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The Hardest Thing You’ll Ever Do

Lissa Rankin's picture

She walked out on you when you were a little girl who needed her to braid your hair because Daddy didn’t know how to do it. She didn’t mean to walk out, but the bottle made her do it, and once she did, she couldn’t look herself in the eye, so she avoided mirrors and drank more bottles. And now you’re grown and you can braid your own hair and you survived in spite of her and you’re pregnant, and she’s gonna be a grandmother, and you want her to know you turned out pretty dang good, if you do say so yourself.  So you write the letter and open your heart and you tell her how it hurt when she walked away and left your little girl heart cracked wide open with no instructions for repairing it. You tell her how many times you’ve dreamed of having her rock you in her arms, even now, and how many times you’ve cried because other people got mothers who baked them cookies and kissed their boo-boos.  You tell her you understand, that you’re not mad anymore, that you forgive her - really, you do. And that all you want now is for her to know how much you love her, maybe even to see her again, just for coffee or even for your baby shower. And then you wait. And wait. And wait. And it’s been weeks and she hasn’t called or written back. And your quivering open heart, exposed and vulnerable, remembers what it felt like when you were seven and you watched her go out that door, not realizing you’d never see her again. You cry like a child, and the sobs wrack you. Your heart aches so much you want to close your heart back up, sew it up with big black rope, bar the door with chain metal and armored locks, never open that heart again.

But you don’t because life is too precious.

* * *

You’ve been BFFs since you lost your first tooth. You fixed each other’s hair for prom when you both went stag, and even though you knew they might make fun of you, you danced with each other to Alphaville’s “Forever Young.” When your fiancé broke it off the day of the wedding, when you were already wearing the white dress, you sobbed in her arms, your heart open wide like a surgeon had just sawed through your ribcage. When you finally found love again, she was the maid of honor in your wedding - and you were hers.  Then her husband calls you one morning at 2am and makes a pass at you. You’re shocked, appalled. Your heart is broken on behalf of your best friend. You know you must tell her. You have to tell her. So you break the news as gently and lovingly as you can. And she turns her back to you. Walks out.  You call. You leave messages. You write letters. You wait. You keep your heart open. You forgive her for not calling back. You know you did the right thing. You love her like crazy. It’s been a year, and your heart hurts so much you feel like someone took out an organ and forgot to put it back. You think about closing your heart. She had her chance. You were just being a good friend. Fuck her. Fuck her. (But if your heart is closed, why are you still crying?)

You want to cut her out of your heart. Remove her like a cancer.  Fill up the hole with chocolate or wine or a new pair of Manolo Blahniks.

But you don’t, because, in spite of it all, you still love her.

* * *

You didn’t mean to fall in love with him.  You thought it was just a harmless crush and then it crushed you like a bulldozer.  You didn’t see it coming, and if you had, you would have run far, far away because it’s an impossible love. You can’t have him. He can’t have you. Maybe it’s some crazy past life thing because your relationship makes no sense. You shouldn’t love him. You shouldn’t feel this deep soul connection with him. Plus, he’d be crazy to love you back, not that he does - or does he?  You shouldn’t tell him how you feel. It would be a total disaster.  What if he loves you back? (Does he?) You try to convince yourself it’s nothing. It’s just a silly crush. It will go away. You get pissed off at him when he’s sometimes there for you, then he disappears.  You’re getting mixed signals. He pushes, he pulls. You’re confused. How dare he, when you care for him like this? But you’re not really mad. It’s just a defense mechanism to protect your vulnerable, fragile heart. Finally the truth washes over you and you just can’t lie to yourself anymore. You can’t keep up the act, faking it like you don’t feel it, pretending to be cool and casual, when you’re hurting. So you tell him. You bare your heart. You confess everything you’ve been holding inside.  And then he is silent.  He doesn’t say he loves you back.  He doesn’t say he doesn’t.  You wait.  More silence. Is he just overwhelmed with your confession? Is he confused by his own love for you? Or is he just not that into you? Your heart is naked, open, waiting. Then there is more silence and you want to pull your heartstrings closer together. Leaving it open feels so raw, like your heart is bleeding love and you’re hemorrhaging all over the floor. You want to close it back up. Keep it safe. Never let anyone in again.

But you don’t, because love can’t get in when your heart is closed.

