If I touch a hot stove my hand jerks away almost before my mind registers the searing pain. It’s reflex. Our bodies were designed to react to and protect us from things that cause pain.
Run away. Don’t go back. Set up barricades and warning signs so that others can be protected.
Most of the time, this reaction serves us well.
But sometimes those reflexes keep us from healing.
Anyone who’s had major surgery knows that when the nurses come in the next morning saying, “We’re going to get you out of bed today!”, the last thing you want to do is swing your legs over and stand up. It HURTS!
We want to avoid what hurts, not embrace it.
So it’s no surprise that when we suffer deep emotional wounds, our first response is to try to run away or bury them or ignore them. The last thing we want to do is face them.
But if I am to heal, I have to face them. I have to take hold of each place where the dagger of grief and sorrow and regret and anger has pierced my heart and examine it closely. I have to decide what to do with it, how to integrate it into my life after loss.
Grief is work! That is one of the reasons grievers need solitude as well as companionship on this journey. And that is why grief can’t be hurried along. It takes a great deal of time to do the work grief requires.
If instead of facing our pain, we try to run away or distract ourselves or numb ourselves with alcohol, food or drugs, we only prolong the process. Grief will not be ignored forever.
We must FEEL what we need to feel.
Then we must DEAL with those feelings-it might mean seeking a professional counselor or a trusted friend. Online or in-person grief support groups are a wonderful resource. Journaling can help too. But we have got to acknowledge and work through these feelings.
And then we can begin to HEAL Hearts that have embraced and made some sense of grief can begin to beat again. They can begin to love again and feel joy again. They can learn to carry both sorrow and happiness-to remember and honor the missing child while also honoring and loving family and friends still here.
It’s not a “once and done” exercise.
I have repeated these steps over and over in the nearly three and a half years since Dominic ran ahead to heaven. New feelings show up at the door of my heart and I have to choose to feel them, to search for what they mean and why they are here and then allow them to be woven into the fabric of who I am NOW-this side of child loss.
It takes courage and stamina and determination, but it is the only way forward.