What is it about grief that seems so at odds with the notion of recovery? The very word suggests that we’re going to re-cover something that’s lost or missing, that we’ll get back what death has taken away. When one we love dies, the finality of our loss seems far removed from recovery. As we struggle with the reality that nothing will ever be the same again on this side of heaven, it may seem, from the depths of our grief, as though all is truly lost. It’s almost impossible to think about recovery and going on with our lives when we realize we’ll never see our child grow up, or our father will not be at our son’s wedding, or a beloved grandmother will never again bake her famous cherry pie.
A few months after Leighton died I read a magazine article by a woman also grieving the death of her husband. She described her experience of pain and went on to state that she found “recovery” at a spa. I paused a moment to reflect – could recovery really lie in something as basic as a massage? Likely her body felt better after some treatments and few days’ rest, but the hard truth of grief is that our spirit and soul do not recover at a spa, at the mall, or in some distant place far from home.
And though sometimes we reach for those convenient “remedies” within easy reach, recovery isn’t found in a bottle – cosmetics, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, whatever – or in a grocery store or on the table. These are all momentary “feel better” panaceas that do little or nothing to help us “be better”. For recovery is really about being better, rediscovering our best self.
Despite our skepticism and resistance to the acceptance of our loss, if we allow that it might indeed be possible to recover from the worst of our grief, the question is “how does this happen?” There are a few things we can consciously and conscientiously do to help ourselves toward recovery. What we’re seeking is to get back - to recover - the part of our selves we’ve so lovingly invested in our grief.
And while there’s no guarantee that our recovery will be full or complete, as long as we want to be better, there’s every possibility that we will be restored to ourselves. We know we’re recovering when we sense that we’re less tearful, less fearful, stronger, and more enthusiastic about life. This is what recovery feels like.
One of the most difficult obstacles to recovery is releasing our ferocious grip on the past. When we grieve, our relationship with our loved one can begin to define us – who we are and how we live. If our daily existence is qualified only by the death of one we love, we allow the past to be a primary stakeholder in our future. When we relax a little we realize that what we’ve experienced is part of our history and will always be so. No one can take it away. The past is part of the permanent landscape of our life - the good, the bad, and the beautiful.
When we grieve it’s easy to give up on hope because, for a while, it may seem as though everything we’ve ever hoped for died with our loved one. I hoped my husband and I would be married for 25 years. When he died, the glorious joy of our love seemed over forever. I felt life was at an end, that there was no reason to hope and nothing to hope for. At the time, recovery was the farthest thing from my mind and heart.
What we find, though, is that hope is incremental – hope builds on hope, hope thrives on hope. And so when we want to be better, to recover from the grief of our loss, we start small and learn again to hope. We discover what to hope for – it’s different now, isn’t it? We dare to live again in expectation.
The best experience of recovery comes when we look heavenward, listening for whispers of love from of our dearly beloved. There’s perhaps no greater or more powerful moment of perfect peace in our grief when at last we discern that the love we shared is alive, fully present in our heart, “Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything” (1 Corinthians 13:7 JBP). We hear a familiar voice say “I love you” and know that all is well. And we are better - recovered and made whole again through the steady faithfulness of the loving, caring God of all grace.
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
Keep me this day, O God, in the assurance of your restoration. Amen.