* * *

He shot his pregnant girlfriend, that bastard. Shot her right in the belly, right where that baby is. She’s not breathing when the ambulance brings her in. Blood is pouring out of her belly. So you do what it is you do. You put a tube into her lungs, pump air into it. You call for liters of O negative blood so you can fill her veins back up again.  You call the operating room, ask them to open it stat. You give orders to the team. You check the baby’s heart beat - it’s still beating, but not fast enough. Everyone springs into action. You race her to the operating room, slicing clean through her belly, while the heart surgeon slices through her chest because there’s another bullet there. You open her uterus in one clean swipe of the scalpel, and you pull out the blue baby and hand him to the pediatricians who are waiting with the incubator. Her uterus bleeds, pouring blood. You feel a gush of love for this mother and her baby. Your heart opens. You pray. You plead. It’s not looking good. The monitor flatlines. You start to cry. The cardiac surgeon calls for drugs. Shocks. You’re trying to take out her uterus so it will stop bleeding but you can only operate so fast. The cardiac surgeon is pumping her heart in his gloved hands. Everyone is watching the monitor except you. You’re watching that blue baby, who is getting bluer. An hour passes. The cardiac surgeon should have called the code sooner, but the mother was so young nobody wants to quit. There’s blood everywhere. The operating room looks like a combat zone. Two dozen people stand there, looking at the dead mother, the dead baby. There isn’t a dry eye in the room. The cardiac surgeon and you hug, getting blood all over each other. Your heart is in his hands too, cracked wide open and bleeding. You did everything you could. He did too. And it wasn’t enough.

You want to ask the surgeon to suture you back up again, so you won’t feel so much when you lose a patient. But you know you can’t. That’s no way to live.

The Serial Heartbreak

He left you for that woman half your age.

She up and died on you, when you’re only forty and you’ve got three kids under the age of five to raise without a mother.

He won’t call you anymore, after you breastfed him and held his hand during rehab.

She overdosed.

He doesn’t love you anymore.

She cut you out of her will, and that’s not the worst part. She cut you out of her life.

He had sex with you right before ending your twenty year relationship.

Your dog, who is more like your child, got cancer, and you had to hold her while they injected her with the drug that made her heart still.

The Hardest Thing You’ll Ever Do

The hardest thing you’ll ever do is keep your heart open in the face of serial heartbreak.  Closing off your heart is the easy way out. It’s an understandable defense mechanism. It makes sense. Nobody would blame you.

But it will also make you sick and suck away your joie de vivre.

Life is full of traumas to the heart. Pain is inevitable because love is everywhere, and love hurts. Period.

Love is scary as hell. Love is risky. Love is unsafe. Love isn’t for the faint of heart. Love takes courage. Love and fear can’t coexist. Love means giving people permission to break your heart - over and over and over.

As new friend and fellow Hay House author Agapi Stassinopoulos writes in Unbinding The Heart, the secret to living a joyful life full of miracles and love is to keep you heart open, even when it keeps getting hurt.

Every day is a lesson in this most important life class.  Every day is a choice to keep your heart open, even when you feel it slamming shut. Every day is an opportunity to practice the art of letting your heart bleed, to cry, to feel, to ache, to gulp, to let go of your ego, to recognize that being right is overrated, to stop judging, to learn the art of forgiveness, to lay bare your soul, even when it doesn’t feel safe, to keep doing it over and over and over again until it’s like breathing.

Every day, love is a choice, and it’s yours to make.

What are you choosing?

With a cracked wide open heart,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.comPink Medicine Revolutionarymotivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.



Sabrina's picture

I'm another one who's crying...

I'm there, now. Two long years of deep heartbreak, thanks to the fact that the love of my life does not love me back.

I have my heart shut down to everything else, because I'm afraid of letting go, then meeting someone who might help me to overcome this pain to then, bam!, hurt me even worse than this guy did.

Anyway, I'm crying now thanks to this pain and also these so beautiful words. Who knows?, I hope that in the future I will be able to open up again, despite of all.


Anne's picture


Please do keep writing - you've touched so many just in this post alone. It had to be written from your (very open) heart for it to be so powerful, and I thank you for sharing.

Anonymous's picture


So much truth in this piece, and so touching. Excellent read. Keep writing!!

Merry's picture

Been There...

Done that. I lost my Mom when I was 18. In the wee morning hours when I returned home from bidding her my final good-bye, I promised myself I'd never love enough to hurt like that again.

