Awhile back I got a call from a young man who was reeling from the impact of a divorce that happened nearly two years ago. He had been married for twelve years. His litany of pain was palpable and his life was affected at all levels, with people falling away from him like leaves off a tree in a windstorm, and his business was diminishing at a rapid pace. Having arrived at The Grief Recovery Institute myself on the heels of a second divorce, accompanying a major financial meltdown, I certainly could understand what he was saying.
I told him a little bit of my story and then I listened to him and then paraphrased the emotions I was hearing. It was easy enough to establish that his heart was broken along with his hopes, dreams, and expectations about the future. As the conversation evolved we came upon one of the classic pieces of misinformation that affect so many grieving people. Embedded in his story was the idea that he had been waiting for nearly two years to feel better, without having taken any actions to accomplish that goal. He was waiting for "time to heal his wound." As if it were not enough for us to talk about the fact that he would need to do something for anything to change, he dropped the bomb that had fueled his call to the Grief Recovery Institute. He asked,
"Do you think I should start dating yet?"
Being well-trained and very experienced, I neither laughed nor asked the obvious question in response,
"Do you think you are fit company for any woman in your current condition?"
Instead, I said,
"If you went out to your car and discovered it had a flat tire, would you pull up a chair, sit down, and wait for air to get back in your tire?"
He laughed and said, "Of course not." Then I asked,
"Would you get in the car, and drive it on the flat tire?"
"No," he snorted,
"That would destroy the tire and ruin the rim."
"Ah," said I, "So what would you do?"
"I would either get out the jack and replace the flat tire with the spare, or, if I was dressed in my suit for work, I’d call the auto club and have them come and repair it."
"Oh, so you would either take an action or cause an action to happen that would fix the tire and get you back on the road. Right?"
Then I asked him four more questions. "Based on what you have told me about the last two years of your life, is it reasonable to presume that your heart is very much like a flat tire, in that you haven’t had much get-up and go?"
"YES," he said very firmly, adopting the metaphor as a clear definition of how his life had stalled.
"Is it reasonable to guess that you have had a limited amount of energy with which to participate in your life, and that your focus and concentration have been minimal?"
Again, "YES," with the sense of lightbulbs of clarity lighting up in his head.
"Have you taken any actions to complete the pain and unfinished emotional business connected to the broken hopes, dreams, and expectations you had for your marriage and your life with your wife?"
After a long pause, in a cracking voice, came the one word answer, "NO."
"Would you take actions if you knew what they were?"
"Based on the pain I'm in, YES, I think I would, if I could believe that they would help."
It would be wonderful if this was a unique interaction, accurate just once for that man, and no others. But that would be a lie. That story and tens of thousands of parallel ones have replicated themselves on our phone lines and in our Community Education programs over the past 25 years. Bottom line: Time does not heal a broken heart any more than air will jump back into a flat tire. Maybe it’s time that you ask yourself or help others ask themselves those last four questions and then go out and learn the actions that lead back to highways and byways of life.
If you liked this article, you may also want to read Russell's article "How Long Does Grieving Take?"