Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Surviving v. Recovering

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

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.


Karen Austin said...

This is insightful. I have just started my gerontology classes for the fall, and one of the classes is death and dying. We have a choice of 10 books to read for a book review, and I have a goal to read all 10. We also need to interview someone who is in the process of dying or someone who is bereived. Or visit someplace like a hospice. Would you allow me to cite from your blog (this post or another) in my term paper? It's not due until Dec., so I don't have it fleshed out enough to explain specific use.

I also look forward to the post on Job. I recently read a translation of Job with commentary, and those "comforters" are really a piece of work.

When my sister-in-law lost a newborn girl, she reported that she received several comments along the Job's comforter's lines: 1)Oh, God's teaching you something 2) She's in a better place or 3) What did you do wrong (medically or morally)? None of these were helpful, to say the least! I think she just stared with open mouth in shock.

My working in the women's committee at church now (as RS counselor) and also by reading / discussing in my death & dying class, I hope to develop greater compassion. I am an older child, a type A, a former teacher, and a control freak. I like to resolve things quickly and have a know-it-all response. But I am seeing that dealing with tragedies and loss requires me to develop opposite personality traits: rejecting the tools of logic and problem solving that I employ for achieving; being patient, being quiet/still in voice, action and soul; being willing to accept things I can't control or I can't understand -- which is the point that God is making to Job at the end of the book when God cites the wonders of creation and points out that Job has no capacity to mirror that power or to understand it.

Anyway, you are very kind to process your ideas / feelings so that others can benefit. Addressing loss and grief is probably the most difficult of all life's challenges.

JL said...

I'm so glad for you, that there is recovery. Knowing that life goes on anyway. Eventually.

love, J.L.

Anonymous said...

This is such a good and thoughful post. I especially like how you brought up Job's friends.

I know that if I'm in the middle of a trial, I wonder why people would judge me. Then, other times, when I see others go through trials, I can have the tendancy to act like Job's "friends."

Thanks for the scripture references and reminders. We are here to encourage, support, and love one another.

Stephen said...

Karen, hope you got my message that of course you can cite to things I've put on-line and quote them.

J.L. I wish you the best as well.

thatgoodpart -- thanks for thinking.