I've had to make a conscious effort to break it. It took my realizing (at 35) that she wouldn't have wanted me to live like that to finally really start working at opening back up. It's been a long journey, but I've finally made it. I'm writing a book about it that I hope will serve as a vehicle to encourage others that keeping your heart open is worth every second of the pain.

Seems we're in synchronicity on this one (and I DO love synchronicity). Thanks for the tear-jerker, Lissa! Awesome!


CL's picture

Keep it open

Thank you, Lissa. I'm crying. It feels good. I'm trying to keep my heart open. It's hard. I will keep trying. Thank you for this and all your reminders.

Darla Bruno's picture


This is a powerful reminder. I love the work of Pema Chodron around this subject too. Thanks for your words, Lissa.

Lissa Rankin's picture

Thank you, dear ones

I'm so glad what I wrote moved so many of you. Thank you for keeping your hearts open, even when it's hard. The world would be a better place if we could all do that...

With love

Laurie's picture

Moved to tears

I had to stop reading because I am so overcome with emotion. I only read the first two, and I am so very moved I just want to sit with just that for a bit. I saw your response after some comments,and I am glad you did not apologize: People cry when they feel deeply, and you made all of us feel very deeply. That is a gift, and I feel blessed to have found your blog on this Friday the 13th. I will come back and visit often. (I hope this isn't too long & I love that you use the f-word so well!) With instant love <3 and much gratitude.~Laurie

 Trish Rankin's picture


Beautifully done, my Dear! I have written on my bedroom wall, "LOVE LIKE YOU'VE NEVER BEEN HURT. LIVE LIKE HEAVEN'S RIGHT HERE ON EARTH." I put that up after losing your daddy and my husband of forty years.

Anonymous's picture

Thank you

I just found your site today - thank you for your beautiful words and messages that the genuine need to hear to help us to remember how wonderful it is to live with honest and an open heart, wounds and all. I am nursing some heavy ones right now, but know the answer lies in continuing to love and stay open. I would rather be me than closed off any day. Thanks for being you - what a gift you are.

Erin's picture

Hard, yet always possible

It is the hardest thing we can ever do, but it is also always possible. I attribute my new found open heart to lots of hard work in building my yoga mind, body, and spirit with the help of amazing instructors and community. In yoga practice, we work to open our heart center physically and mentally. Also from learning from wise people who've come before me and shared their stories that keep us going. Suggested reading: Bell Hooks "All About Love" which taught me the definition of love and what it means to operate with a love ethic. Thank you Lissa for building the conversation on such a profound topic.

Butterfly 5's picture

It helps to see I'm not alone...

My sister shared this with me, and we're both transplanted by life circumstances to a part of the country that is beautiful but still doesn't feel like home even after years of living here. Serial heartbreaks? We've both experienced and are experiencing several, and I'm lonely in more ways than one. (She is, too.) We are doing our best, and I bless my sister for sharing this with me.

KC's picture

Love vs. Fear

I have been trying to more consciously choose love over fear- and it is better.
But it is harder.
Thank you for the reminder that this harder path is worthwhile.

Rachel A's picture

Another Crier... (they're good, cleansing tears)

Posting a brief comment to say thanks, I love you, and thanks some more... You are so right... And thank you for continuing to share your broken-open heart with all of us so we know we're doing the right thing, too...
Rachel A

darlene's picture

Unbelievable! This came at

Unbelievable! This came at the perfect time. Thank you so much for this very touching and inspiring article. Yes, it brought tears to my eyes, but at the same time, a tremendous comfort. I will strive to keep an open heart even when in pain or broken, because love always needs to find a way in. Thanks, Lissa!

Lissa Rankin's picture

I'm so touched...

When I got home from snow tubing in Lake Tahoe today with my family and read all your comments, I was tempted to apologize for leaving so many of you in tears. Then I checked myself, because I cried when I wrote this and to be perfectly frank, it felt fucking fabulous.

So I won't apologize. Instead, I'll just offer a virtual hug and thank all of you for your sincerity and your bravery, since keeping your heart open is definitely not for the faint of heart....but oh- the bliss on the other side.

Loving you with an open heart

Michelle Medina's picture

So much for the idea that

So much for the idea that 'love doesn't hurt' They only mean that when they say it to an abuse victim. . .
I have no words Lissa, no words. Thank you for the reminder to stay open no matter the cost.

Pandora Behr's picture

Thank you

Can't say anything more that that - it was just the message I needed to see today x

Pandora Behr's picture

Thank you

Can't say anything more that that - it was just the message I needed to see today x

Elizabeth's picture

Timing is everything...and again...the Uni-verse speaks....

