People often talk about moving through grief as being a process of healing, the analogy with physical injuries is that bereavement causes an emotional injury and that grieving is the healing of that injury. I don’t think that analogy works. When Sharon died it felt like a huge chunk had been ripped out of my heart, but looking back now it wasn’t me who changed that night it was the world I was living in that changed. Suddenly being alive hurt, not because I was wounded but because I no longer fitted into my world. What I needed wasn’t healing; healing just takes you back to what you were before you were injured, but I needed to become someone else, someone who fitted into this new reality. Healing restores your former self, I needed the opposite, I needed to abandon it.
In healing there is a template to guide you, that earlier healthy you to aspire to. In grieving there is no template, you have to choose who you will become. The choice you have to make again and again is between the pain of the loss, of living in a world in which you don’t fit anymore, and the pain of the self-destruction needed to become someone who does fit. Live with this part of your loss or lose part of yourself. This type of self-destruction is always part of our lives, we are constantly changing who we are as we learn and gain new experiences. Generally our sense of self keeps up, normally it’s the person in an old photo of ourself who is the stranger, but sometimes we look in the mirror and don’t recognise the person behind the glass.
Grief isn’t healing, it isn’t a process of restoration, it’s a process of destruction and building anew. There are no right or wrong options when it comes to choosing what parts of ourselves to keep and what to let go, just the choices that we happen to make; and there’s no return to our old self, just a hope that we can become someone who is content with who they are and how they fit in the world.