Hurt. Heal. Repeat.

By Thursday, November 6, 2014 5 0

When we’re rich in what matters, we’re engaged with life. We’re leaning into it, we’re giving and receiving, we’re connected rather than isolated.

Then, we have a loved one die, and we hurt like bloody hell. It’s a universal experience that none of us can escape. Or, a loved one rejects or abandons us. We stagger around, essentially disabled by pain, wounded the same as by a physical death. Job loss and home loss can also feel like deaths.

Death can make us feel like being rich in what matters was all smoke and mirrors, the pain is so blinding.  Our engaged-with-life thing , our flow of giving and receiving, can feel like they were a sham.

It’s easy, in grief, to revert to mainstream remedies like overconsumption and overscheduling.

We may decide, not even consciously, that staying crazy-busy and never having a spare moment will keep us from feeling our pain.

Or, new clothes will make us feel better. Expensive food, or lots of cheap food. New phones with the new frills. Alcohol. More apps. Better apps. Hundreds of ways to consume, all bent on avoiding hurting.

Or, we may find other kinds of crisis to distract ourselves from our grief. Getting into agitated conflicts with coworkers, forgetting to take our crucial medications, and neglecting to pay utility bills and risking shut-offs would be examples of  creating crisis.

Many of you know that my mother died in March 2011, after being paralyzed with Parkinson’s disease for years. I was a raw nerve ending for months afterward. My housemate Gary died almost exactly a year ago today. Death is notorious for revisiting us on its anniversaries.

Overconsumption, overscheduling and staying in crisis doesn’t help our hurting for more than a few minutes. Overall, these compulsive behaviors just delay healing.

Worst, compulsive behaviors cripple our capacity for healing. We don’t learn anything as we’re numbing ourselves. Numb leads to dumb.

Here is the thing to remember: Hurt. Heal. Repeat.

Did that last word set your hair on end? Sorry, but it IS a cycle. Closing the door to ever hurting again would be closing the door to living.

Healing happens to people hurt as badly as you and I have been literally all of the time. All around the globe. As I’m writing and you are reading.

Healing generally happens via connectedness, whether to other people, animals, the natural world, meaningful work (paid or unpaid). The arts are probably the most powerful healers on earth. They connect us across space and time; they catapult us into realms of beauty.

My many heartbreaks in my 54 years have always healed, with time. They’ve progressively cracked my heart open into a bigger capacity to connect with others, and have compassion for them. Hurt. Heal. Repeat.

Here are 11 Ways To Get Through The Death of a Loved One.   Most of the advice can apply to healing from any kind of loss.

I’ve just finished reading a new book, “Glimpsing Heaven” by a tough-minded journalist named Judy Bachrach, that I’ll be reviewing here in December, based on the experiences of tens of thousands of people. Hint:  heaven appears to involve a lot of connectedness.

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  • Jen Z.
    November 10, 2014

    Hi Alison! Great time together this weekend; looking forward to Christmas together.

  • Colleen
    November 7, 2014

    Your headline is especially poignant for me today, as today is the 11th anniversary of my father’s passing. Healing from our own grief is an ongoing (and often, non-linear) process, but one that, like you say, helps us become more empathetic to the grief experience of others.

    • Alison
      November 8, 2014

      Colleen, I feel for you. I would have loved to have known your dad personally. The way you’ve described your childhood to me — the many outdoor activities with the Indian Princesses group being one example — has always helped me understand what a deep, loving bond you had with your dad.

  • Jen
    November 6, 2014

    I just printed this out to share with my grief group. Most everyone I work with is in poverty, so consuming more isn’t necessarily their reaction to grief. However, staying in crisis and being over scheduled often come up as unhealthy ways of avoiding deep sadness. I can’t wait to hear what they think of this essay! Thanks for sharing.

    • Alison
      November 8, 2014

      Jen, I just edited this post to include overscheduling and staying in crisis as other ways we tend to avoid our grief. Thanks for adding to the shared pool of wisdom here. I hope your clients in your grief group find value in what I’ve written (with your help :)). They are blessed to have you as a counselor.