This couldn't have come at a better time...today I wanted to close my heart forever (despite knowing better)...today I wanted to close my heart to the world and yes even to myself...and then the universe responded...some words from a beloved friend...then a posting from Lissa...and once again...my heart opens...a few tears slip...that's okay...that is life.

Thank you for your gift Lissa...

sussie's picture

Thank you Lissa, for that

Thank you Lissa, for that touching, beautiful, & truthful writing.

You got me crying because ugliness is everywhere and humans can do terrible things to each other. But it makes me realise I am definitely not alone in my painful journey (of love and lost) in this world. As hard as it is to do – but that is all we have and can do, keep soldiering on and believing love will prevail.

And men will (some day) see that it’s much better to LOVE than abuse women and children and break their hearts for the sake of their macho egos.
Love is definitely the ONLY way to go.

love you - keep up the beautiful writting, for i love reading it.

Linda's picture

Oh Great

I need to remember not to read this at work! Now I am in tears. Fortunately I work in a place that promotes open hearts ;)

Your friend always
heart open - still breathing!

Linda's picture

my friend Lissa's blog


claire's picture

love did it...

i thought my serial heartbreak indicated my foolishness.... but no... thank you for pointing this out Lissa. Openheartedly, Claire

Paul's picture

Beautiful writing, Lissa

That was so beautifully and courageously written, Lissa. Thank you. Paul

Anonymous's picture

I cried too

I cried too. It is very beautiful and soooooo hard to do. A lesson I have to learn over and over again.

Tikababy's picture

Absolutely perfectly said.

Absolutely perfectly said. My heart has been through the wringer and it was closed for a while and then I realized it just took to much energy to keep it that way because I'm a person who wears her heart on her sleeve and keeping it closed is just to hard for me to do. I am a stronger person for having gone through what I've gone through. And I live to Love again.

Erin's picture

this was amazing

I loved this piece. It made me cry. Thank you.

Debbie  's picture


Well, this post made me cry. I dont know if thats good or what, but I dont cry easy. I have been going thru some really tough times with my 16 yr old son. My heart is breaking. I think I keep it sewed up most of the time. Thank you for your touching and beautiful writing.

Trece's picture

The Hardest Thing

I DO live like this, and it is both the making and the death of me. I do not read certain things, because I just KNOW they're gonna hurt me so much, and I won't be able to "un-know" them. And chunks of my heart are parcelled out to so many animals. . . like Joey the Garden Cat, from a tv station in Arkansas, and Jack, the cat lost in JFK. By the time he was found it was too late. When I read of his death, it hurt almost as much as one of my own.
By contrast, I felt no grief when my mother passed, or my father.

Dee's picture

I'm crying and crying and

I'm crying and crying and broken open... thank you.

Kathy's picture

Absolutely Profound!

i love you, Lissa.
thank you for your encouragement and support and profound words of deep wisdom. amen and halleluiah, sister!! <3

Anonymous's picture

The Hardest Thing You'll Ever do...

So true... so touching...the mystery of love. It leaves us open to being hurt but if we close ourselves to it, we can hurt even more deeply...

Julie's picture



What incredible words! Incredible thoughts put to incredible words. Thank you for such a powerful post. "Pain is inevitable because love is everywhere, and love hurts." so beautiful.

Linda's picture

The hardest thing ...

This blog has my heart quivering. And yet, it's also a paen to the joy of not shutting down your emotions in the face of insurmountable pain and fear.

pam's picture

omg, do you have a nanny cam in my head?

sixty years of serial heartbreak, and they've all made me who i am. i am so grateful to have found lissa and owning pink (or did she find me?), however it happened... it was a gift for my suddenly empty nest.
i am beginning to see the abundance everywhere. thank you!

Kate's picture

Love is always right.

And hatred is always wrong. Fear is a form of hatred.

I've been struggling with these simple concepts my entire life.

pam's picture


i was once taught that fear is not an emotion, but rather a mask to hide other emotions, and to look behind the fear to see what is really going on...

pam's picture


i was once taught that fear is not an emotion, but rather a mask to hide other emotions, and to look behind the fear to see what is really going on...

pam's picture


finger tremors! double click!

Gayle's picture

This is the most amazing

This is the most amazing piece ,I think, I have ever read. I know the feeling of serial heart break, and am grateful to have lived uncautiously and fully. I still love, I still breathe, and I still thrive.

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