Grief and Healing

December 6, 2016

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.

Warmly,

Beth

 

 

 

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10 Comments

  1. Reply

    Margi

    This is timely for me, as I just lost one of my 16 year old cats, and quietly observed the 29th anniversary of my mother’s death. Grief sucks, man, and it’s exhausting. I find it impossible to stay here for long. I still visit frequently, sometimes with sadness and sometimes with fond memories.

    Love to you!

    1. Reply

      Beth

      Love to you too, Margi. I’m so sorry about your cat. Before I’d ever had a pet, I didn’t understand how deeply we can grow to love them. Not long after I was married, my mother-in-law lost a dog. While I thought it was sad, I couldn’t grasp the depth of her sadness. “It’s just a dog,” I thought. Yeah, I know. It was years later before I really understood, when our own dog left us.

      You’ve sustained more than your fair share of loss. I’m glad that when you look back, it isn’t always painful. ♥

  2. Reply

    Julie

    As usual you are spot on. It is a must, it needs to run it’s course, and if not then you are stuck in limbo feeling that raw pain forever. Really tough to lose someone, still going through the healing process over Mom leaving us. I love her so much, but have to be honest, she wasn’t happy here anymore. Not since my sister passed in 1991, Mother never could accept it, she spoke to her first thing every day, last before she went to bed. It was like a piece of Mother was ripped away when Janice left us. I miss Mother daily, but to be honest Janice was also my best friend, I miss her daily too. But I did heal, funny though, just the mention of her name could bring tears to my eyes. Still does. Always will. But I did heal, and I will heal from losing Mom as well. Great write Beth, you are just amazing. <3

    1. Reply

      Beth

      Aww, Jul. I know how much the loss of your mother and sister hurt you. You are wise to have chosen to work through the healing process (you are wise in all things, really). I wish your mom had been able to find some degree of peace after losing Janice, but I believe the loss of a child is worse than any other. Some losses, though painful, fall under the realm of normal. To lose a child, though, is an especially cruel twist of fate.

      Sending you lots of love. ♥

  3. Reply

    Trish

    I’ve learned a lot about grief, and loss these past several years. It’s been an emotional roller coaster, but I’ll always seize the joyful opportunities when they present themselves. I feel the best way to honor those that are no longer living, are to live extra for them. I try my best to fill in the empty spaces with the kind of good that they brought to the world. I’ll donate something in their name, recite a joke they loved to tell, etc.
    I agree, that it is also important to feel what you need to feel, and let each emotion run its course–I learned the hard way, the dangers of NOT doing that can bring. The crying, the laughing, the quiet moments of reflection–they’re all ingredients of living, and we’ve got to keep that up for us and the people that benefit from our love and life, for as long as we can.
    Wonderful post, Beth!

  4. Reply

    Beth

    The past few years have been terribly pain-filled ones for you and your family, Trish. And to have sustained a second loss before you’d had a chance to really come to terms with the first makes everything more difficult. Everything you said was spot on, though. To live as fully (and heart-centered) as possible is, of course, what we should all strive to do, but sometimes we don’t bring that truth front and center until something like the loss of someone close reminds us just how precious and fragile life is. ♥

  5. Reply

    Laurie Ann

    I loved this blog Beth! Thank you. Very timely. Hugs.

    1. Reply

      Beth

      Thanks, Laurie. So good to see you here!

      People hurt all year long, but this time of the year is often the most difficult for many.

  6. Reply

    Tammy Minnis

    This is one subject I am not fond of. Five years ago on January 30th I lost my mom, last January on the 12th I lost my brother. This summer I lost my boyfriend’s mom whom I loved deeply. Although my dad is alive, I lost him many years ago. My marriage died. I don’t dwell on any of it because it hurts to much. I think they want me to be happy and I try to honor that. But I’m human and when I miss them at weird times, that pain washes over me.

    1. Reply

      Beth

      To be honest, I’m not fond of the subject either. It’s a hard one. I’m so sorry for the pain you’ve been through and continue to work through. I don’t think we’re ever completely in the clear–sometimes grief invites itself back with no notice and seemingly no cause.

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