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How Do You Know If You’re Healing?

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When you’re grieving, it may feel like you’re in a long gray tunnel that you’ll never get through. It’s depressing, lonely, exhausting and feels endless.

It’s difficult to see the light. It can be frightening to think that you’ll never get through… that your life will remain in the gray.

If you allow yourself to grieve, you will heal. Life, as you knew it, will be changed forever but you will get through. You will have a newly defined life, one that you never asked for, one that you never imagined. This new life can again bring happiness, joy and peace. 

How do you know if you’re healing? 

Although everyone’s grief is different, there are different hallmarks that let you know that healing is occurring. I asked members of my grief group to share what they know is different, shifting, in their grieving.

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B.F. — 12 months after her husband died

“I find that I am sleeping more deeply and i wake up rested. Not tired. That affects my whole attitude. The day seems easier to face. I find that I actually enjoy my alone time. Unthinkable last year.”

B.S. — 12 months after her husband died

“My daughter just got engaged this weekend and I was delighted and truly happy for her. I believe I set the tone for how the rest of the family accepted the news. We are all looking forward to the wedding plans.

“The difference in my journey is that life seems to have meaning again.  I have resumed making plans, taking classes, volunteering, getting involved in travel and learning to live on my own after 49 years of marriage.”

H.T. — 12 months after her husband died

“I can see a bicyclist in a yellow colored jacket who is roughly the same build as my spouse and although I feel a great sadness, I don’t break down but am able to continue with my life.

“It’s tax time and I’m getting into the dreaded paperwork that was his domain. Last year I followed his system exactly. This year I’m slowly realizing that I’m not my husband and I have to do things that work for me. I’m changing a few of the methods of handling the paperwork although I agonize each time I do things differently than he would have done them. 

“My husband kept everything! After checking with my accountant, I’m making use of the shredder. I could not have changed anything that he did until recently. 

“I walk daily, usually alone. Since he became ill, this has been my time to think about my husband and our life together. For the first few months after he died, I could only think of him during the last few months when he was emaciated and in constant pain. Now I also think of the good times and the bumps in the road as well. I am grateful for the wonderful life that we had together. It was better than I ever could have imagined. I still miss him in many ways every day.”

M.F. — 18 months after her husband died

“I knew I was healing when I could look at his picture and instead of welling up with tears, it was with gratitude. Yes! Gratitude, for the 47 wonderful years we shared, for the love we had and for the incredible memories. I said to myself, “If I had not had him at all, I would have missed 47 great years and the beautiful life we had together. I look at his picture now and thank him for being with me as long as he was and am grateful. So although my eyes well up with tears, they are also tears of joy, of the time that I was privileged to have him in my life.

“I know that healing has taken place when I wake up happy to greet the day and look forward to being with my children, grandchildren or a good friend. Enjoying them is healing and it lets love into my life, maybe through a different window, but it’s love and light no matter where and with whom it comes in with. Enjoyment of the other things in my life makes me love being alive. It doesn’t diminish what I had — it just allows me to enjoy me.

“Life is always about choices. I can choose to live, love and remember with joy in my heart or I can choose to wallow in my oneness instead of grabbing on to the things in life that are worth living and loving for and that give me fulfillment.  I choose the latter, it’s more healing.”

Grief is a natural process that has similar stages and phases for everyone but it is also unique to each individual. In the beginning, it may feel like the pain is unbearable.  Just like a cut on your skin that heals and eventually scabs over and leaves a scar, there is an internal healing that happens with grieving.  It, too, will be visible and felt over time. 

So how do you know if you’re healing?

The acronym D.I.F. will give you some guidance to know what you can’t see inside.

Is there a DIF-ference in your grieving?

D= Duration

I= Intensity

F= Frequency

For example, using crying as a symptom:

Your tears may not last as long — duration.

The pain, sadness and tears may not be as intense.

The tears may not come as frequently.

Changes in symptoms are likely indicating that healing is occurring.

You will heal. Be gentle with yourself and the process. Being in a grief support group helps the healing because you are not alone. The individuals in the group understand.

If you feel that it’s too intense or your grief is complicated, you might want to consider professional help from a therapist who is trained and skilled in helping you through your grief.

By Jo Christner, Psy.D.