In recent weeks, I’ve read a number of posts about loss, grief, and the process of healing. As you might expect, some of these posts and the comments that followed have been heart wrenching, the raw pain of the grief-stricken fully palpable. Many people were sad, some angry, and a few still numb from a recent loss. All of that was understandable. A sentiment expressed by more than one person surprised me, though. Multiple people said they believe after experiencing a significant loss, it’s normal (and even desirable) to live in a state of perpetual grief.
At first I thought they were simply expressing fear that time might fade and blur some memories of their loved one. There’s no question that happens and when it first does, it brings a fresh wave of deep sadness. In continuing to read the conversations, though, it became clear that wasn’t where they were coming from. Instead, it was as if they’d been initiated into a club they hadn’t wanted to join, found the team shirt horribly scratchy and uncomfortable, acknowledged that stripping off the uniform was indeed possible, but consciously decided to wear it forever, not even taking it off now and then to toss it in the wash.
Grieving is a natural, albeit shitty, human experience. And I doubt there’s anyone who’s spared the pain of loss. Sometimes it hurts like hell. Sometimes it lands us on our asses and knocks the wind right out of us. And sometimes, especially when grief is fresh, it feels as though it will never, ever leave.
But healing is a natural human experience, too. Our bodies, minds, and spirits are designed to rebound. To sustain damage and then return to their natural, healthy states. If we fall and scrape a knee, our bodies immediately get to work. A scab forms and when it’s ready, it falls away. Depending on the severity of the injury, there might be a scar. But scarred or not, healthfulness is returned to us. This is as it should be.
I’ve always advised those in emotional pain to feel whatever they feel for as long as they need to feel it. Most healing isn’t instantaneous. Even the simple scraped knee requires a bit of time and heals best when the process is supported by cleansing the wound and leaving the scab undisturbed so as not to undermine the good work happening beneath the surface. We fully expect our physical wounds to heal and understand that unless we interfere with the natural process, they will. No one ever points to their skinned knee and says, “Yep, I fell off my bike when I was seven and I decided right then and there that I’d keep this puppy wide open for as long as I could. It’s going on twenty-two years now and as you can see, it’s still good and raw. I think that’s how it should be. Once bloodied, forever bloody.”
Of course not.
I’m not saying grieving and healing are easy. And I’m certainly not saying the discomfort of a skinned knee comes remotely close to the torment of losing someone we hold dear. But I am saying that to purposely hold onto despair, to shut the door to happiness and wholeness, and to decide to live the remainder of one’s life in a diminished state shouldn’t be the goal. Doing so doesn’t earn a badge of honor or serve as proof of one’s love and loyalty to the deceased. It’s taking the loss of one life and doubling it to two.
Grieving is hands-down one of the most difficult human experiences. It’s filled with pain, forces us to confront our own mortality, makes us feel shaky and vulnerable, and is often a two steps forward, one step back sort of undertaking. But the alternative? Exponentially worse.
If you’re grieving, I hope you choose to get out of your own way, offer yourself gentle support, and accept the love and kindness of those who aim to help you heal. I hope you laugh again, soon and often. I hope you live and grow and grab onto every joyful moment that comes your way. And I hope you come to understand that living well and happy doesn’t make you callous, it makes you brilliant. What’s more, I believe the person you lost would hope those very same things.
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