Thursday, September 8, 2011
Each year, Sept. 11 is a day of mourning for our country. We watch tributes on TV, post about it on Facebook, and talk about where we were and what we were doing on that fateful day in history, and, through all of these things, the message is clear: We will not forget.
September 11 is a date on which we all recognize and remember how quickly things can change, how we cannot go back in time, how grief may change over time but never totally disappears, and how a loss can change who we are forever. It’s moving to see that many people still fly an American flag in front of their house and to see people in a crowd place their hands over their hearts as they recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the National Anthem. Life goes on, but so does the respect for and memory of the many who were lost on 9/11 and as a result of the events of that day.
As much as we work to preserve the memory of those lives, though, I think we should also be sure to work to hold onto the memories of any loved ones in our lives who have gone on ahead. No one says that our nation should be “getting over” what happened on 9/11; in fact, we are sure to take time to honor the day and the individuals each year. The focus isn’t on forgetting or on being strong; it’s on remembering and drawing strength from community and honor and love.
Thinking about all of that makes me think about the way, in our society, people are so often rushed through the grief process when a loved one dies. We are expected to go right back to work, and most people around us seem uncomfortable talking about our losses or our grief. We are told to “be strong” and “hang in there.” I appreciate the sentiment and the support that goes along with this type of message, but I wonder if this is the wrong idea. Like the tragic things that occurred on 9/11, why don’t we take time on a regular basis to honor the individual and work hard to remember them, even if that means crying, having to lean on each other’s shoulders, and letting ourselves show our hurt? Why don’t people usually talk about or even let us talk about what an impact our loved one had and how much we miss then? Why are we encouraged to “stay busy,” as if distraction of our daily routines will make us forget, when forgetting is what we are most afraid of at this point in time?
To me, grief after the loss of a loved one is like having a tooth fall out. You can chew, eat, and talk, and you have other teeth, but your tongue keeps going back to that same empty place in your gum. You know other people notice, and you certainly can’t help but think about the loss – it’s raw, it hurts, and there’s a gaping hole there! There’s NO WAY you are going to forget!!
When I think about the Stages of Grief, I know all about the denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. But what about the other emotions that come as a result of the loss – like confusion, desperation, and fear? Those are every bit as present and can be so overwhelming it’s hard to breathe sometimes.
Like the tributes that serve to preserve the memories and the impact of those lost on and as a result of 9/11, I think we need to recognize grief and loss and sadness resulting from any losses. I think we need to permit ourselves to feel it instead of rushing through it, to let the blanket of our memories shield us from some of the pain instead of pushing onward, to allow the tears and sometimes the laughter too instead of stuffing it all inside and responding to the call to “be strong.”
I think it takes strength to process, to sit with our grief, to remember. Like the saying goes, “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal; love leaves a memory no one can steal.”