Healing vs. Survival

I received the following from Steve House who is a fellow grieving dad.  What do you think, can we truly “heal” from our wounds or do we just survive them? 

I would like to share some thoughts with you.  I believe all of the parents that experience grief need to try to be optimistic about life without their child.  However, I think the promise of true healing may be too optimistic.

There are some wounds that even GOD cannot heal.  There is a difference between healing and surviving, there is a young man from my home town that has recently returned from Iraq with serious wounds, he has lost both arms and one leg and other internal injuries.  Our community moved quickly to raise funds to help him and his family, I heard very often from well meaning people about when he heals “he can live the rest of his life.”  He will survive his wounds but as grieving parents we know healing may be a place we never get to.  

The reason I point this out is that I fear sometimes that when we are told “time will heal our wounds” we may face the frustration and disappointment of never getting there.  Therefore, we feel like we failed to achieve what everyone says is possible. So I see a difference in surviving and healing from your wounds.  Any thoughts?

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This entry was posted in Bereaved, Death of a Child, Emotions, Grief, Grieving Dads Words, Healing, Loss of a Child, Survival. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Healing vs. Survival

  1. Gail says:

    Been pondering words…

    Mending.

    Perhaps that’s a better word. It doesn’t denote a wrong expectation that many others use with the word “healing” which is societally meant as: back to the same person you were and happy too. At least you know the bone is broken if it has to mend and it won’t be the same after.

    Adapting.

    I like that in Maureen’s use of the word in the above post. I really like that.

    Choose. Still having trouble with that one. If I choose to let the process of grief happen naturally, I will have days closer to the beginning where everything just is horrible. Eventually, I have seen it is time to for me to become more active and connected to life and done so. Though in a very different “getting to know this new me” way. I’ve personally only basically heard the word as sword used against grieving persons who are having hard days or times as an accusation of not “managing” oneself and thier grief “properly”. – But then again, in a positive sense, I have pushed myself to do scary things to start to re-enter the living world. I suppose I could have “chosen” not to. But I didn’t, I don’t think most people do, but respecting that grieving is a process is key. I only started to Adapt after I started to implicity ignore and avoid others and listen to my own grief, and step number one was just plain hurting and letting the pain be what it was, and it took courage too. I had tried to choose to force myself to be “better”. Didn’t work. *I think the way the words “choose” and “choice”, specifically from other grieving parents may be different though, not sure.

  2. I think we can all survive…we dont have many choices do we? We get up and go through the motions or we choose not to. I often say the early stages of grief are ‘in survival mode’ only. What we choose to do then, is the difference between surviving and healing.

    Healing to me is adapting and adjusting to the loss of my son, and finding meaning in my life once more. Not an easy task! I dont think healing occurs automatically, but occurs when we choose hope, when we dont allow the tragedy we have experienced to be all that defines our life in a negative way. But to look at ways we can honour our children whilst we adjust to this alien world we find ourselves in, and take ‘them’ with us as we step through grief.
    Thanks for a great article.
    Maureen

  3. I am a bereaved parent, too. For more than a decade I have used Grief Healing as the “brand” name for my online presence, which includes my Web site, blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts. I have used the healing metaphor intentionally for many years in my practice as a grief counselor, because I think it conveys the faith and the hope that we can return to wholeness following devastating loss.

    Here are some others’ thoughts I’ve collected over the years, which resonate with me and may serve to explain my choice of the word “healing”:

    “To heal in grief is to become whole again, to integrate your grief into your self and to learn to continue your changed life with fullness and meaning. Experiencing a new and changed ‘wholeness’ requires that you engage in the work of mourning. It doesn’t happen to you; you must stay open to that which has broken you. Healing is a holistic concept that embraces the physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and spiritual realms. Note that healing is not the same as curing, which is a medical term that means ‘remedying’ or ‘correcting.’ You cannot remedy your grief, but you can reconcile it. You cannot correct your grief, but you can heal it.” [Source: Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart, ©2003 by Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD, Companion Press, ISBN #1879651351, p. 12]

    “There is a difference between healing and curing. Healing takes place at the soul level and the process has less to do with getting better than it does with getting real. Healing is about learning to better play the hand you’ve been dealt rather than asking for a new deal.” Source: Kindling Spirit: Healing from Within, Chapter 1, by Carl Hammerschlag, MD, [http://www.realitysandwich.com/kindling_spirit_part+1 ]

    “Curing of a particular wound implies the elimination of that wound, and healing implies enhancing a person’s life even if that wound is not eliminated . . . Providing someone a cure is like giving that person a welcome gift (which is certainly nice). Healing someone is like teaching that person how to find gifts wherever they are (which can be wonderful) . . .” [Source: Being a Wounded Healer, ©1999 by Douglas C. Smith, PsychoSpiritual Publications, ISBN #0967287006]

