Heartbreak Hotel: Permission to Mourn

If the Heartbreak Hotel were a real place, the cubbyhole for keys behind the registration desk would be empty, and a sign would be posted: No Vacancies. Suffice it to say that lately I’ve been hearing some painful of tales of woe.

To my friends who have been either on the receiving or the giving end of a vigorous spring cleaning (and truth to tell, it is most often the case that we find ourselves using both ends of the broom at once): Please give yourselves permission to mourn.

It goes without saying that heartbreak makes you sad. What must be said, though, is that that is not only good, but necessary. It is a shock to the system to be deprived of the comfort and company of a person you once loved, and in whose life you were entangled and entwined. If it is over, there is probably good reason. You just might not remember exactly what that reason is. It is one of the heart’s many perverse instincts to dwell on the good, and forget the bad, when it is bereft--perhaps it is the way the heart reminds you that you were not entirely crazy in having once chosen that person to love.

We don’t give ourselves, or one another, enough time to go through the withdrawal and sadness of losing love. We seem also to have forgotten about being sad altogether, resorting instead (perhaps defensively?) to the more clinical language of depression. After a while, if sadness becomes a way of life, you have probably tripped into that territory. That doesn’t happen too often. But the plunge into listless torpor and sudden, surprising tears can be terrifying enough. 

Sadness is a vital part of living. Sadness holds the traces of love. Let yourself dwell in it. Grief--good grief--is a way of honoring what was good, and real, and wonderful. It is a way of respecting your heart’s need to heal. Soak in the tub. Enjoy the quiet, clean sanctity of your rooms. Wrap yourself in warm blankets. Gaze at the stars. Have a glass of wine. Take long walks. Or stare at the walls, lost in thought. Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself.

Mourning is a way of creating the time to ponder what went wrong, what you didn’t get, what you want, and why. I recently came across something the French scientist Louis Pasteur said in 1854: “in the field of observation, chance favours only the prepared mind.” This struck me as true in human relations as it is in laboratory explorations; it is behind what we mean when we say someone is again ready to fall in love, ready to meet a new person. Mourning creates the time and mental space to think things over.

At this point in my life, I want to be around those who enhance life. Some people find me to be self-contained, and self-sufficient, and sometimes those descriptions are hurled at me (and like-minded others) as an accusation. I ask you, though: is “out of control” a compliment? Is it wrong to be able to stand on your own two feet, in charge of your life, wanting a partner, rather than a millstone, hugging your neck? Self-contained has a lovely ring, I’ve decided; it has manners, and thoughtfulness, and restraint, and discernment. It also has hinges, a lid, a spout, or a handle--all manner of ways to connect or attach or spill open--should the right person have the right touch. Someone will.

Mourning is a way of checking out of the brimming wonder of life. Once you find yourself alive to it again, you can open yourself up to the possibility--and the miracle--of falling in love. But if you don’t take the time to mourn, you might just find yourself back at the front desk of the heartbreak hotel a bit sooner than you should.


Deana Sidney said...

How beautifully written, Dominique, I hope your friends read this and take comfort. It is a cycle that needs to be played out to heal, isn't it? So many want to jump past the dark patches and as you so brilliantly put it, keep ending up back at that hotel. Birth, death and transformation. In love and in life we must cultivate ourselves as we do our gardens and trust in the healing winter that feeds the vigorous vibrant growth of spring. It gives us back our eyes to see 'the brimming wonder of life' and prepares us to fill or be filled with love.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Lovely and wise.

Vava (aka Virginia) said...

I would send a heart broken friend to read this post. Just lovely...

Karena said...


So very true, we need to allow for sadness and mourning, it does not always mean depression. Stages of emotion are a part of our lives.

Art by Karena

Dumbwit Tellher said...

You are an angel. Having lost my mother in Jan. & my mother-in-law in March, this was a tremendously important read. My goal is to pass it on to others that are mourning. like you reach out to others when at times of sadness feel so alone. Thank you from the bottom of my hearts.


Miss Jones said...

So brilliantly crafted and worded. Thank you for the gift of your expression. Blessings!

