How Long Until You Heal After a Loss?
One of the questions I’m asked frequently by clients who have suffered through a loss—whether the breakup of a treasured relationship, the death of a friend or loved one, or a serious business reversal—is how long it will be before they “get past it” or “get over it.”
Here’s the honest answer, which sounds defeatist (but, actually, is not): Maybe, never.
Hoping to “get past it” or “get over it” sounds like hoping to feel as though the loss never occurred—to feel as if the wound has healed, entirely, such that the psyche is as it was before the loss occurred.
This is not only unlikely to happen; it wouldn’t necessarily be good for it to happen.
For those of us who have lost something we love, it may well be enough to resolve that the pain will never go away, entirely, but will, instead, be transmuted into permanent, palpable, bittersweet and, yes, painful love.
Said another way, wounds related to loss may never stop bleeding, but the initial shock of seeing the blood, thinking you might die from the cut, can, indeed, end. The shock can be replaced by a human, vulnerable, willing and powerful feeling that there shall be no perfect healing over of the wound and, yet, no falling over, either.
Strength, after a profound loss, is often the decision to carry on, and carry your loss along with you. It doesn’t grow wings and fly away. It doesn’t get camouflaged and lost in new experiences. But it doesn’t make your knees buckle. It doesn’t stop you in your tracks. It doesn’t take away your hope or your heart.
Once we abandon the notion that healing after loss should be forgetting the loss or not feeling the loss, it becomes possible to almost love the loss. No one, of course, would choose to be without a person they adored or a pet they loved or even a position that spoke deeply to who they were. But observing the way that the wound stays open, and the way it continues to bleed without killing you, can be your enduring connection to the lost love object.
Why would anyone “get over” a profound loss? Isn’t it more true to think about “getting on” with life, while the loss continues to live within you? Isn’t that a more inspired goal?
All the textbooks will tell you that grieving is supposed to end. But I think the most powerful point of view may be that a component of grieving might well never end, but that it won’t be a poisonous and debilitating force, either. It will, instead, be a force evidencing a connection that will go on forever.
There is power in pain. In the case of unfathomable losses, the power may be in acknowledging and even embracing the fact that all the suffering is evidence of all the love, and that neither will ever completely end.
Dr. Keith Ablow
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