Grief is all too often blind to time. It is rarely a linear process and tends not to chime on the hour. Rather than being predictable and “healed” the grief tends to orbit around us. The old idea of grief being “healed” is presently seen as being very limited in its accuracy. Here’s an example of why that might be. Think of a person who had their arm amputated. We would all have a great deal of compassion for such a traumatic and life changing loss. Now imagine approaching this person a year or two after the amputation and asking them “Are you over that yet?” The question can easily be seen as being absurd. You don’t get over an arm being amputated. It’s something you learn to live with. It is something that demands you live your life differently and also demands that you transform from the person you were to a new person who relates to the world in a much different manner. That is often the way of grief.
Much of the confusion about grief comes from its being associated with the medical model which assumes that healing has a beginning and then an end. You can think of examples like the flu or an abrasion which have an onset, a lifespan, and then they are over. There’s the cut or scratch, it bleeds, it scabs up and then it leaves a scar which fades with time. This is the way it is for issues when we seek medical treatment and often because of this, medical professionals, psychotherapists included, will think in the linear model and expect a clear beginning and an end to grief. This is frustrating for those who are bereaved because they are all too aware that grief is just not that simple. Especially when it comes to time. It can be a powerful force years down the road or it can seem to vanish right after the loss. It’s rarely simple and rarely linear.
Most of us are aware that grief is not really a medical problem. Grief is the normal human reaction to a difficult loss. Keep in mind that the medical model wants to find “the problem” and then get rid of it in order to make us “healthy.” The reality is that if you think in these terms you will be harming those who grieve since they don’t need the grief “removed” they need it “heard.” This is why grief is more often transformed by others who have had a similar experience and can offer compassion from that perspective. They understand the power of telling one’s story and of being acknowledged and heard. This is the power of a support group or a group like the Compassionate Friends who provide a safe place for those having experienced the death of a child or sibling. A safe place to tell their story. Others who have gone through the same loss will be more likely to have compassion and understanding.
A good safe place is hard to find.