  4. Ed says:

    From the beginning of this journey, I felt that this new me, harboring this unseen wound, was a stranger that I hoped I’d come to know. It’s been been a year and a half. Some might see my functioning in everyday life and say I’m healed. But that’s only on the outside. I don’t believe there’s really ever going to be this magic moment when I can say, “I’m healed.” I don’t even entertain the word. But I do believe it’s different for all of us. We will all have resume to varying degrees of normalcy, whatever that may be. I’m not a religious person, but I do believe we’ll be reunited with our children one day.

  5. alwaysmomof4 says:

    My husband is the guest blogger on my blog today. I wanted to share a link to his words.
    http://alwaysmomof4.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/just-beneath-the-surface-a-fathers-grief/
    Peace,
    Jackie

    • GrievingDads says:

      Jackie,

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your husbands blog posting. Tell him he is more than welcome to blog his thoughts to me anytime if he would like to share with the other dads here.

      Peace.

      Kelly

  6. Gail says:

    Awsome topic!

    I know a trauma therapist who very clearly says that time by itself does not heal anything.

    Now i’m wondering if “healed” is the appropriate word… something functional and positive can happen at the appropriate time (never the same for anyone) down the road… but is it healing? I’m growing into the “new me” after the loss of my daughter… but is that “healing”? Mabye the word itself is or sets up wrong expectations about grief and loss…hmmm. People will compare grief and loss to the strangest things, that perhaps are “healable” things -trying to point out to the griever that they shouldn’t be where they are at (when that is actually the worst advice possible) -ie- in pain and not “happy happy healed!”

    There seems to be much pushing towards “healing” from those who don’t comprehend that grief is a process, ok..well, that don’t comprehend grief at all. The word seems like a sword in the mouths of some laced with blame… it’s often followed by the word “choice” or “choose”… One of the things I was told once was that I was “dwelling”, basically “choosing” to feel bad! And that I should just “move on” with life, and that “other people have been through this and do”. And this was only 6 weeks after! ?How could I get to this fabled happy healed place if no one wanted me to go through the absolutely necessary part of grieving which is feeling the truth of what I was feeling and dare express it to a (beloved) person who literally said they wanted to listen to me?

    Minimally survive is a better word than heal.

    • GrievingDads says:

      Gail,

      I agree, time doesn’t heal anything, but what I think it does is allow one to process. It gives the brain and body time to understand what has happened. I am not sure I will ever be healed, but I have found peace. I am not saying I still do not hurt from time to time when reality sets in, but for the most part I feel peace. More peace than I have felt since I was young. For me, all of the things I use to think were in important in life are no longer important to me. (ie: climbing corporate ladder) This alone has removed a lot of stress in my life.

      Thanks for stopping by the blog and thanks for sharing.

      Peace.

      Kelly

  7. John Wolfe says:

    Erica is exactly right. I recently read from the webpage of a man who had lost his son to suicide. In it he states that he has changed from the person he was into who he is now. He can’t quite put his finger on what that change is, but knows it’s there. He compared it to an amputee, wherein the amputee knows for a fact that his limb is gone, but still feels it. Day by day he’s confronted with the fact that the limb is no longer there and yet he has to face the fact every day that his limb is gone…much the same way the father has to confront the loss of his son on a daily basis.

    I immediately identified with that because it’s like my daughter is still here, although I know she’s not. I’ve gone through some sort of change in attitude and mindset that I can’t identify, but I am a changed man. “The old life is gone” is what Erica said, and that’s true. But I still go to work everyday, come home and do the same things I did before my daughter died, so in what way have I changed? I don’t know, but I feel it down to the very core of my soul.

    In my humble opinion, “Healing” applies to the physical body and does not apply to the mind, or more rather correctly, the soul. “Surviving” applies to the soul and it is that survival attitude that changes our behavior and shapes us into what we will become next. I can choose to wallow in self-pity over the loss of my child, or I can celebrate her brief 23 years on this earth and move on.

    Even as I write this I can hear my baby girl telling me to get on with my life…I suppose I’ll have to in order to survive.

