We’ve all heard it.
“Time heals all wounds.”
Sounds incredibly hopeful for someone who’s drowning in grief. Except when time doesn’t heal your wound.
What is the numerical value of grief?
Later this year will mark eight years since my 4-year-old daughter, Margareta, died. She died exactly 29 days after her fourth birthday. That means we had 1,489 glorious days to spend with her — the only daughter in a family full of boys.
One of my grandmothers died last year at the age of 98. My other grandmother is in her 90s. Based on those genes, I can probably expect to live until close to a century old. If that is true, Margareta will have been alive for about 4% of my life.
4%. 0.04. A small fraction by most measurements. A blip in my overall life. Except that she’s anything but.
Coming up on eight years since her death, she will have been gone twice as long as she lived. The small details of her life are already being lost to time. And yet I still think of her every day, multiple times a day. This isn’t a bad thing. Every time I think of her is an opportunity to celebrate the love between us.
But lying just under the surface of my day-to-day life is the endless pain that surrounds the memories of my daughter. Anything can trigger it. My chest tightens. My breathing pauses. The tears begin to well up behind my eyes.
I find myself suspended in a bubble of torment while the world goes on around me — not caring that my daughter is dead and that I have to live in that reality for the rest of my life.
A glimpse of the future?
A friend told me a story once. She was waiting in line at the grocery store. An elderly woman in front of her — perhaps in her 80s — was staring at the cover of a magazine that featured an adorable baby boy. A smile grew on the woman’s face.
“He looks like my son,” she said to no one in particular. The clerk ringing her up paid little notice.
“He was so beautiful,” she said with pride. Then her tone changed. “He died when he was a baby.”
The clerk looked bewildered; said nothing and continued ringing her up.
My friend tried to comfort her by acknowledging her son and her loss. But the woman was lost in the simultaneous love and grief she had for her child who was only in her life a few short years well over half a century ago.
I can see myself in that woman. Forever juggling the overwhelming love of her precious child with the crushing pain of having lost him so long ago. I can feel her despair; the need to tell complete strangers that he existed. That he mattered.
Can time really heal all wounds?
No. Not this wound. Not in this lifetime.
But really…it’s ok. It doesn’t have to relegate us to a lifetime of depression and despair.
The wound that won’t heal can transform itself into a continual reminder that this life of ours should be lived. Not just in a get-through-each-day kind of life, but a life that recognizes the gift that each day brings…because we know all too well that the next is never guaranteed.
With dedication and intention, we can turn a wound that forever remains open into fertile ground. From that fertile wound grows new meaning for our life. The warmth and depth of our love is the brilliant sun that shines down on our fertile ground. The tears we shed is the rain that helps our garden grow.
We grow resilience. We grow compassion. We grow purpose.
We grow for our children who didn’t get to.