I’m often asked what it means to heal from grief.
It’s a question I’ve pondered for over 20 years, and I’m not sure even now I know what it means.
We hear often that “Time heals all wounds.” Time by itself isn’t the only factor; it’s what you do with that time that makes the difference. If I broke my arm and allowed time alone to heal it, the bones would eventually knit back together. My arm may not be very useful to me. If I had it set in a cast, and then did physical therapy, my arm would then have a better chance of regaining full functionality.
The same is true of grief. If we do nothing with our feelings, stuff them in a drawer and hope they go away, what we may find is they seem to get louder and more intense. All we want is relief from the incessant overwhelming feelings, and for things to be the way they were before we experienced our loss.
Let’s look at the dictionary definitions of healing and heal:
- Curing or curative; prescribed or helping to heal
- Growing sound, getting well, mending.
- The act or process of regaining health
- To become whole or sound, free from ailment.
Looking up these definitions sent me down a rabbit hole, looking at definitions of curative, (serving to heal) mending, (an act that mends or repairs) of becoming whole, (comprising the full quantity) etc.
Each definition provides another layer of meaning, yet none fully describes what healing from grief means to me.
With each definition, I became more and more sure that the healing that is described in the dictionary looks nothing like what healing from deep grief looks like. The closest I can come to what healing feels like for me is this. As I began to emerge from the day-to-day fog and shock of my daughter’s death, what I describe as healing came in glimmers of hope.
- A smile after I heard a song that reminded me of Leah.
- A day that I didn’t sob all day long. In the early days I stopped wearing make-up because it was cried off my face before I got to work.
- Being inspired to paint again after a couple of years of not wanting to get my paints out of the closet.
- Sleeping better at night.
- Wanting to eat nourishing food.
- Wanting to get showered and dressed in the morning.
- Being ready to go through her clothes and her room. (I did this with someone who did not know her, which made it easier for me)
- Decorating for Christmas again. (this looked different every year, I’ll write more about this in specific blog about navigating the holidays.)
- Being ready to move from the house we lived in with her. (after 7 years)
- Wanting to bring a painful feeling to my heart because I knew it would shift. There were many years that I still avoided this, even though I knew it worked.
- Being ready to write my book and share my story.
- Being ready to speak about my story.
I can point to these as sign posts along the way like I was reclaiming my life, even though it looked different than it did before. I didn’t experience healing as a linear journey. There were many starts and stops, and sometimes it felt like I was taking one step forward and several backwards. The common ground was continuing to see hope and light, no matter how dim, at the end of the tunnel.
Everyone’s healing journey is unique just like everyone’s grief journey is unique. What is your experience of healing after a loss?