When I started basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood in 1987, I was issued a Soldier’s Handbook that was filled with the things I would have to learn, including a section dealt with evaluation and treatment of casualties under fire. This was startling because we were just playing soldier here, right? It even talked about something called a sucking chest wound!
Sucking chest wounds are often caused by stabbing, gunshots, or other injuries that penetrate the chest. Field treatment includes placing an air-occlusive dressing over the site and taping it on three sides.
Fortunately, I never had to deal with a physical sucking chest wound. But dealing with traumatic loss feels that way at times. The immediate trauma is astounding and everyone sees it. A gaping hole covered by a large field dressing that no one can miss. The first and second years go by with the wound still packed and those around you know about it. Tears and panic attacks happen frequently, kind co-workers understand when you take yet another a day off or rush out of a meeting, and your family learns to function again. But the wound is still there – it never goes away.
As time passes, the edges of your wound are less raw and maybe it can be covered by a bandaid instead a bulky field dressing. Less visible to others, but still there. A joke makes you laugh, you enjoy a vacation, your daily routine doesn’t include tears. Life sweeps you up in its movement for days at a time until a song, or a picture, or something silly like seeing her favorite cereal at the grocery store violently rips the bandaid off. There you sit, four years out, sucking for air because the wound is as fresh as the day she died.
“I thought it would get better.”
Time heals all wounds is an astounding lie we should stop telling. The passage of years might bind the edges, but time heals nothing. Losing a child doesn’t get better, it just gets different. My wound is less raw and exposed, but it is still there and always will be.
Every single day since Kylie died six years ago, my open heart has missed her. I wonder what plays she would have done in high school and where she would be attending college. I miss her smile, her big personality, and the little girl that loved to be still and snuggle.
Six years without her is a long time. There are longer stretches when the pain is tolerable than there were in years one and two. But I have come to realize that I will never stop missing her. Never stop yearning for her. Never stop hurting.
Time does not heal all wounds.
So how can you help someone who has experienced great loss?
- Give them space to grieve in their own way, and remember that they are broken even years after their loss.
- Say his or her name. Kylie’s name is not something to be avoided – it is healing for me to hear people remember her.
- Acknowledge hard days – her birthday, the anniversary of her death, and the holidays are difficult. But kind words, texts, and little gifts of remembrance help keep me afloat.
And if you’re the loser like me, I’m deeply sorry for your loss. If you’re new to your grief, I hope I haven’t discouraged you. I can assure you that moving forward gets a little easier every day you get out of bed. But I’ll not lie to you like the old saying about time, the pain won’t go away because it is a direct reflection of the love you shared. And that is worth remembering.