A mathematical axiom is something that is true, whether we like it or not. It is the same as the law of gravity. Challenge gravity and we can only prove it; never break it.
Learning four axioms about grief helps us take control of it. They help in developing the stamina and patience it takes to endure the burden, stress and duration of grief. Here is the first axiom:
1. The Way Out of Grief Is Through It.
This is the single most important fact for everyone to learn about grief. The way to recover from any major loss is to face it squarely and walk directly through the center of it. The common responses are to Try to deny it, try to avoid it, try to rush past it and, when none of these work, try to wait it out. They are as futile as trying to fall up hill.
Well meaning people will say, “You’ll get over it.” Someone else will be sure to remind you that “time heals.” Well intentioned or not, both are really bad advice.
To “get over” an experience, carries an inevitable sense of amnesia. When my wife and I have had a disagreement, we are “over” it when we can’t even remember disagreeing. I have yet to meet the widowed person or parent who lost a child who wants no memory of the one who has died. The correct response to “You’ll get over it,” is “No, I won’t, but I will get through it.”
The one who tells you “time heals” may be the nicest person in the world—but in this case, is lying. Time can sometimes heal wounds to the body, but it takes time and the hardest work any of us ever has to do to heal a heart broken by loss. A woman tried to let time heal the loss of her husband. She made it for 12 years, then a neighbor’s husband died and she found herself back at square one. She joined the grief support group I was leading. It took the same 3-4 years to get through the loss and recover a full life as it would have 12 years earlier.
To go through grief requires stamina and an incredible amount of patience. At some point along the way it is normal to feel sad beyond words, lonely, lost, and angry—often, all of these. You must be convinced that there is absolutely no other way out your suffering than straight through the middle of it.
The good news is that everyone who does this comes out on top, as a stronger person than before. To “go through” grief also is to “grow through” grief.
My next article will cover axiom 2: “The Very Worst Kind of Grief is Yours”
Bob Deits, M.Th.