JoAnn said...

Thank you for this lovely reminder.....

My Dog-Eared Pages said...

I just loved this and I am forwarding on to many dear friends right this minute. Our moments of mourning are as poignant as the moments we find ourselves again. A life enhancing post!

home before dark said...

I so agree with the sentiments and concur with praise for the prose. Mourning is a the way we heal ourselves. I have to accept it as a form of grace.

cvanlang said...

Thank you for spilling it out so eloquently- that slow process of mourning that reinvents itself every time we go through it.

Janet Dunphy said...

Dominique, I absolutely love your new blog site and this passage in particular. I lost my entire home to a fire two years ago and have been going through the grieving process and helping my children to work through their own as well. We lost everything in the fire. Two of my favorite books were Around the house..and Paths of Desire. They were among the very first books I replaced. I think Around the house had lessons in grieving as well and chief among them was to allow yourself the freedom to do it at your individual pace. I found such peace in re- reading it, albeit for different reasons the second time.I mourn the loss of the home I spent years building and the loss of my babies touchstones and important momentos. The sadness that comes in waves and that I have allowed to wash over me, is actually more meaningful and poignant because of the lessons you've shared.I know the sadness is just my way of honoring our memories and the love I poured into each nook of that beautiful old home. I looked forward each month to your editorial in House and Garden and I am delighted I found your site. Thank you for sharing your gift with us.

here I am! said...

""and sadness of losing love. We seem also to have forgotten about being sad altogether, resorting instead (perhaps defensively?) to the more clinical language of depression.""

I was sad and they did call it depression. I said NO I am sad!
MLK said "honoring suffering is redemptive".
thank you for you thoughtful post.

Dominique said...

Dear Janet Dunphy,
What a terrible thing, to lose your house, and those souvenirs of babyhood--and motherhood--to fire. I'm deeply honored that you replaced my books; you can't imagine how much that means. If you would email my publishers with your new address (you can find contact information on my website under my name) I would like to send you a copy of my new book Slow Love. Many thanks for your kind and generous words.

And to Dumbwit Tellher (!) I will visit the memory of my own cherished mother-in-law's passing--I never could quite consider her an "ex"-- many years ago, by reading through old letters on Mother's Day. I'm so glad I kept them.

Thank you all for writing. d

Darci said...

Your words are wise and timely and incredibly eloquent. I'm mourning a big 'ol heartbreak right now, and the Universe keeps reaching out to me, telling me that it's okay to mourn. It's better to go through than to get stuck in it. I needed to remember that.

Thank you, Dominique.

Tricia O'Brien said...

Thanks for your kind words. It is true, and loss can even just be the fear of change....to something other than what we know. We forget that it is ok to be sad and to actually take the time to recover...whatever it may be.
Thanks again,
from cafetrix

shellie said...

Dr. Seuss advised "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." I read this on a blog recently... it was used in relationship to the bloggers break up...hopefully that is where we all end when we look back. Thanks for your words...it seems i also know a lot of people currently spring cleaning their relationships.

Anonymous said...

Endings are difficult if something valued is lost and just today, my job ended. A job is somewhat of an identity and while it is nothing compared to losing a home or a love, it is a loss. Your words are comfort. I applaud your self sufficiency and self containment. They are traits to strive for in life as long as they are not a barrier to the vulnerability that opening oneself to love often brings.

Anonymous said...

Your words echo in my mind and express the feelings in my heart. I've just gone through a divorce - it's only been a week since the papers were signed, only a few months since he left to be with another. I realized that I had been in mourning for the loss of this imperfect relationship and was oddly fixated on what was good and right about it forgetting the turmoil that led up to the vitriol and hiring lawyers. During this time and the weeks/months preceding the divorce, I have reflected on the qualities that make me me. I am introspective, deliberate and, yes, self-contained. And I feel it has been these qualities that have provided balance when my marriage was toppling.

It is as if you reached into my mind and translated my feelings. Thank you for a truly lovely post. Anna

alice said...

