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Death, Trauma and Coping: Does Time Really Heal Wounds?

True or False: Does time really heal wounds?

October never meant more than Halloween and an exorbitant of candy that I would stealthily steal from my siblings. Then, as I got older, it turned into a day where you could dress up like a crazy person or mimic a street walker and no one would ever judge you. Then, as I became a mom, it turned into a day of hiding candy that my children collected and slowly eat them myself, in secret. But, as life started happening, October turned into a month of both joy and sorrow.

The joyful aspect of October rests upon my kid’s enjoying going around begging for candy in rich neighborhoods that gave out organic apples and carrots (sorry, dudes). Also, the person whom I derive all my corny jokes from (my dad) celebrates his birthday this month. As a kid, it was just a birthday for dad. As I start getting grey hairs, it’s become sort of a guarded-joy that he made it to another birthday mixed with a sadness that I’m not able to spend it with him. Amazon Prime to the rescue for all the presents though.

The sorrow aspect of October rests in death. Not speaking to ghost stories, zombies, and provocative vampires, but of a treasured family member whose time on earth was cut desperately and unfairly short.

Death is a complex thing. We talk about it jokingly, like when you laugh too much and all you say is “dead”. We talk about it morbidly like, “When I die, I’ll sleep”. But, when we speak to it on a serious level, when it happens to someone who meant so much to you, the words are like the hardened coconut oil you have to scrape out of a jar.

When my uncle suddenly passed away, not even 24 hours from the moment my parents arrived home to the OC from surprising him for his 70th birthday, time stood still. Sudden deaths are shocking and painful; a slap in the face. Prolonged deaths are exhausting and excruciating; the ultimate test of human faith and stamina. But, the end result of both are pain, what-if’s, how’s, why’s, and then a question of faith. Next, comes the flurry of support, condolences, company (both wanted and unwanted), friends trying to keep you busy so you don’t sink into a dark place where grief takes hold of you and sometimes, never let go. But then, everyone leaves and you are alone in your grief and your thoughts.

It’s been 5 years and has time healed any of the pain?

You know, ask me how I felt in April, May, November, January, and it would have been a memory, a thing that’s happened in my life. Ask me every October, the memories and the emotions sting as badly as they did years ago. Time doesn’t actually heal, I think. Time also doesn’t lessen the pain. It just kind of numbs it away until that moment, that song, that day, that month where it all becomes fresh again.

This isn’t an exhaustive list but just the top 3 things that always seem to help this month. The hope is that if you’re dealing with the pain of loss or other types of deep emotional trauma, this may be of some help to you, also.

Daily Gratitude

During that period where you’ve lost someone important, you question life, you want to live it, you become disgustingly grateful, and then you forget. You go back to your old ways and then you get hurt and angry over trivial things that actually don’t mean too much. We talk about crying and letting it out, but do we even grow from that moment or do we get caught up in the emotions that once drowned us?

The kind of gratitude I forced myself to practice here is how my uncle would want me to live life and what type of things he would want me to be grateful for. He was a really cheerful, fully content, and appreciative man. I knew he was grateful for everything because he emitted that grateful aura. I guess I was channeling him in some ways and would write things down like: “I am grateful for this delicious meal!” with the same enthusiasm and joy he would have. To be clear, I wasn’t trying to be his ghost whisperer, but just to emulate him made me feel more grateful towards life and feel less pain about his passing.

Humor

Certainly, I am not advocating laughing at death. But, the way humor works when you are grieving is basically thinking of the good times you had with this person. Remembering the things that made them laugh or anything in your daily that they would find amusing. Slowly but surely, the dark clouds start to part and you can see the bright future that is ahead of you.

In Thailand, all the food we ate was extremely spicy, about 15-stars. Eventually, this spiciness caught up with me. One night, I had to wait until the coast was clear to deal with my 15-star problem. But, then my uncle was looking for me to give me more food. Since I was nowhere to be found, I heard him say to my aunt, “I think Kate is in trouble. I think the spices got to her. Can you go check on her? Maybe give her softer toilet paper?” Talk about mortifying, but I cackle to myself every time I think about that sweaty moment in time.

These moments of uncontrollable laughter can really carry your soul from despair to joy so quickly. I started believing that laughter and smiles were the two things he would have wanted me to remember him with.

Support System

I was struggling with the 4th death anniversary (oh god, is this an Asian thing to do death anniversaries?). It was dark, dreary, doomy, gloomy and I turned into the worst version of myself. I was grumpy, extra tired, pessimistic, and my jokes were horrible. My friends sat back, sad, not knowing how to help me and yet patiently waiting for me to return. I thanked them silently everyday for not turning me away. I realized I just couldn’t verbalize my pain because I was avoiding it so much, that I had no idea that his death was affecting me.

It’s now that time of the month again (not that time of the month) and the feelings have been in full force again. And all I can conclude with that od adage that “time heals” is that it just sounds good. In actuality, time does not heal.

But, you know what can? Good people.

People heal you if you just let them in and explain to them even when you can’t get the words out. Real friends will get it even when you can’t form a sentence. Real friends will feel your pain and see your heart even if you hide behind coffee jokes and makeup rants. They will help you through to the next month and try to keep you afloat because life doesn’t stop just because you’re having too many feelings.

If you are having one of those months or a month where you just don’t know what to do with yourself, take a chance on someone new and let them in, or seek comfort in your tried-and-true friends. They might not know your uncle or even care that he drove like a NASCAR driver in the busy streets of Thailand where you secretly feared for your life. But, they will love you enough to be gentle and patient with you to let you feel your feelings and not reprimand you for being the lesser version of yourself. They will hold onto the better version of yourself, ridiculous jokes that flood your mind, and hand it back to you when you are ready.

Photo Credit: Getty Images
Photo Credit: Getty Images

One Comment

  1. I get you Kate. Actually all too well. I’ve been through too many rough T-paper Octobers. And by the way, as I age there are more and more of them Not a perk of aging. FYI. Well written kid. Here’s a bit of love n light

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