There are many ways to make sense of the sometimes overwhelming, often bewildering experience of grief. We know that grief is a universal human response to loss — we all grieve. We also know that grief is highly personal — each of us grieves differently. We know that grief can be a confusing process, causing unexpected changes both inside of us and outside of us as we struggle to adjust to a very changed world.
Grief can make us feel like we are being torn apart. But in actuality, grief is a healing process, the way we knit ourselves back together after being torn apart by the loss of someone important to us. Loss is the wound; grief is the healing of that wound. It does not feel like healing — it feels much more like a threat. But if we can come to understand grief as a healing process instead of a threat, we can stop fighting it and find ways to aid our healing.
Many grieving people describe their loss as “losing a part of me”, a kind of amputation. If this amputation was physical, the body would respond with natural, built-in healing processes to help protect and mend the wound. So it is with grief.
Does your loss feel like a kind of amputation? If so, it might be helpful to think about the ways that the healing process of grief is similar to physical healing:
Healing is painful at times, and often takes longer than expected.
Healing rarely means feeling “a little better each day”; it is natural for pain to recur along the way.
Healing is frustrating: many things that used to be easy are now hard or impossible.
Most of these changes are temporary while healing is in progress, but some are permanent
Healing doesn’t mean we go back to our old life; it means we learn how to live with what is different.
While we can’t control or rush the process, there are ways to help our healing.
Similar to undergoing physical therapy, we must sometimes work through the pain. Equally important, we must sometimes avoid or rest from what is causing the pain.
While we are healing, we have limited abilities but increased needs. We would not expect ourselves — and others would not expect us — to run a marathon while recovering from an amputation. Likewise, respecting our current limits and caring for ourselves as we would care for someone dear to us is vital to our healing.
Yes, healing from a serious physical injury leaves scars, and does not guarantee that we will never feel pain again. We are forever changed. But by allowing ourselves to grieve, and taking good care of ourselves while we are healing, the pain of the wound lessens and we can reengage in life, finding what is still meaningful and possible. As we knit ourselves back together, as the wound of separation heals, we discover that what seems lost forever is now part of us forever.
The only cure for grief is to grieve.
This blog first appeared on the Transitions LifeCare bereavement blog.