I happen to have logged onto this blog on a day when I can say I have turned the corner onto a new road. The journey hasn't been easy, and I have experienced the full range of emotions after my 22 year old marriage exploded and left our little family distraught (except for the husband) of course. Major Pain. Lots of crying --anywhere and everywhere.... tears plentiful enough to fill the pool I swam in to let off steam.....to think... and mourn...
Tonite, which is just about two and a half years after the divorce, I found my wounded little family together, at a restaurant, in celebration of our son who just returned from a 2 week trip to Poland and Israel. This was the basically the first time my ex and I have been in earshot of each other, let alone at a restaurant seated across from one another.
Throughout these years, I have been so very lonely, but I have also been very gentle with myself. I took the time to mourn (not like I felt I was given a choice) but now, I want to move on. It is time. It feels right. I am ready, willing and able to finally let go and allow my life to unfold into something different which will be more meaningful every way possible.

Anonymous said...

"grief is a way of honoring what was/is good" thank you. it's what I can hold on to when everything else is gone. it's what actually remains and can stand alongside the memories in my heart.

thank you again. my husband was killed three years ago and I will always honor him with my grief as well as my joy and appreciation of being alive.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful... and so wise.
Thank you.
I work with those who are dying and their families and loved ones each day. Your words make present the feelings of sadness we are with during the difficult times of loss.

Bless you.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dominique (and everyone),

Your lovely post reminds me of a quote I love by Ram Dass who says: "There is a grief that occurs when who you thought you were starts to disappear."

Letting go. Those two words again.

One of my readers pointed me in the direction of your blog. Surrounded by flowers, one cannot help but slow down and feel immediately refreshed! Thank you for creating such a beautiful space. As someone who tunes into the energy of spaces, it means a lot! Your site is simply divine.

I too write about slowing down as it relates to clearing and cultivating a clear (and beautiful) home and spacious life.

Your Heartbreak Hotel piece reminds me of a couple of posts I wrote recently: "Farewell Fridge," and "Lost and Found in Letting Go."

I invite you all to stop by my "blog home" sometime for more soulful nourishment. The door is always open and I love knowing you stopped by! http://www.spaceclear.com/blog/.

Jasmine Lamb said...

Allowing grief to unfold and express itself and move in and out of our cells is life coming into being. I've been reading this poem all week by Wendell Berry. I posted it on my blog a few days ago. Here it is for all of you (not sure how to fix the line breaks in this comment form. you can see it with correct spacing here: http://allislistening.com/?p=369)

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
- Wendell Berry

Unknown said...

"Sadness is a vital part of living. Sadness holds the traces of love."



nancymcc said...

How did you know how much I needed to hear these words? Thank you.

Scribbler said...

Yours is my favorite blog.


24 Corners said...

Dearest Dominique...I am so happy to have discovered your blog through Willow Decor, I've miss your editorials very much and feel a sense of relief right now to have *heard your voice* again.
Having recently lost someone very dear in a tragic way your post moved me greatly and was very up-lifting. Thank you...
Many blessings...

Unknown said...

Loss...such a soulful exchange. It connects us all on so many levels and brings perspective to the mindful nuances of life that can offer peace and comfort in such turbulent times.

After 12 years of helping to care for my Grandmother who had Alzheimer's, the grace she showed in the face of what was happening to her...it was life changing for me. She was my heart and inspired a fire within my spirit like no other.

Within a span of two years I lost my Father, almost lost my Mother, Grandmother (my heart) passed on Christmas Eve and a few days later my other Grandmother left us...but through this loss I learned the power of the moment and the importance of grieving. I remembered the lessons Grandmother shared through her own ordeal with Alzheimer's...keep moving forward, embrace the sadness, choose to be happy anyway and savor the simple things.

Thank you so much for your words of encouragement...


vicki archer said...

So well said. Mourning is just as important as our other emotions, xv

Anonymous said...

That made so much sense to me... it's a pity when you feel heartbroken that all sane thoughts elude you completely!
I will attempt to pass on your wise observations to my dear heartbroken friend.

pve design said...

