“Healed”

Healing. It’s a word we use frequently when talking about grief and I don’t particularly like it. My therapist pointed it out when she used the word and I stiffened. My issue with the word is that it connotes an end. We use it in medicine to talk about how someone gets better, and in a way this is applicable. As we move through our grief, we function better in society, we come to terms with the unchangeable fact that our babies are dead and we begin to find enjoyment and fulfillment in the world around us. But… and it’s a big but…in my medical world we declared someone healed- their uterus is back down to normal size, their stitches have dissolved and their milk has dried up- they are healed. In grief, there is no end. There aren’t even any concrete steps. Going back to work, holding babies, getting to the one year mark- these are things we do, but it’s not clean cut. When I went back to work, I shook, I cried, I took Ativan just to get through the door. Now I move fluidly through my day, rarely crying for my own situation. But there was no discrete time point when I went from being barely able to function to now. It was gradual and I still wouldn’t say I am in a great place. I recently came across this post and loved how he used the word adjusting to loss. A more apt term.

As Mabel’s one-year mark approaches, I think people have certain expectations. One year, I should be healed. I worry that expectations at work will change, that people will think somehow getting through the anniversary of my daughter’s birth and death somehow means something huge. That somehow the difference between February 15 and 16 will be significant, when really it’s just another day in the process. I remember reading early in my grieving this post (I can’t seem to link it directly.  click on http://glowinthewoods.com/  –> at the kitchen table –> scroll down to the post entitled “Tick Tock”) and taking away the message that it can take up to two years to integrate babyloss into your life. (I like how they used the word integrate and not “healed”). Two years! I thought. How am I going to survive two years!?! I thought I wanted to be healed right away, but now I can see I really just simply wanted to stop feeling the pain so acutely. Those early days were rough, weren’t they?

I still stiffen at the word “heal.” I think when those within the babyloss community use it, there is subtext. We know we are never healed from our children’s deaths, but it signifies we are functioning in the new world, the one without our babies. When those outside of our community use it, I can’t help but feel a little resentment, believing they think there is a true endpoint in our grief.

Where are you in your loss timeline? What do you think- are you healed? How do you feel about that word?

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20 thoughts on ““Healed”

  1. I think there is a difference between “healing” and being “healed”, both medically and emotionally, right? Healing is a process that the body goes through and that people go through after trauma & loss. Being healed does imply that the process is complete. I have yet to hear a babyloss parent or anyone that has gone through severe trauma say that they are healed, but rather that they are on the continual healing process. Although maybe medically the goal is to get the healing patient to the point of being healed, not all medical ailments have that result, right? Some people just have to learn to live with their medical ailments. There is never an expectation that you will some day not be sad or angry that your child is not here. People who expect that of you obviously have not experienced this type of loss or have suppression issues. Whether you call it healing, coping, or integrating, it is all the process of learning to live without your child that you wish was here. The process hopefully makes us, as you indicate, more fully emotionally functional in life and better prepared to hopefully bring another life into this world or be present for the lives that are currently in our life.

    • Yes, some people learn to live with their ailments- they don’t heal from diabetes, they just learn to live with it, integrate it. And you are totally right- I don’t really hear people int he babyloss and trauma community use the world healed in a way that makes me pause. I think it bothers me when it’s used in what I perceive as a more flippant way (whether intended or not). But that’s how my life is now- I read so much more into simple semantics! It’s almost funny!

      • A person with diabetes is what I thought of as well when thinking of someone living with an ailment. The ailment of diabetes is technically healed with the use of insulin and dietary restrictions, but they’re not completely cured and they have to make significant lifestyle changes in order to live with diabetes.

        When I think of others that have gone through severe trauma, I think of people who have lost limbs or other bodily functions from combat or some other disaster (Boston Marathon bombing). Their body might be “healed” from the trauma of losing a limb, but emotionally they will be constantly trying to cope and heal emotionally from this trauma.

