The Healing Aspects of Grief
‘I felt as if I had just been hit by a bus.’
This is a refrain that I have heard many times when people are discussing their grief. They are right; a metaphorical bus has just hit them. In the physical world, such an accident would result in serious injuries, unimaginable pain and a dash to intensive care, to be surrounded by caring professional staff and beeping machines.
The body then enters the long road to recovery: broken bones knit themselves together, torn flesh scars over; the body swells, then returns to its original form, and all the time there is pain. Slowly things change. At first you cannot move; then some movement returns in the extremes of your body. You discover one day that with effort you can sit up, and then you can start moving around more independently. Before long you are in a wheelchair being pushed around; subsequently you discover you have more independence and take charge of your mobility.
During the whole of this process you are encouraged to rest, doing only what you can comfortably do. Pain keeps a tight control over how much your still damaged body can do; it protects you against over-exertion and risking damaging your hard-won recovery.
After what seems an eternity you have recovered, fully or with some remnant of the trauma – a scar over a wound or a limp where bones have not fully healed. The experience of the accident has changed how you perceive the world. Life is now somehow different. The experience cannot be undone.
Bereavement is the mental equivalent of being hit by a bus; it is a traumatic shock to your psyche. Grief is your mind repairing itself. A loss is painful; a great chunk of who we are has been cruelly ripped out of us. Our lives are altered; someone who was once there can never be there again, leaving a gaping wound. But slowly things change and small aspects of normality return, building up gradually until you find that you can step back into life again.
Like any wound, it takes time to heal; but grief is an unseen wound and sometimes it is not given the same degree of respect as a visible wound. If someone were recovering in a wheelchair, would you say to them: ‘Come on, you should be moving on and getting over it, why don’t you get up and walk?’ No! Yet others will say that to someone in the midst of grief. Even worse, we can say it to ourselves. ‘Come on, I should be over this by now.’ Yet all wounds need time to recover and heal. Trying to walk too soon is to jeopardise recovery.
Time will heal, eventually. It just has to be at your own pace. The emotional pain will lessen, as the physical pain after an accident will fade. Grief will end and you will be left with the memory of the person you lost. An internal mental wound is a devastating as an external wound and both need respect from yourself and others in order to give time to fully heal.