You think you can prepare for the big moments in your life — marriage, being a parent, coping with a death. But as most of us have come to appreciate, there is no way you can truly know what the experience is like until you have been through it yourself. All parents will tell you that the love you have for a child is like no other. How can anyone understand that kind of love unless they are also a parent?
The same can be said for grief. People may be able to ‘imagine’ what it must feel like but there is nothing in this world that can prepare you for the depth of emotions you will plunge into. Even knowing that you are going to those depths because your loved one has been suffering a terminal illness, does not prepare you for the emotional turmoil that will hit when the time comes.
How close you are to the person who has died also makes a big difference to the extent the loss affects you. If you have daily contact or live with someone, the impact is immense and ongoing. Many people who lose someone will feel pain and loss for the immediate time after the death, and perhaps for several weeks or months afterwards, but eventually life goes back to normal and that intense sadness moves on. Not so for those of us who experience the loss of a close companion because it changes the whole way we live. Those of us who no longer have our partner in life, our soul mate, our child or other immediate and close family member, we feel like part of our own self has been taken away. This hole in our heart and our life is permanent, and cuts very deep.
Like any deep wound, it takes time to heal. It might take quite some time but eventually the bleeding stops. The wound is no longer critical but it still needs lots of care and attention because otherwise it might start bleeding again. Once the scar begins to form, the emergency is over and we can resume normal activity again. The difference now is that we have a scar and sometimes we have to do things differently because of it. Over time the scar becomes less and less obvious to outside observers, so they forget it is there. Things appear to be back to normal to them and sometimes we forget it is there too. But then something happens that will tug on our scar tissue and make us cry, or cause us to stop in our tracks. These moments usually don’t happen when others are watching; they sneak up and bite us when we least expect it. It can happen years afterwards when you thought that the wound had disappeared, but it is with us now forever.
The wound of grief never fully heals; the scar may fade and then blend in with its surroundings but it will always be there with us. You never get over grief but you do learn to live with it. Like any injury, it takes time to recover but you never forget that you had it in the first place.
As it takes the experience of death to know of grief, it also takes the experience of recovery to know that all of us will eventually recover. It is the oldest line of advice that has been handed down over many generations of grievers but never have truer words been spoken — ‘time will heal’. They are not the most comforting words when you are trying to climb your way out of a bleeding mess but perhaps the other advice we should remember, is that we need to have faith — faith in ourselves, faith in the process and faith in wise advice from generations of grievers.
Have faith — you will be OK in the end.