Have you ever wondered why dogs lick their wounds? Some studies have shown that it blocks their nerve endings, and gives a little pain relief. Dog saliva also has some mild antibacterial effect. They instinctively know how to help themselves.
It got me thinking about how we deal with our own wounds.
Now I’m not suggesting that we start licking our wounds instead of going to the hospital! I’m thinking more of our emotional wounds, what do we do, or what can we do to help ourselves, to begin to heal.
I’m a very visual person, I see life in pictures. I often learn lessons and get insight from nature and the world around me, it’s just the way my brain is wired.
A few months after mum died I was out walking my dog when I came across this tree. It’s a big old tree, and I recall standing underneath it, just looking up. You can see in the photo that this tree is badly damaged, it has a huge gash in its trunk. The gash is so deep that the inside of the tree is visible.
I don’t know how this tree was damaged, perhaps it was the result of a storm, or maybe a lightening strike. However the injury happened, it was obviously the result of something violent and strong.
I stood looking at this tree for ages, absorbing the image before me. I began to look beyond the damaged area to the rest of the tree. It was summertime, so the branches were full and leafy green. High up there were birds nesting, and the odd squirrel was scurrying along its branches. This tree was full of life.
It had been severely damaged at its very core, and yet it was still alive. Not just alive, but alive and thriving. The tree had continued to grow around, and in spite of its wound. The thing that struck me, was not that the tree was still growing, but that it had grown around its scar. The wound was clearly visible, there was nothing growing out of the scarred area, but around the scar the tree was healthy.
My life is full of scars, my body is full of them too. Some from accidents, others from surgeries. Some of them are so small and old that they are barely visible and I don’t notice them anymore. Others are more obvious.
I had major surgery a few months ago. It left me with one large and several small scars. These scars are red and angry looking. My body has healed from the surgery, my wounds have healed, but the scars are red, raw and tender to the touch. Over the years, these too will start to fade, but the large scars on my body will never disappear completely.
I am marked.
Each of them tells a story. The larger the scar, the larger the initial wound was.
For me this is such a powerful illustration of grief.
My grief is not just one scar, it is hundreds, thousands, millions of scars. Each one a memory, a moment in time, a place, a song, a flower, collectively they become a gaping wound in my life, and in my heart. The months after mum died my grief was so………………………….(I left a blank here as I was writing because I couldn’t find the word I was looking for) I still can’t. There is nothing to describe the pain, fear, heartbreak, devastation. There are no words.
I’m speaking of my own grief, because everyone’s grief journey is different. My grief broke me, utterly broke me. I thought it would kill me. I hoped it would kill me.
When we are physically injured our wounds are obvious, not so with grief. I can remember feeling so angry with everything and everyone. I was struggling to get through each hour of each day, and I remember looking at people going about their everyday lives. I just wanted to scream at them, ‘how could they be going on as normal, don’t they know what’s happened to me, can’t they see I’m wounded and bleeding?’ My grief was so consuming that I expected other people to be able to see my pain.
Some people WILL see your brokenness, they will see beyond the natural, they will see your heart. And some special people will be brave enough to put themselves into your shoes for just a moment. They will try to imagine what your grief feels like, they will try to understand.
These are the people to surround yourself with, the people who will tenderly care for your wounded heart. The ones who will protect you, who will be a buffer between you and the world around you. The ones who will very gently walk beside you and help you navigate your way through the darkness.
A dear friend came to visit after mum died. She is a lovely lovely friend. I broke down when she was getting ready to leave, it was one of those moments when the tears flowed and there was no holding them back.
Later she told me that as she drove away, she started to think about her own mum. She imagined for a moment how she would feel without her. She immediately started to weep. Overwhelmed by her feelings she had to pull over and call her mum, just to hear her voice, and to tell her she loved her.
These are the kind of friends you need around you. They are rare, but you don’t need many. I had only a handful, but these friendships have become much much deeper. That’s what happens when you share the intensity of the deepest of pain.
The wounds and scars of grief change who we are. They change how we live our lives, they change how we see the world. Life can never be the same again, nor should it be, nor would I want it to be.
If you are marked by a deep scar of grief, it is an indication of a great love. The greater we love, the greater we grieve, it is the price we pay. It does not mean that we are without hope though.
Just like the tree, slowly new life will start to emerge around your scar. You won’t be the same, your life will forever be marked by your pain, and it is likely that your scar will always be tender, but you will start to live again.
Your grief will have changed you though, it would be impossible to live through such a trauma, and come out the same on the other side. You may be wiser, richer, more compassionate and empathetic, or simply a better friend.
Dont misunderstand me, I still have desperately sad days when I wonder if I will ever be able to live without my mum. But sometimes, I catch a little glimpse of myself, whole, with hope for the future, and with a depth of character, and relationship with God that would never have happened without walking through such grief. And one day, I don’t know when, but one day, I will be able to support someone in their own grief and brokenness.
‘The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who are crushed in spirit’.
He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds (literally: cures their pain and sorrow) Psalm 147:3
There is hope for those of us who feel broken, for those who feel weighed down with sorrow, whose spirits feel crushed, for those of us who feel lonely, alone and afraid.
He (God) sees your wounds, He sees your scars, He sees your fear, and very gently He holds you close to His heart.
He sees the way ahead, even if you can’t.
He sees you.
“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”
― Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy