Category

Current Events

The Value of Vigils

By Current Events, Grief/Loss

Things happen in this world that break our hearts. In many cases, there’s nothing we personally could have done to prevent the events from occurring. Most recently, we’ve seen a number of shootings occur across the country – Brooklyn, Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton. People – old and young – lose their lives, and in the midst of it all, as human beings, we must stand together and mourn together. This is why candlelight and prayer vigils are necessary and helpful.

The grief journey is long and hard. On some days, we feel horrible, while on other days, we feel bad for feeling okay. All of this is part of the journey toward reconciliation. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief educator and counselor, says, “We, as human beings, never resolve our grief, but instead become reconciled to it…You don’t get to go around or above your grief. You must go through it. And while you are going through it, you must express it if you are to reconcile yourself to it.” In other words, we should not seek a resolution to our grief, but instead, we must pursue reconciliation. We will not “get over” what we’ve lost or go back to our “old normal.” However, we can find our “new normal” and renewed purpose and meaning.

In many ways, this healthy human need to grieve is one of the many reasons why attending a vigil may be helpful to your grief journey, especially after an expected or traumatic event. Here are 5 more reasons why attending a vigil may assist you in your grief.

Vigils Provide a Time of Remembrance

First of all, a vigil is about remembering the person or people who have died. Everyone takes time to intentionally dwell on and recall each life and mourn their loss. Often, close loved ones speak and share memories and anecdotes. These stories draw us in and give us a glimpse into the person’s life that we may not have had before. As a result, we feel closer to the one who has died and can mourn in a more personal way.

Vigils Are an Invitation to Action

Taking part in symbolic actions has grief-healing benefits. Dr. Wolfelt says, “When mourners light a candle…they are provided with a physical means of expressing their grief.” Mourning is the outward expression of an internal grief. In order to heal and find a way to move forward, we must allow our grief expression and give motion to our feelings. Attending a vigil or funeral, lighting a candle, or writing a grief journal are all examples of putting motion to grief.

Vigils Affirm Our Values and Beliefs

A third benefit to vigils is that they provide a time for us to affirm our values and beliefs. We come together with a common purpose: to mourn the loss of someone precious. During this time, we also remember that we value life, we all know the pain of loss, and we all believe in a better world. In a moving speech at a candlelight service just after 9/11, Dave Frohnmayer put it this way, this is “a time to understand even more clearly what we believe…and proudly to affirm, live and act upon those beliefs.”

Vigils Are an Expression of Our Love and Emotions

Loss unleashes a variety of emotions: confusion, yearning, anger, sadness, guilt, regret. We should not feel ashamed of our emotions; we feel what we feel. Many times, society as a whole frowns upon open expressions of grief, but this attitude is flawed. We are human. We feel, and we feel deeply. It would be unnatural not to grieve. The vigil offers an opportunity to move toward embracing your pain so that you can begin to process the loss that you feel.

Vigils Provide an Opportunity to Offer Support and Stand in Unity

Finally, a vigil brings us together as one people, one community. It is an opportunity to offer and receive support, which is absolutely vital to healthy healing. Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way, “The quality and quantity of understanding support you get during your grief journey will have a major influence on your capacity to heal.” So, a vigil provides us the ability to join with others, to stand in unity, and to mourn the loss together. We are not meant to live life alone, and our journey with grief is no different.

If you’ve lost someone to an unexpected or traumatic event, please know that your grief is normal and to be expected. Do not feel ashamed of whatever it is that you feel. Instead, do the work of grieving. Attend a candlelight or prayer vigil. Talk to people. Find a support group. Write down what you’re thinking and feeling. Paint. Dance. Whatever it is that you need to do to express your emotions in a healthy way, do it! The process will not be easy, and there will be days when you just want to give up. But if you keep moving forward, you will one day find that the intense pangs of grief are less frequent, and you have renewed hope for the future.

The Unspoken Grief of Pregnancy and Infant Loss

By Current Events, Grief/Loss

Pregnancy and infant loss is all around us. Mothers, fathers, and families the world over have felt the pain of losing a lovingly anticipated child. No matter how the child is lost – miscarriage, stillbirth, sudden infant death syndrome, complications, birth defects, or unexpected events – the grief is real and deep and living.

Noted grief educator and counselor Dr. Alan Wolfelt attests to the reality of the deep pain that accompanies the loss of a child. He says, “With the death of your child, your hopes, dreams and plans for the future are turned upside down. You are beginning a journey that is often frightening, painful, and overwhelming. The death of a child results in the most profound bereavement.”

But sadly, the society we live in is not always as compassionate and understanding, particularly in relation to pregnancy and infant loss. There are certain types of losses that go largely unacknowledged by society or are not given public expression. These losses are mourned in secret and are often not spoken of. We even have a name for this type of grief – disenfranchised grief. Dr. Ken Doka, who coined the phrase, describes it as, “Grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned.”

To the many mothers and fathers who have lost an infant or a child in the womb, society may not acknowledge the gravity of your loss, but your loss is significant and worth grieving. Your grief is not something that should be swept under the rug or spoken of in whispers. It is real, and it is important.

So, as you move forward in your grief journey, as you mourn the loss of the child who carried many of your hopes and dreams, remember these things:

You have the right to grieve your loss

Despite what society may say, your loss is real and legitimate. You have the right to grieve. Every parent has hopes and dreams for their baby, and when the baby is lost, those deeply cherished wishes are crushed. You are left with a hollowness in your heart. But remember this – your baby was special, unique, and you have a right to mourn what will not be.

You have the right to talk about what you’ve been through

Find people you trust or others who have experienced a similar loss and talk with them. Share the weight of your grief. You don’t have to walk through this journey alone – you can invite others in. By talking about the loss, you help us all move toward being a society that acknowledges the depth of pain associated with pregnancy and infant loss.

You have the right to feel whatever it is you feel

Grief expresses itself in many different ways. Shock, denial, confusion, yearning, guilt, sadness, depression, to name a few. None of these are wrong. They are all normal. In fact, there’s no “right” way to grieve. For every one of us, the experience is different. So, embrace whatever it is that you feel – don’t push it away. We must go through the pain to move toward healing and reconciliation.

You have the right to be physically and emotionally weary

Grief is hard work. All of the emotions swirling inside, often not finding expression, sap your energy. You may find it hard to sleep, and as a result, feel tired and overwhelmed. In some cases, people may even experience physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, and weight loss or gain. Please know – this is a natural reaction. The body is in distress, the same as the mind and heart. Be kind to yourself as you grieve.

You have the right to grieve differently than your partner

Since there’s no “right” way to grieve, it stands to reason that no two people will grieve in the exact same way. But just because your grief and your partner’s grief don’t look the same doesn’t mean you aren’t both grieving. Give each other room to grieve. Give each other grace to grieve differently. And move toward each other, rather than away, as you process this profound loss in your lives.

You have the right to be unashamed of your loss

Despite what society or insensitive people around you may say, your loss is legitimate. You have every right to feel deep emotions. You have every right to mourn what might have been, what you hoped for. Do not try to hide what you feel. Openly express what your baby’s loss has meant to you. If others don’t understand, that doesn’t mean you should try to conceal your grief. By no means do you need their permission to grieve.

You have the right to have your loss acknowledged

You do have the right to have your loss acknowledged, though you shouldn’t go around demanding that people do so. Forcing people into something is never truly successful. Instead, find comfort in the knowledge that your loss is worth acknowledgment, and because it is, awareness groups all over the country are working to bring it out of the shadows and into the light.

You have the right to experience grief bursts

A grief burst is a moment when something triggers a surge of grief. The trigger could be anything – your due date, another baby the same age as yours, a quote, a movie, an article of clothing. These bursts are a normal and natural part of the grieving process. Don’t be surprised when you experience them and find someone who knows your struggle to talk with when they occur.

You have the right to cherish your memories

There are many ways to cherish your memories. Collect keepsakes – ultrasound photos, handmade items, a lock of hair, photos, etc. – and create a memory box or scrapbook. Write your thoughts and feelings down or write letters to your baby. Have a piece of jewelry made with your baby’s initials or birthstone. Start a tradition that brings you comfort.

You have the right to move toward your grief and heal

Like any grief – recognized or not – you have the right to grieve and to heal. Dr. Wolfelt tells us that we never get over a death; instead, we learn to reconcile ourselves to the loss. He states, “Your feelings of loss will not completely disappear, yet they will soften, and the intense pangs of grief will become less frequent. Hope for a continued life will emerge as you are able to make commitments to the future…. The unfolding of this journey is not intended to create a return to an ‘old normal’ but the discovery of a ‘new normal.’”

If you take nothing else away, know that your loss is significant, and it is heartbreaking. You have the right to mourn the loss of a child much loved and gone too soon. Grieve in whatever way you need so that you can find healing, peace, and reconciliation.

Facing Traumatic Events: 5 Keys to Resilience After Loss

By Current Events, Exclude from Top Posts

Snowstorms leave families trapped. Tornadoes rip through homes. Wildfires ravage forests and towns. Floods continue to devastate cities. Hurricanes batter our shores. As traumatic events seem to strike at every turn, people have no choice but to leave behind life the way they knew it – homes, cars, treasured mementos, family heirlooms. If you’ve been faced with loss — whether you have lost a loved one, a home, job, or a relationship — you know how important it is to slow down and give yourself time to process your feelings of grief. It is okay to feel sorrow over what has been lost. It’s normal, in fact! But through these catastrophic events, we never fail to see the human spirit rise above and keep living. So, what are some of the keys to this kind of resilience?

Simply defined, resilience is the ability “bounce back” from difficult circumstances. When faced with hardship, you adapt, find a way to rebuild your life, and come back better than ever.

Practically speaking, how can you live a resilient life while dealing with the devastation of loss and financial instability? In a very real sense, when we lose the possessions most precious to us, it’s almost as if we are losing a part of ourselves and our connection to the past. Thankfully, there are many ways to build your resilience, and it is not a quality a person is born with, but a quality that is cultivated. You can be resilient and come out better, no matter what your struggle.

As you walk down the road of grief, think of these five keys as stepping stones. This is not an exhaustive list of how you can cultivate a resilient life, but it is a beginning. It takes great strength to mourn fully and well while also taking those first steps forward to a new life.

  1. Allow Yourself to Grieve

It’s important to allow yourself to feel the emotions of your loss. It is a significant event to lose everything you’ve worked for, every possession that may have meaning to you. Don’t bottle up your emotions, thinking, “I should be grateful. I’m alive. What are a few things?” It does little good to belittle the loss that you feel. Acknowledge it, own the pain, and move toward healing. In one of the California fires, the home of “Peanuts” creator, Charles Schulz, burned to the ground. Jean Schulz, widow of Charles, shared that while the majority of “Peanuts” memorabilia is safely housed in a museum, she is devastated at the loss of the home she shared with Charles for 25 years as well as some irreplaceable keepsakes. The key is to give yourself permission to grieve.

  1. Take Care of Yourself

No matter what event or circumstance you may be grieving, it’s important to take care of yourself. Your mind and body are connected, so as you take care of your body, you care for your mind. Make sure to get enough sleep and exercise, and do not seek to dull your grief but experience it and express it. Making connections is also a big part of building resilience and maintaining personal well-being. Stay connected with family members, friends, support groups, faith-based groups, and non-profit organizations that can help you through a difficult time.

  1. Be Prepared for Grief Triggers

While most often associated with the loss of a loved one, grief triggers can be associated with any type of loss. There will be times when external circumstances – a word, smell, place – may trigger a memory in you, perhaps a painful one. For example, if you have lost everything in a fire, including your mother’s wedding dress that you hoped to wear on your own wedding day, it will bring back painful memories when your cousin says how excited she is to wear her own mother’s wedding dress. There will be moments when the pain resurfaces – count on it! – so do your best to prepare yourself so that when the strong emotions come, you aren’t blindsided by them.

  1. Give Yourself Time

There’s no rush, no time frame. Every person grieves differently, and there’s no set formula. It’s okay to take as long as you need to grieve but make sure you don’t get stuck in your grief. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, renowned grief counselor and author, says, “We don’t ‘recover from’ or ‘get over’ grief. Instead, we become reconciled to it. We learn to live with it and integrate it into our continued living. We come to reconciliation in our grief journeys when the full reality of the loss becomes a part of us. Healing is not returning to an old normal but rather creating a new normal.”

  1. Accept Change

The treasures of your old memories may be gone, and there may be nothing you can do but grieve their loss. Take the time you need to grieve, but also, remember that change is a part of life. There will come a time to build new memories. Don’t be afraid to live fully and build new, precious moments and cherish the keepsakes that go along with them. You are alive, so go live!

How You Can Help Now

If you would like to help families currently affected by natural disasters, consider giving of your time or resources to one of these organizations:

  1. United Way – raising funds to assist those who have lost their homes and possessions.
  2. American Red Cross – raising funds to assist families affected by disaster.
  3. UNICEF – provides children and families with disaster relief whenever emergencies strike.

