I was recently talking with someone about grief and they said “Steve, you aren’t surviving, you are recovering.” What my friend meant was that I had passed the stage of being in grief and surviving the experience, holding on and weathering it, to healing. We don’t have good language for that part of the process, that transformation. But he recognized it.
Part of the problem is that recovering and healing are often seen as putting something completely behind us. I’ve deposed witnesses who broke a leg when young. It healed, they recovered, they can’t remember which leg it was now.
Survival is often thought of as “lived through” something. It is now often used to describe someone who experienced something, but refuses to let it make them a victim. There is strength to claiming survivorship. To say I’m a cancer survivor, not a cancer victim; a rape survivor, not a rape victim – that empowers people.
Survival is important. It is the stage of not being a victim, of realizing that something might be happening to you, but it is not you, and that you will still remain when it concludes. It might be overwhelming, but only for a while, the event is history, not destiny.
Recovery is a different stage, a return path, of sorts, to normalcy. As a friend who survived Hodkins Disease expressed, it is what you do when you realize you have a life to live after chemotherapy is over. Rehabilitation is a good word for many in this state. Some things really do heal, some experiences are just history. Life is nothing but a series of adjustments and history.
But, some times it is more complex. When a child dies, there is a permanence to the grief, but not to the disability the grief creates. In the period of severe disability the grief causes, you survive. Then you rebuild. At some point you begin to make progress in an adjusted world.
I have friends whose grief is old, who told me about this stage long ago, and who are in it now. They did not have a good word for the stage of making progress while rebuilding. Neither do I, but I am experiencing it, just as they told me I would. I miss my deceased girls. I love them still. But I have something I can best describe as recovery, a sort of healing and progress, a sort of love.
Other links on topic
- Affliction (final post in the series)
- Life and Affliction (part two with another to come)
- Living Beyond Loss: an essay.
Note that coming up in Sunday School: the book of Job, or how in every tragedy you can expect people whose idea of “comfort” is to come tell you it is all your fault, that if you were just as holy as they are, God would not have needed to punish you and misfortune would have missed you.
When they do, remember that at the end of the book of Job, God shows up and tells the “friends” that they are wrong, in strong terms (Job 42: 7-8). When you meet people like that, Christ’s comments should come to mind, see Matthew 23: 13, 27-28; 32-33. Feel free to circulate both for the lesson.