I took it for granted for so long that I didn’t burn. Occasionally I’d get a hint of a sunburn, painful moments that reminded me to be careful, to cover up, to be more attentive. But mostly, there was no burn. There was the warmth of the sun, the beauty of the tan, and the security of knowing that I wouldn’t burn unless I stopped paying attention. I was good at paying attention.
And then one day… I was forced into the sun. Uncovered, unprotected, vulnerable… I was forced there. I would dart in and out of trees, trying desperately to keep out of the sun, hoping beyond hope that I didn’t get burned. Most of the time it worked… occasionally I’d get a hint, more than a hint, but then it would heal quickly and hope came back that not only would I go back to my usual “I don’t burn” but I would escape from the glare of the sun and be able to move on to healing my skin.
It happened. Without warning, I was in a place where I couldn’t hide under the trees. I had nothing to protect myself. I had no way to cover up. And I burned. Every inch of my body was sunburned. Seriously sunburned. So painful I couldn’t breathe. So painful moving was impossible. So painful that I didn’t know if I would survive. I burned.
Everything I did was covered in a haze of painful sunburn. And as time moved on… I could disassociate from the pain. I could do things with a smile instead of a grimace. I could laugh again. I could pretend the pain of the sunburn wasn’t there. But something would happen, I would move the wrong way, scratch the wrong spot, spend just slightly too much time out in the sun and the haze would descend again. The pain would come back into sharp focus and that would be all I could see or feel.
Slowly, painfully, I learned to live with the sunburn. I learned to live life with the pain. I learned how to disregard the burn as I moved through my day. It never went away. It never healed fully, because I was forced to spend time in the sun, getting re-burned over and over and over… despite my efforts to protect myself.
And then one day, I discovered that I could mask the pain for a while. For a short time, if I applied aloe vera, I felt relief. It didn’t last long… but the relief was there. For a blessedly short time, the pain of the sunburn would simply not exist. It wasn’t as though I had forgotten the pain or the sunburn… both would come back the moment the aloe wore off… but there was relief, for a very short time.
As time goes on… the sunburn continues to heal, slowly. But the pain still lingers, sometimes sharper, more intense, sometimes muted and soft, but it’s there.
The aloe doesn’t heal the burn, but allows me the break from the pain to face it when it comes back into my consciousness. It gives me a much needed break from the exhaustion of the constant pain… and when I’m forced to feel it again, I have the emotional strength to do so.
But the sunburn is always there… if I move the wrong way, have too hot of a shower, scratch at the itch because it’s healing or simply spend too much time in the sun, I’m reminded instantly, painfully, of how much healing is still left. My ability to disassociate dissolves instantly and the pain is in my face and the only thing I can see.
But the sunburn is always, always there.
The above is an analogy for grief. For so long I took my life, my husband, the love we shared for granted – it would always be there, and we were supposed to live a long and happy life together. When I was forced into the sun… that was him getting so very ill and when he was in ICU for 5 1/2 months. We had ups and downs but even at his worst, I still expected that things would go back to the way they were.
Then he died, and I was burned. We’ve all had a sunburn, we all know what it’s like to move the wrong way, have a shower with your skin on fire, or go spend time in the sun even while burned. For most, the sunburn lasts a few days, maybe a week. For me, my sunburn will last a lifetime. “George” is my aloe vera… for a very short time, I am able to enjoy relief from the pain, but inevitably, I come home and the pain hits me again.
I hope, for those who haven’t had to go through the grief of losing someone you love, this analogy will help you understand your friends who have. The pain never goes away. It is always there. Sometimes, however, we’re just able to mask it better.
Please share this wherever and with whomever you feel might benefit from understanding.