Grief Public Service Announcement:
#1 of 10: “Time does not heal all wounds.”  Click here for original post.

We first kicked off this series of discussing 10 common key elements of the grief experience in March 2021. Recall that the series was created to help not only those of us who are hurting from loss, but also to assist those who love us and are hurting, because we are hurting. We will be revisiting this series over the next 10 weeks with the goal of continuing to open these conversations, based on healing instead of avoidance.

I think we can all agree that a tragic loss or death of a healthy, and or young individual creates a stress in our communities. Even when we don’t know someone personally, and we hear of a tragedy, we can automatically feel the weight of the loss. Think mass shootings in the USA. Think school children. Think teachers. Think of trying to wrap our heads and hearts around the “real” ness of these acts of domestic terror. It feels fake at first.

And although each day that we wake up without our loved one, creates another chance for us to “get” it, I continue to maintain that time does not heal us, and actually that time doesn’t really heal anything. So if you are grieving and feel you should be “over” your loss by now, or if you are supporting someone who has lost a loved one, and feel “they” should be “over” their loss by now, this post is for you.

Time is certainly a factor when we are grieving. Many of us are familiar with the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle which was published in the late 1960s. This is one of the earlier texts that attempted to address grief and equip us to heal. The model suggests that there may be a linear experience of these emotions, moving from one stage to the next, never to return to that stage again.

However my experience is that the the five stages outlined in the book are a foundation, but not the whole story when it comes to grief. And in later books, as we started to understand more about grief, this idea was further developed. Yes, we may experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance but these are just a few of the emotions that we have to learn to integrate into our new “normal” without our loved one. And its not linear. It is anything but linear.

There is nothing magic about the passage of time being “healing” relative to grief, unless we are using the time wisely. And by that I mean finding ways to sprinkle self-care, sleep, therapy, spiritual practice, meditation, connection with others, good nutrition and potentially even creating ways to honor our lost loved ones into each day. Grief is not healed by the passage of time. But if we can survive long enough to put some days, weeks, months, and years between the loss, and our current day experience, we may find that time may not heal, but it does create opportunities for integration.

Stated another way, time doesn’t heal our wounds, but without it, we can’t heal. If we die literally, or figuratively when our loved one dies, then our book, is already written. It can be so challenging support someone who is hurting, it may be tempting to “stay away” for a bit, and imagine we are giving mourners “space.” And there may be merit to that approach.

But let’s make sure we are truly considering the needs of that person who is hurting, even ourselves if that is the case, and not “avoiding” them or ourselves because we are waiting for time to do its thing and bring on the healing. Because waiting to heal without infusing some type of action, is about as effective as waiting for a train that will never come. We have to lay the tracks. We have to imagine, then create the station. We have to play an active role in healing ourselves, and others. Time is the conduit, but not the catalyst. We need time AND presence in order to navigate a healing path. And this is where the lifetime of work begins.

Because grief is not a problem to be solved. It’s more like a facet of our personalities, lives and values that we allow it to exist. If we choose to hand our power over to a clock of some sort, and white knuckle through our lives thinking that we will reach healing when enough time passes, we may find that time passes, but not much changes. And we may find it harder and harder to wait around for the healing to begin.

Time doesn’t heal us. Connection heals us. Love heals us. Belonging heals us. We don’t need to suffer alone, and neither do the friends and family who love us and want to support us. Let’s recognize that if we are out of time, we certainly won’t get the chance to heal. But just being alive isn’t enough to forage a path to healing.

We have to find a way to welcome the pain, respect, honor and live with it as a new part of us. Just as relationships, jobs, and travel change us permanently, so too do our losses. We don’t have to control them (and can’t any way). We just need to know that pain is part of the human experience, and that isn’t a decision we make, it’s just the universal truth that we will all die, and we will all suffer grief when someone we love dies.

Then we let time do its thing, not to heal us, but so we have the space to heal ourselves.

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