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John James, founder of The Grief Recovery Institute

John W. James

Founder of The Grief Recovery Institute®
Co-Author of The Grief Recovery
Handbook & When Children Grieve

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Time Doesn't Heal - Actions Do

I have heard that it takes two years to get over the death of a loved one, five years to get over the death of a parent, and you never get over the death of a child. Is this true?

It is impossible to answer that question without first debunking the phrase "get over."

You will never your child who died, nor would you forget a parent who died, or a spouse, a sibling, or anyone else with whom you had a meaningful relationship. Another problem is the arbitrary determination of time periods for grief corresponding to your relationship with the person who died.

Those time-based criteria make crippling and illogical comparisons between relationships and your feelings about them. Since no two relationships are ever the same, it is never helpful to compare your reaction to the death of someone important to you with any other loss – someone else’s or your own.

Grieving people are confronted with an unbelievable amount of uncontested misinformation. Immediately following a death, grievers are hit with ideas that are not only incorrect, but suggest that recovery from the pain caused by death is solely a function of time, or in some situations, isn’t even possible.

The assumption that time heals emotional wounds is so prevalent that we include it as one of the six myths that most limit grieving people. Imagine that you have gone out to your car and have discovered that your car has a flat tire. Would you pull up a chair, sit down, and wait for air to get back in your tire? Obviously not. Time is not going to put air into your tire. Only the actions of fixing or changing the flat tire will get the car back on the road.

The same is true of grief. Time can’t do any more for your broken heart than it can for a flat tire. It is equally true that only correct actions can help you complete what was left unfinished between you and someone who died, so you can get your life back on the road.

Not The Time For A Debate

Since grievers are reeling under the impact of a death, they usually don’t stop to analyze and debate the bad advice they receive. Without accurate and helpful guidance, they simply cling to the myth that time heals because they have nothing to believe in its place. The idea that time can repair an emotional wound is not only false, it is also dangerous, because it stops grievers from learning what actions would help them deal with the inevitable discoveries they make of things that were left incomplete in their relationship with the person who died.

Why does the myth that time will heal persist?

Like many misleading ideas, the notion that time heals has a partial basis in reality. Recovery from loss and completion of emotional pain is the result of small and correct action choices taken over time that lead to successful completion of what the death left emotionally unfinished for you.

There is a world of difference between time healing a wound and a wound healing over time as the result of actions.

Let us try to explain how an aspect of truth dictates the falsehood. Death of someone important to us can produce an overwhelming amount of emotional energy. At times the pain is so unbearable that our hearts and brains numb us out when it is too much for us to handle. We call it emotional Novocain, a metaphor that helps people understand what they are experiencing.

Numbness notwithstanding, in time most people adapt to the reality of the loss. As that occurs, some of the pain will diminish naturally. Most people interpret the reduced pain to have been caused by the passage of time, since that’s what they were taught to believe. But that’s not true. It is the natural survival ability to adjust to the altered circumstances of your life that creates the illusion that time has healed you.

Even though most people find a way to accommodate the new reality of their lives after someone important dies, that does not mean they have completed what was left unfinished. That is why so many people tell us that even years after the death, they feel the pain is getting worse not better. For them, time is an enemy, not a friend.

The key to dealing with the impact of the death of someone important to you is not to wait for time to do what it cannot do, but to take the actions that will help you complete what the death left unfinished. The actions of Grief Recovery are spelled out in detail in The Grief Recovery Handbook, which is available at most libraries and book stores.

© 2022 John W. James and The Grief Recovery Institute®. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this and other articles please contact The Grief Recovery Institute at info@griefrecoverymethod.com or by phone, 800-334-7606.

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    April 2017
    Indianapolis, IN - April 7-10, 2017
    Princeton, NJ - April 7-10, 2017
    Reading, Berkshire, England - April 21-24, '17
    Denver, CO - April 21-24, 2017
    Vancouver, BC, Canada - Apr 28-May 1,'17
    San Francisco, CA - Apr 28-May 1,'17
    May 2017
    Seattle, WA - May 5-8, 2017
    Dallas, TX - May 5-8, 2017
    Milwaukee, WI - May 19-22, 2017
    Torquay, Devon, England - May 19-22, '17
    Regina, SK, Canada - May 19-22,'17
    Los Angeles, CA - May 19-22, 2017

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