Scroll Top

The Death of a Loved One: Recovery versus Reconciliation

Traditionally, when it comes to grief, the focus has been on “recovery.” Now, however, it is increasingly more common to find that the focus is on reconciliation rather than recovery. So what’s the difference?

If you think of a typical use for recovery, you might think of a common cold. You get sick, you feel terrible for a week or two, and then you start to get better. Your symptoms (the fever, the sore throat, the sneezing, etc.) diminish until one day you wake up and realize your cold is completely gone. You have fully recovered.

What if our example wasn’t a cold but instead was an amputated arm? After the awful event which necessitated the amputation of your arm, you would enter a period of what the hospital would call recovery. Eventually, the doctors would declare you fully healed and discharge you from the hospital. But of course, you’re still missing an arm in this example, so while you are now as healthy as you can be, you might think it’s a stretch to call it a full recovery.

When we experience the death of a loved one, what we go through is much more like an amputation than a cold or cancer. When someone we love dies, we never get over that loss. At best, over time, we become reconciled to our new reality. We make adjustments to the hole in our lives that we would fix if we could. But we can’t. Just as if our arm was amputated, all we can do is move forward and come to terms with our new reality in which the loved one is no longer alive and present. This, then, is why I favor the term reconciliation rather than recovery when it comes to grief. Yes, over time, the excruciatingly sharp pains of a new loss are likely dull to an occasional throb– but the point is that the grief doesn’t entirely disappear. We learn to have a life without being able to see, touch, or call that special person. When a person who has lost a limb gets a prosthetic, this is an improvement over having no limb at all, but it’s still a far cry from having their limb attached and functioning. Similarly, once we have adjusted to our new normal, our lives are still less rich due to that loved one’s absence. And, really, when you think about it, the idea that we should “recover” from losses is a bit insulting. What does it say about the strength and depth of your love for that person, if all it takes it the passage of time before you can go about your life completely untroubled by their absence? That aching place in your heart is a testament to how important that person was in your life. In reality, we don’t quit loving or missing or even grieving the loss of loved ones so much as the way we love, miss, and grieve change. We learn to live with the new reality and we learn new ways to have that loved one still present in our lives, such as through sharing memories of them with others, by talking to them, or by honoring them by continuing an activity or tradition they treasured.

If you are struggling to create a new reality after the loss of a loved one or after the loss of an important part of your life (job, marriage, etc.), I invite you to call me. We will work together to help you create your own reconciliation. Call (816) 226-4678 or use my client portal to schedule a session.

Related Posts