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Grieving in Unity

It may seem odd that I would choose to enter my first blog entry on a significantly upsetting day and on such a difficult topic. I have made this choice based on my experiences with grief these past couple of years.

15 years ago today the United States lost the twin towers to terroristic attacks. There were 2,977 victim fatalities and over 6,000 wounded due to this. This event still impacts many lives every year and always will. On this day, as a nation we are able to unite as we grieve the loss of these lives. I’m sure as you are reading this you may recall exactly where you were and what you were doing when the attacks were taking place.

The date of September 11th has an even deeper meaning for my family and I as it has also been identified as Grandparents day this year and we lost my husband’s father, James “Tootie” Edward Kennedy exactly one year ago today. Tootie was a man that brought joy to our lives. We would spend hours being entertained by discussions with him; therefore, the sting of his loss on such a momentous day is quite challenging.

For me personally, the emotions that color my entire being seem to be more intense as these losses trigger memories of the recent loss of my mother, Margaret Rose Hopp on May 7th of this year; 49 minutes before Mother’s Day. My mother was one of the people I would talk to on a difficult day like today. Her absence has added pieces to what I would call my quilt of life but it is especially on days like today that the stitches that added the patches of her loss are magnified. This brings me to a quote that quite vividly demonstrates how I feel about loss in general: “Your absence has gone through me like thread through the eye of a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its color.” -M. S. Merwin

There have been many ideas and hypotheses on how to deal with grief, the stages that we as humans go through as we grieve, etc. However, my experience has been that when it comes down to it, we will all grieve in our own way in our own time. Just like a deep cut on the arm, we will stitch it together and then heal at our own pace. Healing has a lot to do with how we tend to the wound; how often we cleanse it and nourish it. Even after it has healed to a “manageable” point, we will have a scar. The scar will never feel good when we look at it or touch it. In other words, we will never be the same. Our quilts of life are forever changed by our loss.

We have briefly reviewed grief, but what about the unity part that I mentioned in the title of this post? Obviously, there will be times when grief is complicated and the assistance of a mental health professional is needed. Complicated grief is especially important when the individual who is grieving is lacking a support system. However, as a counselor, I have noticed a pattern when working with people who are grieving in general: people often feel alone in the midst of their pain. People who have a support system may feel abandoned by those who care about them. There is a time immediately after a loss where a grieving individual may wish to be alone but grief is a process and at some point the person most likely will benefit from having support. I noticed this pattern of distancing again when my husband and I both lost parents this past year. People expressed brief condolences immediately after the loss but generally it felt as though people distanced themselves. This is most likely because many people simply don’t know how to “handle” people who are grieving. I think the very fact that we often look at people who are grieving as someone to “handle” may be part of the problem. Instead, if we could practice empathy and simply be with a person as they are grieving and perhaps even grieve with them, in unity, the healing process may be much different for someone.

On this September 11th, I would like to invite everyone as we grieve the loss of thousands of people 15 years ago in unity, to reflect on how we support others around us who are grieving in general. How can we best impact each others’ quilts of life by practicing grief in unity?

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