  8. erika says:

    i always read your updates and, sometimes, do feel moved to chime in, but i stay quiet generally because i know this is a forum for men and i don’t want to impose, but this time i have to speak up!

    reading your post was like hearing something from inside of my own mind! i have often used the same analogy when describing this horrible road in my grief group! when i speak of survival, and that is what it is, i say it is like surviving a horrific accident in which one was permanently and profoundly disabled, say paralyzed from the neck down. one may indeed learn to do some things for one’s self again, learn to find joy in some things again, continue to learn and develop relationships, but one will still be paralyzed from the neck down, stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of one’s life. no matter what kind of brave face such a person may show the world, inside there will not be one day when they don’t wish they could just get up and run. life will never be the same; the old life is gone. ‘healing’, ‘returning to normal’, are words and phrases that simply do not apply. one may learn a new way of living but that is exactly the task: to rebuild a life out of the shattered pieces that remain after the worst thing that can be imagined has happened (and then, for some of us, like you and me, happens again). life becomes a new kind of struggle as we navigate it with the new skills we develop. the easiness we may have once known is gone and even basic tasks are challenging for us.

    time does not heal us! time does not fill the chasm that remains when the most precious and important people we have ever known have been torn away from us. for people like us, everyday we stand up from our beds and face the world we’ve climbed a mountain. everyday is a hard walk against a stiff wind; life has no gentle flow. we’ve seen things that people shouldn’t have to see, experienced things no one should have to experience. we are changed by those things. our view of everything around us is changed. those who look at us don’t see our ‘wheelchair’ or ‘crutches’ but we know they are there. we require many assistive devices, most of them invisible to those around us. they may mistake our new functioning for healing but we know better. they are the tools we borrow from one another, the tools we build out of the survivor that crawls up from our core, out of the smashed pieces of the life we loved into this life we have to accept. for many of us, it seems it is only the animal instinct of survival that saves us when we find ourselves dumped on this road, smashed, remade by grief.

    • GrievingDads says:

      erika,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject, chime in here anytime, you are not imposing. You have a lot to offer. I can relate with everything you said about, survival, getting back to “normal” and most certainly rebuilding.

      Thank you so much for your thoughts.

      Peace.

      Kelly

  9. I think “healing” from grief is such a loaded phrase and has deep presuppositions attached to it. If “healing” means I will one day stop feeling sad, stop missing my daughter and return to my normal life, I am setting myself up for failure. If “healing” means I will be forever changed, I will always miss my daughter and sadness over that fact will be with me the rest of my life, I will not only survive but may indeed thrive through this grief journey. It does not have to consume me. It may even inspire me.

    I think Gandalf said said it best to Frondo, “All you have to do is DECIDE what to do with the time that’s been given to you”. To suffer greatly in my grief is human. To survive my grief would be commendable. To thrive grief is Divine. Decide to thrive!

  10. Todd McCutcheon says:

    “Time heals all wounds” is one of the phrases that is a load of crap. It is not TIME that heals, it is what we DO with the time that can be healing. If we don’t try to do activities that help us process the grief and release the emotions that we as men tend to keep bottled up, then there is no healing taking place, despite the passage of time.

    Now, are we healing or surviving? I heard it described this way at a Compassionate Friends meeting one night: we are healing from a deep wound, and deep wounds leave scars.

    We will survive our grief…it will become a part of who we are and how we got to be that way.

    Men are bred to be warriors. Warriors bear scars. Those scars are a testament to the battles we have been through and survived. At some point, like a seasoned warrior, we will be able to display our scars proudly. They link us to our children we have lost and will give other fathers courage to face their grief and turn their wound into a battlescar.

  11. Virginia says:

    Healing? No. Sort of. I think I am as healed as I will ever be, but not completely healed because I grieve over things lost, milestones and markers. What would have been his first day of kindergarten. Christmas. Mother’s Day. Do I grieve the way I did in the first year after he died? No. But there will always be grief.

  12. Kay McInnes says:

    I think you have to look at where people are in their grief and in their spiritual walk. You have to come to terms with and accept your loss, without that, healing is unrealistic. As a nurse I work with those who have suffered unmeasurable loss, wether it be an infant before delivery, a young child, a sibling a spouse, a parent or even the devastation of losing a body part through amputation. It is natural for a person to grieve the loss unconsolably and some times for a long period of time, but eventually you have to realize that life goes on with or without you and how you choose to live it is up to you. Do you choose to be a positive person and look at how you can grow and be used by your loss giving back to the others out there that grieve a similar loss? Do you ask God to give you a better attitude especially on days that you could care less what the world is doing around you? Keeping yourself in the grief and never wanting to heal will allow you to lose even more, you stand to lose your loved ones around you because they need you too. You will never quit missing your loved one or your body part, but your learn to adapt to make life good again. I have suffered multiple losses of babies that I will only get to know in heaven. I asked why all those years ago, but know as I work with these grieving parents I know why, I needed more insight to the job that God had planned for my future. It makes me a better nurse and caregiver.

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