Healing is an intensely personal process, generally rather messy, and sometimes impossible to control. Maybe it’s Ferguson, or Ray Rice, or last Friday’s should-have-been fifth birthday of a much-mourned little boy named Caemon, but today’s NaBloPoMo question is just too tidy for me.
“Do you give yourself time to heal,” they ask, “or do you keep making yourself move forward?” As though you can — or even should! — pick one. As though wading though trauma isn’t a spin cycle of both of the above and their opposites and then some, and you’re lucky if the machine doesn’t melt down in the process.
We all “know” the right answers. Give yourself generous amounts of time to grieve. But not too much; don’t wallow. Make yourself move forward. But not too fast; that’s denial.
Easy to see from the outside, sure. And yeah, those are good goals. My aim is not to diminish that.
But from deep inside the belly of a pot of Tear Soup, well, you do whatever it takes to keep your head up. Observers who encourage Taking Time or Moving Forward might as well be recommending you use a particular swimming stroke when, I mean really, can’t they see you’re just trying not to drown?
Ok, ok, back to the question… as much as I might take issue with its crisp packaging, here’s my answer. Here’s what I learned after I lost my mom.
I learned to try and take time if it feels like time is desperately needed in a losing-oxygen-fast sort of way. I learned to try and move forward if it feels like I am sinking slowly into a bottomless bog of grief. I learned to cry deeply and thoroughly, such that a lot of pain might be released in one big bubble rising to the surface. I learned that there is no laughter like the helpless giggling that immediately follows a bout of despair, and I learned to seek it out at the closest opportunity. I learned to lean on loving shoulders and I learned to dive fearlessly into solitude.
And as I went on, I learned that the depth of the ache never completely goes away, but the plateaus in between get further and further and further apart, and eventually the landscape looks more like rolling hills with the occasional mountain. What were once canyons of loss are now like cracks in parched earth.
And beside them grow trees.