Does It Have To Hurt To Heal?
I woke this morning from the worst night of my life.
“Please let it all be just a bad dream,” I pleaded to myself as I opened my eyes after 2 hours of broken sleep. I turned my head to the right to see my 11-year-old daughter, Erika, sleeping between my wife and me.
“What is she doing here? This is not a good sign,” I shuddered.
I sat up further and saw my wife, Angela, lying awake staring vacantly at the ceiling with glassy eyes. At that moment, all hope had vanished. “ Oh no. I’m so tired and I don’t know if I can face this.”
This was the dreaded morning after suddenly losing the youngest member of our family.
Our beloved two-year-old dog, Melody, had been hit by a speeding car right in front of my hysterical daughter. The car never braked and didn’t even stop! I never imagined that my family and I would have come so attached to and would grieve so much for the loss of this playful fur ball. But it really feels like I have lost one of my children. Based upon this experience I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose one of my children.
My father died 10 years ago and despite the immense grief and sadness it seemed a lot easier to move on in life. That may have been because I had spent the most of my adult life living thousands of miles away from his country home and so our relationship consisted of a phone call every month and a once a year get together. What I’m finding so hard is that with Melody, for the past 2 years she has been by our side constantly and every activity at home is now different without her… and that hurts.
While a part of me wanted to curl up and cry and hide from the rest of the world there was another part of me that said, “You are the leader of this family. Your family needs you right now. It’s time to step up and show them how to start getting on with life.”
I sat on the edge of my bed determined to show strength and resilience to inspire my grieving family. But every step that I contemplated hurt me deeply. Then the irony hit me.
“Here I am, a trained health professional who often talks about the benefits of experiencing the pain of physical injuries, which help you to truly heal. But here I was experiencing emotional pain and doing my best to avoid it or suppress it.”
Perhaps it was more out of a fear of not being a hypocrite, than a sudden stroke of insight… But it gave me an idea…
Maybe you need to hurt to heal.
I know your body can heal without pain but I also know that when you need a lot of healing to take place, pain is often the catalyst.
It was like facing each new activity without Melody was like a band aid that I had to rip off. It hurts immediately and leaves me feeling raw, tender and exposed but perhaps with time will help heal my pain more quickly.
I sat up straighter, put a hand on each of my knees and took a deep breath in and summoned all of my strength and determination and stood up to start facing my first Band-Aid of pain, head on… My first daily morning run in 18 months without my dog!
My normal routine is to put my running gear, get the dog from the laundry and take her outside to the toilet while I put my shoes on. Then we would have the inevitable tussle between snuggling on the bed with my wife or one of my kids or coming with me for my run. This time I put my running gear on but I couldn’t find my shoes. I could tell I was out of sync with this change in routine. Trying to stay strong, I became frazzled and annoyed and was wandering aimlessly around trying to find my shoes.
I stumbled into the laundry where I was confronted by her unoccupied dog mat. Rrrriiiiippp… of these painful Band-Aids of reality is torn off from my heart.
The pain jolted me back to the task at hand. I returned to my bedroom found my shoes right next to my bed (where they always were). As I was putting my shoes I was bracing myself for the hardest part of the run….leaving without my dog. At the same time I felt my wife’s gaze on the back of my neck. Angela can read me like a book and she sensed my struggle. I heard her say to Erika who was now awake, “Do you want to go for a run with Daddy?”
Initially I felt upset and embarrassed with myself. I couldn’t summon the necessary macho strength and resilience to handle this one my own. I had to admit I was struggling and I could have done with some company.
Without hesitation (bless her heart) my angelic Erika, who is also known for throwing a tantrum at the mere suggestion of having to exercise, jumped out of bed and quickly got ready and grabbed my hand as we left the yard without Melody….. Ouch ….another Band-Aid is ripped off.
We both shed a few tears as we walked passed the spot where Melody was killed and then started a light jog. Down the hill came a familiar lady I would meet most mornings who would always pull hard to restrain her dog from trying to attack ours. This time her dog never made a sound but that silence sounded like a deafening roar to me…. Rrrriiiip.
Ten minutes later we arrived at Melody’s favorite part of the run. Where I would let her off her leash and she would run freely beside me on the grass covered hockey field and take delight at chasing the swooping plovers and magpies. She would often stop and sniff at base of this one particular giant gum tree. As we passed that tree I felt another painful tear. I asked my daughter to sit by the tree while I went for a 600m sprint to the nearby horse stables and back.
As I began sprinting, I reflexly turned around to the tree where I would always have to call Melody.
She wasn’t there.
I sprinted faster as if I was trying to outrun all the pain and sadness inside of me. I went around the bend and recalled with delight how she would sprint right next to me and look up at my with her tongue hanging out, which communicated pure joy. It is an image that I will always hold in my heart as it redefined for me what true joy and happiness was. For that fleeting moment I did not feel pain in my heart- I felt a deep heart centered love and joy.
I looked into the rays of the rising sun and right in front of me was gladdened to see a family of four kangaroos nibbling on the dew covered grass of the hockey field adjacent to the horse stables… and momentarily reminisced with a smile about what Melody would have done had she seen these kangaroos!
I turned and jogged back to the tree where Erika was. The recent experience had given me a much needed boost. As we walked home the conversation between Erika and I turned more positive as we began sharing fond memories of Melody and more openly expressed our fondness for each other and our family.
Times like this made you appreciate what you have right now.
About 100m from home a man was walking his dog which looked so much like a six month old version of Melody. As beautiful as this dog was, its similarity with Melody was both painful to see but also provided us with a temporary illusion that Melody wasn’t gone. I couldn’t help but bend down and pat it.
The puppy reached up to me and for about 10 seconds began intently sniffing what must have been Melody’s scent that was still on me. Tears welled up in my eyes realizing that part of Melody was still with me. Then this dog proceeded to jump up on me and lick me just like Melody used to do.
I walked away from that beautiful dog, a hurt man… A hurt man, that was now healing!
Written by Dr. Paul Lanthois