Articles: Recently Bereaved

Sorry, This May Hurt

Life is difficult, and sometimes it doesn’t seem fair.

In my work, I have the privilege of meeting people at the most challenging time in their lives. Frances lost her husband Paul after 49 years of marriage, and attended my support group; around the same time, Rob took his own life after a long struggle with prescription drugs and depression, and his parents came to the group seeking help through this devastating loss; Sandy and Glen came for support after their 6 year old daughter died from a rare form of cancer.

While all these situations are unique and present their own challenges, we must remember one thing. Every loss is difficult. There is no such thing as more or less difficult, they are just different. No matter the details, to the person going through the experience it feels like the worst thing that could have happened.

These folks (names changed) came together from diverse circumstances with at least 2 things in common. First, they had all suffered a life-changing loss; and secondly, they didn’t like it.

But there was one other thing they shared. Sadly, some things said to them shortly after the loss had struck them as less than sympathetic. Oh, people meant well, of course and were really trying to be supportive. But sometimes even well-intended sentiments can be more hurtful than helpful. Pronouncements such as, “You have to pull yourself together; life must go on; you have to be strong; your loved one wouldn’t want you to cry or be emotional,” are often less than encouraging.

While people desperately want to do something to “make it better”, what they really hope is that the grieving person will “get back to normal” or “get over it,” and other similar well-intentioned yet misguided sentiments.

These are examples of what I call “fix it” statements, but they do not help because unfortunately that is not how it works. The problem is that while there is much that we can do to help, we can’t fix situation. Grieving people soon discover, albeit frustratingly, that although many people try their best to be supportive, they can’t do the one thing you really want.

So, what is the one thing that every grieving person wants?

They want their loved one back. They want their world, as imperfect as it may have been, to be returned to normal. But we soon discover there are no wizards to magically wave a wand or sprinkle fairy dust that enables us to get everything back to where it was. And most often that is the most frustrating and infuriating aspect of the whole experience. That hurts.

Have you noticed how often these days following a tragic loss the focus is immediately on hope and healing? Everyone wants to jump right to the solutions without really addressing the problems. I have listened after a tragedy such as a shooting or loss of life, and within a short time, we hear the words, “The healing has begun.”

I do understand that it is the fondest wish of everyone that people find hope and healing. But here is the difficulty. How can the healing begin when the hurting hasn’t even begun? As much as we would like to jump straight to healing, it is important to point out that it hurts to lose someone you care about.

Grief is a painful protest against something that we don’t like, and worst of all, that we are unable to change. Yes, there is hope and there will be healing. You will find ways to go on with life and living. But it is important to say “First you hurt, then you heal.”

Grief hurts, and you can’t avoid the pain of losing someone you care about. Sadly, those who say in so many words “Let the healing begin,” are really in effect saying “let’s move on”. But how can people begin to heal when they have only just begun to hurt?

So, here is the formula for grief, as difficult to accept as it may be:

“First you hurt, and then you heal.”

This “no pain, no gain” principle applies in surgery, fitness and in many diverse areas of life. From my experience, both personal and professional, it also applies to grief. I wish I could find some way to make it “pain free” but sadly I have not found such a formula. Sadly there are no easy answers or cookie cutter solutions. Trust me, I wish I had a magic wand that would make the hurt all better and enable us to go straight to hope and healing, but sadly it doesn’t work like that.

But don’t despair! All is not lost! If you are willing to go through the hurt, you will discover that is the way to healing. You have embarked on a grief journey. With the death of someone you have loved and cared about, you may feel like your whole world has been turned upside down. Trust me; I know from personal experience that losing someone you care about is not easy to endure. The days and months after my wife’s death were the most difficult, painful and challenging times of my entire life.

While your situation may be very different from what I underwent, I have walked where you walk, and I found it was a painful journey. But that said, I can also now state that I did make it through the situation … admittedly not without stumbles and hurts … yes and maybe even a few scars. But that’s OK. Scars simply mean you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you. What matters is that I survived, and made it through the hurt to find healing.

While no-one has a magical formula to fix the situation, I sincerely believe there is a way through the maze and my hope is that you will find that road map to guide you on your journey.