Does Time Heal All Wounds?

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“Time flies over us but leaves its shadow behind.”  ~  Nathaniel Hawthorne

If you have suffered great pain and loss, there is a good chance a well-meaning person offered this familiar consolation: “Time heals all wounds.”   

Why do we insist on repeating this phrase? Because we don’t know what else to say. Because there isn’t really anything to say. We want to make the person feel better—somehow. We, standing on the far shore of grief, are certain this saying is true.

Even with some inherent truth in this adage, I believe it is unhelpful to those in the midst of fresh grief. Such a person care barely move through the minutes of each day. 

When my father died suddenly and tragically, I could only see Before and Now.  I did not care about how I would feel six months into the future because I couldn’t imagine that future.  As an ambitious person who can get consumed with productivity and efficiency, I had to surrender to grief. I had to learn that recovery cannot be rushed along.

Even today, exactly one year later, I do not feel the passage of 12 months. The chronological movement of time did not heal. It is what happened to me during that time. I got therapy. I had supportive friends. I practiced self-care. I mourned, grieved, reminisced, and reflected.  All this contributed toward healing. The wound is still there, perhaps covered by a scar, but the unbearable pain has lessened.

Each grief is unique to the person who is grieving. Circumstances of the loss matter, too. The loss of a child, for example, may never be “gotten over”. The worst thing you can say to a grieving person is, “Gee, it’s been X months. You have to get on with your life.”  Wouldn’t the grieving person “get on with her life” if she knew how?

Instead, it is far better to say: “I know you are suffering terribly and can’t see anyway out. But I know you will get through this if you give yourself time to heal.”

Then offer your steady presence. Listen more. Say less.

Time itself does not heal wounds. If anything, time may soften the sharp edges of pain. The grief process, unlike time itself, is not linear. Grief has the power to make you feel stuck in time. It has the power to narrow your vision so you can’t see a future.

Time can heal if you use it well. You have to take time to do the necessary inner work. The only way to get over grief is to go through it. There is no detour.

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16 responses

  1. Hi Evelyn,

    Thank you for the visit to Emotional Shadows. Since I write about emotions, this post touched me profoundly.
    Time does not heal…it just blurs the memories of grief, it teaches us to be resilient and brings along lessons that sorrows have to be accepted in life since they cant be avoided, we don’t have any control over certain events…however hard we may try.
    It is better to let the grief seep deeper, percolate down each vein so that we can emerge stronger. Words may comfort us but seem meaningless till we have the presence of somebody around us who can just sit and provide the much needed warmth. Some wounds never heal though! I agree.

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful response. The idea that time “blurs the memories of grief” resonates with me. I appreciate your deep and bold exploration at Emotional Shadows. Nice to meet you.

  2. You have captured the essence of grief and loss, of the total absence of comfort that comes when people tell you things will get better, that you won’t always feel like this. Grief is an inherently personal journey; you may have people beside you providing support and comfort and love, but the journey is yours alone. Thank you for sharing your experience in such a beautifully expressed way.

  3. Evelyn, I’m so proud of you. I can hear depth of personal growth echo in your writing and a sincere sense of compassion that reverberates from within. I’m honored to have witnessed you even briefly as you confronted your dear father’s sudden passing. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thank you for so bravely sharing your experience and insights from grieving. Your words, as always, are a gift and a blessing to me.

  5. Each life, if is to be well-lived, takes some heroism. Sharing your hard-earned wisdom will add value to the lives you touch. And, as you have heard, the first anniversary is usually the toughest one. Hang in there, Evelyn.

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