You must read the essay by Edmund N.Carpenter, age 17 - titled "Before I die"- and he writes, "As in the case of love, no man has lived until he felt true sorrow."
Please read it, I think you will enjoy it and find it fascinating and insightful.
Independence comes from mourning, from sorrow and from friendship.

Beth said...


Sally@DivineDistractions said...

Happily, I'm not grieving at this point in my life, but I certainly value that transitional time when it is necessary to take really good care of oneself. I'm sending this post to my friend who is a grief counselor. I think she will pass it on to many people that she works with. A very insightful post!

just june said...

hello dominique,
saw you this morning on cnn and was so moved by your honesty. i love you
im a comedian, i know "tears of a clown".i was married 18 yrs ,we had 2 kids,and he walked out on me.the pain i was in.
i have what i call the 3 day rule, like you,i'll get in my pjs. get in bed, and mourn for 3 days.then i make myself get up, otherwise i may never get up.just like a cold, if its bad after 3 days you can have a serious problem.
today at 56,6 grands. when it comes to love.i keep in mind " it is better to love and lost, than never to have loved at all.
i have a project i would like to discuss with you. i can b reached at
thank you, keep on truckin ms. d

Deborah Brown Smith said...


I saw you on CNN and immediately told my husband “I have to buy her book.” Five years ago our personal and professional worlds crashed simultaneously. He was laid off from his engineering position at a major tech firm; my book sales tanked and I went from being a six-figure author of upscale women’s fiction novels to an unemployed author (after twenty years of steady book contracts, awards, even an NYT bestselling book.)

Our family life crashed as well; as caretakers for my severely ill, invalid mother, we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a bitter feud with my siblings over her end-of-life issues.

It has been a long, hard climb out of that pit. Happily, we’re running our own small book publishing company, with my former-engineer husband learning book design and ebook formatting and me switching from Writer to Editor (and also learning how to market books via the vast Internet world.. . )

There is life after the triple-punch of loss. We’ll never fully recover from the destruction of so much that was basic and essential to our self-images, but we now understand that there are silver linings.

Thank you for speaking out so eloquently on this issue. I look forward to reading Slow Love. Deborah Smith, BelleBooks

Dominique said...

THANK YOU all for such generous and heartfelt comments. BelleBooks, we switched roles. It has been fascinating, and a real eye opener, to be on the other side of the desk as a writer! Good luck with your new business--it is hard to believe the stories I have been hearing about what people have been going through. But the message of the book is: There is a way out! Onward and Upward!

Suzette Nguyen said...

I found your blog through Design Sponge, and I really think you're blog is beautiful - the visuals and the content.

And today, an extra special thanks for this post for reminding me that it's okay to feel sad and grieve over a loss.

Jasmine Lamb said...

I wanted to add this quote about grief the other day when I read your post, but I couldn't find it. Today I found it. It is by Barbara Kingsolver, I believe from her collection of essays, "High Tide in Tucson."

Congratulations on your new book!

Everyone of us is called upon, probably many times, to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, loss of a job or a limb or a loved one, a graduation, bringing a new baby home: it’s impossible to think at first how this all will be possible. Eventually, what moves it all forward is the subterranean ebb and flow of being alive among the living.
In my own worst seasons I’ve come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with my life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again.
—Barbara Kingsolver

Anonymous said...

oh dear lord, the company i keep when i read your blog! this comment has been written and rewritten a zillion times until now - last effort to thank you from the depths of my heart for putting into words what i have long felt. thank you for validating my feelings. after being separated for several months, i saw a friend who i truly admire in the grocery aisle. upon learning of my new marital status, she commented [innocently and intending a compliment], 'i'm not surprised you are divorcing, you are very independant'. i wanted to tell her that i was proud of being sturdy but that it wasn't always a choice. frequently it was a matter of sink or swim. my friend intended to compliment, i heard/felt a horrible accusation. can't wait to read your new gift. kathi

Helene said...

"Mourning is a way of checking out of the brimming wonder of life. Once you find yourself alive to it again, you can open yourself up to the possibility--and the miracle--of falling in love." That part is so true. Well written and very optimistic post! I was looking for another blog and stumbled onto yours. I will peek around further. Have a lovely day!