animal grief

I Am Not “Healed” From My Grief; I Am Not “Over” My Loss: The Truth About Healing and Grief

healing and grief

I have read way too many grief books that talk about the “healing” process or how grief will “transform” you if you let it. Even renowned author and expert on death and grieving, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, talked openly in her final book (On Grief & Grieving, written with David Kessler) about how grief has the immense power to heal and transform.

You’ll understand when I tell you that this was wildly invalidating to me when I read it. Indeed, it felt like a slap in the face.

But Kübler-Ross and Kessler weren’t the only authors to suggest that grief was a transformative and healing event, or that there was healing to be found in grief, at the end of some arbitrary rainbow when we “processed” our loss.

I have news for everyone—I am not healed from my grief. I am not over my loss. And I never expect to be healed or “moved on” from what happened.

The Damaging Myth of “Healing” Grief

Your loss is not something to be “healed” in your life. It is a wound you will carry with you forever. Yes, your feelings about the loss may transform over time. Yes, your life may take many different directions, and those sharp, painful edges around the loss of your beloved may soften. But it will still be a wound you carry.

Expecting people to heal after a loss puts unwarranted and unnecessary pressure on those grieving. It also invalidates the immense pain they are experiencing at this moment by suggesting that there is healing available if only they would seek it.

Why should people be expected to heal from such a devastating loss? How could we ever expect people who have lost a partner, a child, an animal companion, a parent, or a beloved friend to heal?

Before we ask these questions, I think it’s important to look at what the word heal actually means. The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word heal as “to make or become well again, especially after a cut or other injury”, and “to make or become healthy or whole again”.

Anyone who has experienced such a deep loss knows that grieving is much like tending to a severe wound, which is probably why the word “heal” shows up in so much literature surrounding grieving and loss.

The wound of grief shows up in many, many ways, including in your body in symptoms such as extreme fatigue, unexplained musculoskeletal pain, and loss of appetite, as well as in your mind in the form of memory loss, inability to concentrate, and brain fog.

But for those of us who do not feel that time has healed their grief, where are we left when society and medical or mental health professionals expects us to be better after a loss? Where does that leave us when six months, a year, two years, 10 years have passed, and we still feel that drop in our stomach and shortness of breath when we remember our loved one is gone?

I’ll tell you where it leaves us—alone. Shamed. Isolated. Depressed. Unable to cope or adapt to our life after loss. Because how can we adapt when people tell us that we just need to get back to normal, we just need to get over it, we just need to be strong, we just need to “heal”, and things will get better?

This Is the Truth About Healing and Grief

The truth is that there is no normal to go back to.

There is no “being strong” when coping with such a huge loss.

The truth is that our lives will never be the same, so we cannot be expected to be the same.

“I know that no drink, no pill, no religion, and no book can save me from suffering,” writes Dr. Joanne Cacciatore in her book on grief, Bearing the Unbearable.

“I know that people we love can and do die and that no one is exempt. I know that control is an illusion. I know that one day, one year, ten years, twenty years, and fifty years is never enough time with those we love. I know that there is nothing we can trade, nothing we can barter, nothing we can give to negotiate our loved ones back to life—not even offering ourselves in their place. And I know the secret that life goes on, but it’s never the same.”

The truth is that our lives do continue, as Dr. Cacciatore says. Even when we would rather they not. Even when we wake up every morning wishing we didn’t.

The truth about healing and grief is that some people do feel that they heal after a loss. And the truth is that others don’t. So we cannot expect everyone to be the same, and we certainly cannot expect others to heal in the face of an immense tragedy.

Everyone’s Loss Is Different, And So Is Their Grieving Journey

People who have experienced an out-of-order or traumatic death are much less likely to feel they are healed than those who have lost a senior pet, a parent, or a grandparent.

The mind can make more sense of some deaths than of others. After all, we knew our beloved senior animal would not live forever, and they had a long and full life. So while their passing is deeply upsetting, some people may be able to cope better with it than those who unexpectedly lost a pet, or lost a pet in a traumatic way.

But everyone’s loss is different. Someone may have trouble coping with an unexpected death, while another person may grieve less with a sudden death, or with an animal or being they were not as attached to.

We must honor the differences in people, their losses, and their grieving journeys. We must understand that some people do not heal, and they do not get over their loss, nor should they be expected to. We must bow to their broken hearts and treat their pain as sacred. That is the way forward, not a prescribed methodology for healing, hope, or transformation.

What are your thoughts or feelings about healing in the face of grief? Please share them in the comments!

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