The path through death to healing

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

butterfly resting on tombstone
Image by Claudia Peters from Pixabay

 

Healing can be considered as a restoration to wholeness after a loss feels as if it has torn us wide open.

That definition can seem a bit misleading, though, because it sounds as if healing restores us to the person we were and the life we had before the loss, and that's not the case. Healing may knit the wounded places back together again, but it does not leave us unchanged.

In my experience, healing is more like a resurrection or rebirth to new life than a resuscitation of an old one. And there is no resurrection without a death first.

Easter is a good time to explore what this process looks like.

Letting the old die

Loss is a death of the life we had known, whether it involves anyone's physical death or not. It may be a loss of our health, a relationship that has ended, a job that has been lost, a sense of security or safety shattered, or any number of other losses that we encounter in life.

In whatever form it takes, loss means that something we valued is gone from our lives, and we can’t reclaim it in the form it existed before.

Even more, the loss of that something (or someone) we treasured almost always involved the death of some part of our identity along with it.

A divorce, for example, is not only the loss of a spouse, but also the end of our identity as a married person (in addition to many other accompanying losses financially, in physical possessions, and often in collateral relationships).

The first step in healing is letting go of that which is gone from the form in which we knew it. This means letting go not only of that which (or whom) we have lost in form it existed before, but also allowing the parts of identity, hopes, and dreams wrapped up in that which is now lost die as well.

This is not easy to do. When I am in the midst of a loss and its associated grief, the last thing I am eager to do is to let go of anything else, especially not something as dear to me as a piece of my identity or any of my hopes or dreams associated with that identity. I cling to those as tightly as I can, not willing to face any additional loss.

This clinging only keeps me stuck in the loss and brokenness, however. As painful as it is, letting go of these parts of me and allowing them to die is the only thing that sets me free to continue the healing process into rebirth.

Waiting in the grave

Healing is a form of transformation, and it follows the usual stages of transformation from loss to new life, including that “primordial goo” stage when the old has died and the new has not yet emerged.

It is ever-so-tempting in this stage to want to run back to try to cling again to that which has died in me. I find myself longing to recreate my old life—even if it was one that made me miserable—because something I know is better than the uncertainty of the nothingness of this stage.

But this in-between time is necessary. Deep underground my new life is beginning to take root, even though I cannot yet see the form in which it will emerge from the soil of my life.

During this time of waiting, our relationships to the people, things, or situations we have lost begins shifting from the forms we known them into new forms that better fit our changed circumstances.

To again use the example of a divorce, the divorce is not an end of the relationship altogether with the person who was your spouse. It is an end only to your relationship with them as a spouse. Once you let go of the relationship as it was (the death of the first step), your relationship can begin shifting toward a new relationship with them as your former spouse.

A similar process takes place with loved ones who have died as we adjust our relationship with them to reflect the absence of their physical presence. It's the same with any other losses we face as we negotiate this phase of allowing our relationship with what was to shift into something new.

Throughout it all, healing is slowly taking place under the surface as our relationships and identity shift subtly into new forms, even when we can't see these slow shifts happening or discern the final form yet that they will take.

Nurturing new life

In time, as the healing process progresses, the shape of the new version of our life begins to emerge.

The intensity of our grief over our losses eases, a new version of our identity becomes clearer, new forms of relationship to what (and whom) we have lost develop, and new hopes and dreams come to life.

We find ourselves moving toward a new wholeness—a wholeness that is different from the one we started with but one that is whole nonetheless.

And in this healing and emergence of new life is where we begin to find the gold in our scars, where we discover what we have gained in the healing even in the face of our losses.

But we can only reach this place of healing, of wholeness, of new life, of gold by traveling the path of dying to the old. We have no space for embracing the new when we are still trying to cling to what was.

It is only through dying to the life we have known that we can heal into a new life.

Questions to ponder

Where are you resisting dying to some part of your life that is lost? What might part of your identity might feel threatened by letting go of that part of your life as you have known it?

Can you think of earlier times in your life when allowing some part of your identity or your life as you had known it to die made space for healing to return you to wholeness? How does that inform your current situation?

What new life can you see trying to emerge from the broken places in your life? How do glimpses of that new life emerging affect your ability to let go of what was to allow it to shift into something new?

How does the Easter story speak to you about this process of dying, waiting in the grave, and resurrecting to new life?


 

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