Have you noticed that the word healing is being used to death? That dose of linguistic Penicillin is experiencing exactly the attenuation in its value that the actual drug has gone through.
What do I mean? Recently, one of my students wrote in an essay that she found the beach to be a “healing” place. I put a circle around that and asked her to find a better word. We hear that people who go through loss need healing. People who endure a trauma need it too. People who listen to New Age gurus apparently need a whole lot of healing. (That may be weaking my case. . .) What, in fact, does the word mean?
Simply put, healing means to restore injured tissue to normal functioning. If I get scratched, the cut needs to close, and new skin needs to grow. If I break a bone, that bone needs to knit itself back together. That’s healing.
I suppose we must acknowledge that those who experience psychological trauma require time to heal. But let’s consider just what is an injury to the mind and what is normal. We hear the word healing used often in the context of grief. A loved one has died, and the survivors need to heal, or so we are told. I have to take issue with that.
To say that I need to heal after I lose a loved one implies that my feelings of grief are unhealthy. But that’s unacceptable. If I love someone or am friends with someone, that person has an important and an individual part in my life. The loss of that person cannot be replaced. It is certainly necessary for me to learn to live without the person. (Do we have to call that recovery? That’s another overused word these days.) But the loss is permanent. To say that I would need to heal is to say that the loss is an abnormal state, and when I return to health, I won’t feel the absence any more.
Certainly, someone who has endured abuse, for example, has been put into an abnormal state, and for that person, healing is the right word. But when a loved one dies or a relationship ends, the grief that we feel is appropriate and healthy. We need to use the right words in those situations to clear up our own thinking and to give honor to what has been lost.