Thursday, July 31, 2008

Coping or Healing?

I talked online with a widow my age today. Her husband died ten years ago. She says that healing is a myth. She says that all we can do is find new strategies for coping with the loss, but she doesn’t believe there is any such thing as healing. She sounded bitter as if she had been lied to about how she would feel ten years down the road. I had to think hard about whether or not healing really exists. Am I experiencing healing or am I just coping? What is healing compared to coping? If I admit that I’ve experienced some healing, am I saying that my loss isn’t so great? Did I misunderstand all the books about grief? Are they lying to me? One of Jesus’ main purposes on earth was to heal. A significant reason for prayer and for believing in God is for healing. Is death the only thing from which we are not allowed healing? I don’t think so. I look back over the last year and nine months and know that, yes, I have experienced some level of healing so far. My sister of widowhood is wrong. I decided not to talk with her anymore because I don’t think she wants to heal. She is content with coping. I am not.

To me coping implies burden, like the burden of an amputated arm. Now maybe an amputee can say that she doesn’t feel burdened by the loss of her arm after years of coping, accepting, healing. I don’t know. I haven’t asked, but for me, I can’t imagine that the loss of an arm could ever not be a burden. I can understand that I would find strategies to cope, but two arms, in my eyes, would always be less burdensome than just one, no matter the level of acceptance. But healing from loss, loss of a spouse, is it forever a burden? Honestly, I feel like I’ve lost an arm. It is impossible to juggle life with just one arm, and I will never grow a new one, so to speak, so the healing does not come in forming a new arm. It comes from within. I must find a different way of looking at life. A way of coping. But what about healing? Am I healing or am I just coping?

I certainly don’t think Bill would want me to be burdened with the heaviness of his loss forever, although sometimes it feels better to carry that burden than to envision laying it down. To lay it down would reveal that, yes, I truly have lost an arm, as opposed to erroneously thinking that arm is just busy carrying something else right now. Sometimes it feels like that stuff, that burden, is all I have left of him. Realistically, the heaviness of his loss has nothing to do with who he was or our life together. The burden is about what it feels like now that he is gone. It’s about the trauma and figuring out how to cope. Someday I want to lay that down, if I actually have a choice.

I do believe in healing of some sort. I don’t know what it looks like or feels like, exactly, and I think it is as imperceptible as the aging of our skin. One day in our 40s we look at ourselves closely in a mirror and realize that the skin of our youth is gone. So as my inner skin heals from the loss of Bill, forever I will look different, changed. Hopefully, I will have lines not from frowning or bitterness, but rather from smiling and laughing and remembering…..and from tears that have etched themselves on a slate meant for all types of memories and emotions.

So maybe healing is in the aging, not the coping, and in how much we allow ourselves to laugh, and to cry. The crying is the laying down of the burden, the letting go. The laughing is the lightness we feel afterward—it is the healing. That is my guess.

Unlike my sister widow, I believe that healing happens in moments between moments between moments every day, as imperceptible as the aging of my skin. Someday I will see lines of wisdom and healing among the lines of my grief, and I will know that the wisdom and healing came from a willingness to lay down my burden of loss, moment between moment, memory by memory, even when it felt like I had to cut off my arm to do so.


jay are said...

extremely thought-provoking...Submit this one. So many people could benefit from this perspective, from your musings. It's wonderful to believe in healing---perhaps it requires faith and acceptance, understanding that healing is not surrender, healing doesn't cancel the reality of loss.

Elaine Williams said...

Wonderful post. I agree, healing doesn't cancel the reality of loss. The loss will always be there, but we can feel joy and be happy in living again. I am four years on this journey and I know this to be true. May you be well. elaine