That moment when you can stop pressing something on a wound because it is no longer bleeding is actually the first stage of healing. It’s raw, painful, throbbing, but you can wrap a wound up, and in most cases go forward with what you were doing before it happened. You still have to pay attention to it, sometimes for a long time, examining it and treating it, first with grimaces, and then more perfunctorily as the bandages come off and your beautiful body, with its remarkable capabilities, makes you whole again. Scarred perhaps, but closed over. Whole, perhaps but changed. And maybe in time you forget. Or maybe the scar is there for the rest of your life.
Huge emotional losses are a bit like this. First you feel as if you will never stop bleeding. You look in the mirror and see a person you don’t recognize, who cries all the time, who looks haunted, who can’t do anything but grieve. Then, little by little the mundane creeps in. You still have to shower, you realize you are hungry, you manage to go outside to run an errand. You have to go back to work, maybe, or tend to others who need you. But you are still throbbing, finding it hard to think about anything but the pain, wincing at the slightest brush of a memory.
Then you find you can manage more things, but you have to call up a robot self to do it. As Emily Dickinson so brilliantly describes it, ‘After great pain, a formal feeling comes.” She describes how in this “hour of lead,” “the feet, mechanical go round” in a “wooden way.” Exactly. You might find yourself being more polite than usual, because you can’t really think of anything to say except what your mother told you to say to grownups. But you do more and more of the little things, like buying groceries, getting gas, maybe even having coffee or a walk with a friend. The wound doesn’t require all of your attention anymore.
It still can break open. You are still far from “healed,” if that word can even be used for this kind of wound. This is a lengthy period, one that may last for months, or even years. You still cry, maybe less frequently and probably more briefly, but the ambushes still come every day. But somehow your daily life, or perhaps a new project or obligation, begins to offer you protection. The wound closes over, but underneath you are still far from whole. You find it a little easier to get through the day. Routines start to matter, activities start to absorb you. You are capable of genuine distraction from the loss.
And then you realize you made it through a day without crying. You shock yourself with the realization that—can it be?—you went through a whole day without thinking about the person you lost. You are not sure you like this. It seems disloyal, cold, and that is not at all how you feel. But inevitably, this happens again and again, and you start wondering whether those people for whom “never a day passes” without thinking of the person they lost years before maybe need more help than you do. Or maybe they aren’t being 100 percent truthful. Or maybe everyone is simply different. Or maybe some wounds are too big. You thank whatever internal force gives you the power to set your life right again, because you know you are truly on your way forward.
That’s where I am now, having made it through the bleeding and into the tender stage of the scarring. I do make it through some days without tears. I realize sometimes with genuine surprise how long it has been since my attention has been drawn back to my sons. I am getting back to a feeling of wholeness. Changed, scarred, but whole again.
I love this line from Josh Groban’s song,”Let Me Fall”:
Someone I am
Is waiting for courage
The one I want
The one I will become
Will catch me
That’s what healing means to me. I didn’t ask to fall off this cliff. I don’t want to be in midair. But the person I become because of this suffering will be exactly the iteration of Laurel I need to be to step with confidence into my future. She will catch me.