“Who can say where the road goes, where the day flows. Only time …” is the opening verse in a popular melody by the award-winning Irish singer Enya, who laments the questions that only time will answer. Time may hold the answers, but we must travel at our own pace through it to find them. And so it is, I believe, with the process we call grief.
Don’t get me wrong. I do not subscribe to the old adage, “time heals all wounds.” No, that one ranks right up with those other misleading, and sometimes hurtful clichés that may be offered at the most inopportune times. But time does play a significant role in our healing process following the death of a loved one.
Without time we won’t have the opportunity to readjust our world view and life perspective. We won’t be able to create the space in which to mourn, rest or move forward. And we won’t find the doorway to our “new normal” way of life and our new self identity in which our loved one’s memory finds its rightful place.
Time, after a death, gifts us with the unfolding of life — littered with painful questions, the roller coaster of emotions, and the stuttering chaos — all of which we must learn to navigate in a managable manner. Immediately following the death, we may feel time has become distorted — a natural response to loss. We may even feel suspended in time, with life swirling continuously around us.
And how do we deal with that?
By taking the time to discover how the death of our loved one has changed us. And it seems, because each grief experience is unique, there is no prescribed timeframe or schedule to follow. We all must discover our own pace.
As I companion the women who attend the widow’s support group I am encouraged as I witness their active participation in the passage through grief. It is over time that they rediscover life. Several years ago one widow, Jillian, offered scornfully, that she wished she could fast forward five years and just be done with the pain and confusion. She faithfully shared the ups and downs of her journey with the other widows in the group month after month, confessing that though at times the chaos and confusion had her all but paralyzed, she was able to see progress over time.
Now seven years after the death of her beloved husband she shares her journey with those who have just begun. “I can relate to so much of what they are saying during this initial time of their journey,” she says. “But I want them to know there’s hope that as time goes on, and it does, if they do the work of mourning, they will find joy again.”
Many who are learning day by day how to live without their deceased loved one, find that as time moves forward a sense of guilt arises as they discover one day that they are not thinking as frequently in such sorrowful terms. Jillian says, “My husband died on March 4. So for months I marked the fourth. But after eight months I recognized that I had forgotten the fourth. At first I was upset that I had forgotten. But then I thought, maybe that’s a good thing.”
I believe that is indeed a good thing. She will, of course, never forget her dear husband. But in the passage of time, reclaiming her life as it is while cherishing the memory of her husband, is the natural process of healing.
Taking time to mourn after a loss is paramount to living fully again. Finding support from a nurturing person or group can be the saving grace to keep us moving on our own personal journey of grief. But there are no rewards for speed. I believe we must take all the time we need to find our way to the life that holds purpose, promise and sweet memories of our beloved.
No, time itself does not heal, but it does give us the venue through which we can embrace the work of mourning and move on to healing as our new life unfolds.
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