Grief is a response to loss, any kind of loss. Grief is an unmasking of the heart that strips away illusions about life and leaves us with a sense of our vulnerability. This is true not only for individuals but for families, communities, and our country.
During the past couple of years few could escape the experience of grief: The loss of lives in the pandemic, the loss of a familiar way of doing things, loss of jobs, and even a feeling of loss of purpose for those who found themselves more isolated than ever before. Then, there has been the political division that continues to threaten our sense of solidarity as a country. There have been the fires and the floods that have threatened even the homes we felt some sense of safety in. No wonder this September 11, when we traditionally re-visit the anniversary of our collective grief as a country, it all feels fresh and intensely personal.
Whether personal or collective, the expression of grief is unpredictable. For some there is a desire to withdraw and isolate, for others the impulse is to cling to and join with others—anything to avoid being alone. Some stop eating; others find new comfort in food and anything that can fill up the feeling of emptiness. Some act out anger and rage in personal and public riots; others become more patient and kind. Some find themselves having difficulty in concentrating in a kind of fog; others cannot turn off their minds and find sleep eluding them. Grief is not only an emotional response, but a physical, mental, spiritual, and social reality.
When we become more aware of grief’s many and unexpected expressions and occurrences, we can be more patient as we work through it ourselves and as others work through it in their own ways and on their own timetables. “Grief work” is a process of healing—not unlike the healing of a physical wound–that requires energy and support. The healing is subtle and looks a lot like practicing a return to doing the everyday things of life whether we feel like brushing our teeth and cleaning up the kitchen or not!
It is in the experiencing of grief that we may come to our truest sense of self. What remains when grief is fully experienced is often gratitude and a deeper capacity for joy, any joy—even winning a season opener game. This is good grief that allows us to dare to embrace life again. We will get through this!