        It might not be comparable or fair to compare my emergency C-section and consequentially losing my son to losing a limb because I am still thankfully fully able-bodied and able to produce other children (hopefully), but it does feel like a huge and significant piece of me is missing. I honestly feel like part of me died when my son died last March and it will never come back, just like my son will never come back. Consequently, I will just have to learn how to live a productive life with that part of me missing. So there has been a lot of healing that has happened from last year when this was all unfolding to now, but I will never be healed.

        I would worry less about semantics and what people are implying and just be where you are at. If people don’t get it, there’s only so much of your precious energy you can spend on these people. Know that what you’re feeling about Mabel now or 60 years from now is valid.

  2. I have the same issue with the word ‘healed’. When I think of something that is ‘healed’ I think of, for example, a broken limb that has been in a plaster cast for a while and is now better, and the person can carry on with their life as though nothing has happened. Grief is not like that. I bristle in a similar way when my therapy mentions the word ‘ok’, no, none of it is ok! I like ‘adjusting to loss’ too – it’s what I’m trying to do, get my grief to coexist with life. xxx

    • hah! your “ok” comment reminds me of the early days- when people would ask “how are you” and our almost automatic answer was “ok”- when we were never ok- our babies just died! or when we fill in that awkward pause after we tell someone our child is dead an d we sometimes say “it’s ok” like i started to the other day. such a little work- two simple letters- that now we think about so much- just like the word healed. I like adjusting to loss as well!

  3. Healed is in the same vein as “over it.” Even healing implies that there is an end state when one is finally fully recovered. I was talking to a coworker of mine who is newly in remission from breast cancer, and she said, “I no longer have cancer, but I’ll never truly be cancer-free.” What she meant was that she will constantly live with the aftereffects – the remnants of chemo, the new hair (gray, short; before it was black, shoulder-length), the constant stress and strain of recurrence, of knowing just how close you were to death. I think it’s similar to the babyloss. We may no longer have numbing grief, clinical depression, anxiety, but we will always have the aftereffects of having once had a child, and now no longer having them with us. We too will have the fear of recurrence in future pregnancies, the hyperawareness of mortality, the flashbacks to the shock and grief of first learning our child’s diagnosis and prognosis. I like the “adjusting to loss.” We have learned to function again; in some ways we “beat” our babyloss like others “beat” cancer. But we’ll never be fully healed, and we’ll never be the same.

    • yes! that’s what I feel like people are asking when they use the word “healed”- are you “over it”? like “geez, are you done yet??” I already feel self conscious about my grief timeline (something I’m working on not being). What a great analogy- the cancer one. Cancer is so much more relatable to people. we know people with cancer- there are often outward signs (losing hair, weight). We cheer them on. If people viewed babyloss like they fo cancer we might feel differently supported.

  4. I also hate the word “healed”, for the same reasons. I don’t mind if, for example, I’m talking about a ceremony or experience that was helpful for me, and someone says “it sounds like that was healing for you”… but in other contexts, sometimes it makes me want to scream and vom and run away. I also prefer words like “adjusting” and “integrating”. I feel like the only true healing in this situation would be if everything was just a big, strange mistake and my son were with me again. It’s hard enough to accept the reality that that isn’t going to happen, and acceptance of that feels nothing like healing — it feels brutal and horrible, because it is brutal and horrible! So, feeling like I should somehow be okay with that and call it “healing” and be “all better”, ugh. Yes. Grrr healing.

    • Okay also — I feel like “healing” implies restoring my previous state. Which simply is not going to happen, ever. “Adjusting” and “integrating” imply moving forward to a new and different state, and slowly recognizing that things are going to be different and accepting that change. So, “healing” sometimes even sounds like moving backwards in that process of change, if that makes sense. There’s really not any restoration going on, it’s a full-on metamorphosis.

