I am super, super particular about language.
The wrong word choice grates on me, even in the best of times.
So when I was first widowed, hearing words like recovery and healing really bothered me.
Healing sounded ridiculous. Exactly what was going to improve?
Within a month after my partner drowned, people began to ask me if I was “feeling better.” I kept my answer largely to myself, but in my head, I screamed “I didn’t have a stomachache. A little rest and some ginger ale is not going to make me all better!”
“Getting better” was not on the list of possibilities.
How can you heal when the one you love is still dead?
Honestly. A loss of this magnitude is not something you simply recover from.
Recovery, as defined in the dictionary, means to restore oneself to a normal state, to regain what was lost, or to be compensated for what was taken. I hear from a lot of people grieving the loss of a child, or grieving the loss of their best friend and partner, grieving someone who should have had 20, 30, 80 more years. The whole context of healing and recovery is just plain strange in this kind of grief.
That hole torn in the universe will not just close back up so that you can go back to normal. No matter what happens next in your life, it will never be adequate compensation. The person you lost can’t come back. That loss can’t be regained.
By definition then, there is absolutely no point in time when you will “recover” from such a loss.
And that makes it tricky. If there is no “healing” in terms of being as good as new, if we can’t “recover” any more than someone who has lost their legs can simply will them to grow back, how do we go on?
What could getting better possibly look like in this case?
I think it depends on who does the asking.
For me, any outside source or force asking me when I’ll get better is going to be met with irritation. But if I do the asking, if I wonder — for myself — what healing or recovery might look like, then it becomes a very different question.
If you are very, very new to this grief, this may not be the time to even wonder about healing. But if it feels right to gently question, asking yourself about your own healing can be a genuine act of love and kindness:
Given that what I’ve lost cannot be restored, given that what was taken cannot be returned, what would healing look like?
What would it take for me to live this life well?
There certainly aren’t easy answers to these questions. The answers themselves may change over time. But wondering about your own path forward is a gift you can give yourself.
It starts when you ask yourself: If I can’t recover, what would healing really be?
If you are so inclined, share your thoughts on healing in the comments. If you’re completely stuck as to how to even begin answering, get in touch: we can mess around with the question, and see what might feel true.
Megan Devine is writer, grief advocate, and clinical counselor. You can schedule a free 30 minute phone call to talk about your grief by clicking here to choose a time on her calendar. Megan is the author of the audio program When Everything is Not Okay: Practical Tools to Help You Stay in Your Heart & Not Lose Your Mind. You can find this and other resources on her website, www.refugeingrief.com.