In the first years after my son’s death, the mere mention of the word ‘healing’ made me recoil. Healing. It’s a simple, comfort word, right? A concept that all right-minded people believe is a healthy thing, supposedly the ultimate goal for those who are suffering. So why, I used to ask myself, did it feel like a betrayal?

Terminology is a tricky thing. The use of the word ‘healing’ tends to confuse most loss parents. It’s not surprising. We associate healing with ‘getting over’ something, much as one would if you’d broken a leg and it had healed ‘nicely’ as doctors are apt to say. If you heal, it means you’re better and that you’re no longer sick or injured. It means you’re back to normal; it means you’ve got over your injury; it means you’re now well. To me, healing seemed an aberration.

If there’s one thing loss parents know it’s that grieving the death of our child doesn’t mean we’re sick. Nor are we stuck. Nor do we want to ‘move on’. We are grieving. There’s no fixing this. Our child is dead. What we yearn for is understanding and not some quack remedy for our devastating loss.

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When well-intentioned friends and family used the word around me, it felt as if my grief wasn’t being acknowledged. It sounded as if they were sweeping aside the magnitude of my loss. That they felt so distressed at seeing me traumatized that their need to white-wash my soul-crushing grief took precedence over my feelings. I wept for their lack of understanding.

Yet, in these four years since my son was killed, I have learned that healing is possible.

It doesn’t look or feel like I thought it would but the fact is that it can and is happening. A work in progress. Day by hard day. It’s tough, grueling grief work. Often I’m too tired to even contemplate the rest of my life without my son but I sense that healing is happening nonetheless.

And that’s because healing following the death of our child is all about transformation. It has nothing whatsoever to do with ‘moving on’ or ‘forgetting’. It’s about inner change. It’s about becoming the best new version of ourselves as we wrap our heart around our grief. It’s about using grief to teach us how to build a new, different life where joy and loss reside together. It’s about gently cradling the grief like we would our child and using it to help us towards the light. I liken it to a metamorphosis. This healing changes us to our very core. We are no longer who we were. The death of our child transforms us so profoundly that it’s as if we emerge into a new world, never to return to our old pre-loss state.

So why did I reconsider my view on healing?

Before I could do so, I had to crawl my way out of the abyss that was acute raw grief for long enough to catch my breath. Believe me, that took a while, not months but years. And then, as insipid colors began to filter back into my life, what helped me to understand that transformative healing was possible was the slow realization that it was fear that was making me recoil at the idea of it.

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Fear? Why did I fear healing? Because it felt like a betrayal.

Did other loss parents feel that way too?

Most certainly, yes. I was not alone. Almost everyone I spoke to who’d lost a child felt uncomfortable at the mention of the word ‘healing’. So, I decided to identify the source of my fear so as to challenge my concept on healing.

Six points to consider if healing feels like a betrayal: 

1. If I heal it means I don’t love my child enough. Certainly, this was my greatest fear. Rest assured, healing has zero to do with how much you love your child and everything to do with acceptance. Accepting that love is eternal and that I would grieve my child for the rest of my life allowed me to understand that healing wouldn’t diminish my grief or love but instead could transform me.

2. If I heal I’m being selfish by putting my needs before those of my dead child. Irrational fear disguised as guilt was hijacking my thoughts and turning them upside down. Learning to parent a dead child is hard work and challenges us in every conceivable way. You’ll need energy and focus to undertake grief work as you carry the love of your child within you. Practice self-compassion and self-care, and allow yourself to transform into the best version of you as a loss parent.

3. If I heal it means I’m forgetting my child. Trust that you will never forget your child any more than you’ll forget how to breathe. Our children are always with us. Always.

4. If I heal people will think I’m not grieving or that I don’t care enough. Grief is as unique as a fingerprint. Each one of us grieves in our own way. Some loss parents are extremely private about their pain, others talk about their loss, and some set up foundations. Whatever your way of grieving, it is yours, as is your healing. No one can take that away from you and neither should they judge. If they do, perhaps it’s time to expunge them from your life.

5. If I heal I’ll start living life again and that thought frightens me. Living life again will happen slowly and will come from within. It’ll be about learning to live in a new way. It’ll be a different you, with grief as your teacher and the love for your child guiding you every step of the way.

6. Healing feels like a betrayal and I can’t even contemplate such an idea. Give it time. Explore your feelings and identify which ones serve fear and which bring comfort. Don’t push the fear away but instead, listen to it and find out why it resides in your heart right next to the love for your child. Trust in your love. It’s the love that will conquer the fear. It always does.

 

 

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