      • I feel very similarly. What “was” is actually dead after your child dies. Even the clothes that sit idle in my closet now, worn during Zachary’s life, look like they are from another lifetime. Healing or restoration is impossible. Adaptation and metamorphosis seems the only realistic way to live with this loss.

      • Another life time, right? I often sit here wondeirng- was this all a dream? did this really happen? omg- I actually had a baby? my life has changed, but not in the way it’s supposed to after having a baby- so it feels unreal. I’m living a different version of the life I had before.

      • whoa- so true, looking at it in that time frame. I totally agree, you put it so well- healing can feel like going backward if trying to get to our original state. healing would almost negate all the experience we had, make it seem like our babies didnt even exist!

  5. An uncle called me and asked if I am “all better now?” and I fumbled for an answer, I cant be ALL better, but I am somewhat better. I will be all better when I have my duaghter in my arms, before then, it will always be somewhat. Same as healed…I am somewhat healed- I dont walk around my house like a zombie looking for a lost shoe in the middle of the night..but I wish every baby carrying woman would so kind as to cross the street whenever they see me approaching.

    • wah?? how can you even answer that question! I guess i better start preparing because someday someone will ask the same of me. WE have changed, havent we? adjusted in some ways- no longer ozmbie like. Instead we are on the surface functional and can sometimes appear “healed.” Though we know are truly not, will never be- and if we need proof of that, it comes in our stiffening at all those baby carrying women!

  6. Like others, I am similarly struggling with this. I had a group of friends express that they were confused that I wasn’t “better” yet. I didn’t even know how to begin to respond. My heart wanted to say, “BETTER? YOU THINK I SHOULD BETTER THAT MY SON’S NOT HERE?” but my head reminded me that they just were probably looking for some sort of confirmation that I was healing. I don’t know. It’s like navigating foreign waters, this baby grief process. I wish I didn’t feel so defensive about these things, but I can’t help it. The reality is, the loss of a baby is huge huge HUGE and just lingers for seemingly forever. UGH.

    • wah??? people confused you’re not better yet? I just wish like people would look at our loss like an amputation- which in some real way it is. A body part of ours was lost forever. No one asks an amputee- are you over it yet? They ask- how is like not? How are you adjusting? do you need help? geez! but yes- some of the seemingly hurtful words our loved ones say are simply well intentioned (we could all write a book about this!). I feel so defensive too! I find that I’m able to work it all out here in our babyloss community because if we reacted the way we truly felt everytime someone said something well intentioned but painful, I feel like we’d have little friends left. It’s crummy that we have to navigate so carefully- protecting our feelings and others, trying to educate on what’s helpful all why trying to figure out ourselves what’s helpful. sometimes I want to say “thank you so much for trying- but that’s not really helpful at all!” someday I’ll figure out a way to politely help people learn what to say without alienating and protecting myself all at the same time!

  7. Ten years ago I had surgery for endometriosis. It was very unexpected (I was diagnosed one day before that surgery) and took 5 hours, leaving my poor husband-then-boyfriend very worried about why it took so much longer than planned. It’s safe to assume that I have healed from that surgery (from the disease would be a much more complicated question). However, I have so much scar tissue now that on an MRI you just see noise, not really whether there are any new endometrioma. Thus to me, “healed” means something like “functioning again”. There are scars, sure. It’s probably true that many people look at it in the time-reversal sense – I had a cold and now I am as good as before.
    I also think that many people assume I’m “healed” and “all better” now that I have a living baby. But as I’m sure you all know, it’s not that easy. My heart still aches for the twins I will not get to raise. I may not talk as much about them as I used to, because I’m busy and exhausted. But when I go and look at the stars at night I still miss them terribly. I think there’s a “point of no return” with major events such as babyloss, and we will never be quite like we were before. I just wish people wouldn’t always consider that a bad thing.

    • yes- your surgery is a good comparison. a cold, we get over, are back to normal and can forget about. major surgery that changes your life? leaves scars? makes you wonder about whats going on? right on.

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