future, because it all seemed so unsure. I had many friendships, but they were fleeting. I had many relationships, also fleeting. I had many jobs, also fleeting.

I dropped out of high school and failed at my attempts to go to college. I even failed at marriage by the age of 25. I kept everything temporary and changed it before it had the chance to hurt me.

My father’s struggle did not end until 2010, and I did not face my darkest demons until the last three years of his life.

Grief is a strange emotion. It seems that your heart is both breaking and healing with every wave, and the pain is excruciating and beautiful at once. For me, there was a realization that life has a beginning and an end, and in between the time is undetermined—but during that time, we have the opportunity to create our legacy.

I wanted to create my legacy, but to do that I had to figure out who I was. In order to figure out who I was, I had to travel to the depths of my own psyche and risk not coming back.

Feeling those dark emotions was the most frightening thing I have ever faced, but I came back stronger and more capable than ever before. Armed with a new mantra:

In order to get through life, you must let it move through you. You must act as a filter and release the negativity, while holding onto every ounce of beauty you can.

Through this change in perspective and soul searching, I overcame my fears and pushed myself to be grateful for what I had. I found a way to believe in my own potential and put forth the effort to cultivate it. Somehow, I even found joy in his passing.

I had spent most of my life talking, and as I faced these fears, I fell into a quiet state of reflection and spent a few years just listening. Listening to the sound of my own breaths, to the long and final beep of my father’s heart monitor, to my son’s infectious laughter and, finally, to the silence between the words.

I discovered something beautiful among us: a single common thread tying us all together.

I found comfort in knowing we all experience grief at some point in life. I discovered how to surround myself with universal love and realized I was never truly alone. Some people call this God, and that’s okay with me. Whatever it is, I’m grateful for it.

My father’s life has empowered me to create my own legacy through dedicating myself to things bigger than myself, such as my family, community, humanity and universal love and compassion. Through these endeavors, happiness found me, and scraped me off the bottom of a dry well of self-pity.

I don’t see how I could ever go back to living life as I did before. I get it now. There is so much good to come, so many joys and sorrows to be had. I welcome all the lessons and personal growth they bring with them.

I know now, that from even the most painful events in life, something beautiful rises from the rubble. I also know that I have the power to choose to see that beauty, or to hide from it and let fear win.

Do you know what I have to say to that fear? Bring it on.

Meditate Over the Glass Already Broken

“I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.”

– Mark Epstein

I know now that there is nothing permanent in life, except for love; which lives on in those you leave behind. That said, I’m going to love it all, every second of every day with great abandon. Fear cannot break me, for I am already broken, but I am still whole.

I take the risks now to be close to people, and sometimes they still leave, but that is okay. It does not make me any less whole. I now have the confidence to know that those who remain, will remain even in death, and truly love and accept me for who I am.

My father is with me now more than ever.

I leave you with an excerpt from my journal dated a year before his passing. It resonates deeply with me today, and I hope this inspires you to keep moving forward through your own struggles and know that you are never alone.

I will mostly likely be the one with him when he goes, and inside I am freaking the f*** out. We’ve been dangerously close these past few months to where I have had to resuscitate him. I have gotten a taste of the impending grief, blanketed in fear.

Inside, I am hoping for someone to be there for me when he goes. I keep dating and dating, hoping to find someone in time to hold me when he dies. But no one can do it. No one can just wrap their arms around me and make everything okay, not like my daddy could. Part of me knows I have to go this alone, that I have to find my own strength in order to conclude this lesson, but I am so scared.

It’s a tumultuous time in my life right now. It feels like a painful rebirth. Like I am laboring and fighting waves of debilitating contractions, knowing it must happen, knowing it will hurt, and knowing that it is, in and of itself, beautiful. And when he dies, I will start to push and scream with all of my might to get through it. And maybe in this rebirth of mine I will become more cognizant of this life. Maybe I will finally be awake to what it is to live.


To think solely of self-preservation,
to guard ourselves against all potential pain,
leads us to a life of cowardice,
a life unfulfilled.
Sometimes one must take risks,
be vulnerable,
be willing to lose part of oneself,
in order to become whole.


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Assistant Editor: Michelle Margaret

Photo: elephant archives


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Rachael Hetrick