Mourning as a Community in the Face of Tragedy

By Current Events, Exclude from Top Posts

Senseless. Horrifying. Heartbreaking. No words can capture the shock we feel at yet another shooting. This time, Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, CA, is reeling. This event comes far too soon after the shootings at an El Paso Walmart; Brooklyn, NY; Virginia Beach, Virginia; Aurora, Illinois; Thousand Oaks, California; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and too many others to name. According to reports, a gunman opened fire at Saugus High School, injuring several people. Two young people have died and three others were injured. The suspect has died from self-inflicted injuries.

These tragedies encompass not only the grief and mourning of individual families but of entire communities. As we seek to mourn the victims and process the events, we should consider how to mourn together, as people, as communities.

Communally, how do we mourn such traumatic events?

Respected grief expert, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, has worked with families dealing with grief over the unexpected, traumatic death of a loved one. He says, “After someone you care about dies a sudden, violent death, you are forced to struggle with both the traumatic nature of the death and your grief over the loss. Naturally, traumatized mourners often find themselves replaying and reconsidering over and over the circumstances of the death. This is both normal and necessary. Such replay helps you begin to acknowledge the reality of the death and integrate it into your life. It’s as if your mind needs to devote time and energy to comprehending the circumstances of the death before it can move on to grieving the fact that this person will no longer be part of your life.”

As individuals, as communities, we struggle to comprehend these events. How and why would anyone do this? The survivors and the victims’ families will likely replay the day in their minds over and over. They may even wonder if they could have done something different. They couldn’t have. No one could have known what had been planned. So, now we ask, how do we move forward? We band together, support each other, and mourn as one.

What does it mean to mourn?

Grief is an internal feeling. It is the part of us that feels anguish over these events. Mourning is an outward expression of our internal grief, and it pushes us to externalize our grief, to take action to express that grief. Without externally expressing our grief, emotions can become internalized and remain inside us, unaddressed.

When an event touches an entire community, an entire nation, it is important to externalize our grief and mourn TOGETHER.

Community mourning – how do we do that?

Prayer Vigils

First, our churches and houses of worship can open their doors for prayer vigils. After the events at the Boston Marathon, places of worship all over the city opened their doors to the community. It was an act of communal mourning and a way to come together, grieve together, and heal together.

Candlelight Vigils

Similarly, individuals, businesses, churches, or schools can coordinate candlelight vigils and invite their communities to participate. In 2007, the Virginia Tech shooting horrified the nation. Then, and even now, ten years later, the community, the students, and the families came together to mourn and to remember those who lost their lives. The candle indicates the unity of those participating, their prayers and thoughts for the victims, and their desire to remember those who have been lost.

Memorials

Finally, communities mourn together through creating memorials. To mourn the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, people near and far came together, wrote prayer notes, paid their respects at memorials throughout town, mourning the tragic events together. These memorials help us feel connected to the victims. As a result, they give us a way to show that we care about them, that we mourn their loss.

Communal mourning events are important. We are all affected by this event in some measure, and we need to support each other, giving special support to the survivors and the families of the victims. A significant way that we, as friends, neighbors, and fellow Americans, can show our support is to come together to acknowledge and mourn this significant loss.

How can we take action?

  1. Donate blood to your local blood bank.
  2. Give funds toward the victims’ funerals and assist the families financially.
  3. Participate in moments of silence, prayer or candlelight vigils, or visit memorials to offer a token of our mourning.
  4. Create an emergency plan for our families, in preparation for unexpected events.

It is imperative that we mourn as communities; that we support and pray for those most closely affected by this senseless act; and that we come together and deepen the ties of our communities. May God be with the families and friends of the victims of these tragedies.

Natural Disasters and Hurricane Dorian: How Grief Can Help Us to Help Others

By Current Events, Exclude from Top Posts

What does it mean to grieve during a natural disaster or a hurricane? What opportunities does grief provide for helping others in need? In the wake of natural disasters that have caused so much damage to the lives of so many people, it’s useful to examine the relationship between healthy grief and compassionate action. While our first impulse may be to distance ourselves from the pain of tragedy, it’s necessary that we face this pain, because grief cultivates sympathy and compassion.

Hurricane Dorian has caused catastrophic flooding and property damage, and it is reported that 7 people have died from storm-related incidents so far. The number of deaths is expected to increase. Hurricane Dorian is said to have left unprecedented damage in the Bahamas, and now, the storm is battering the East Coast of the United States.

Awareness Spurs Action

It is difficult to wrap our minds around the information that we get from news statistics and apply them to the lives of everyday people. To picture the hundreds of lives lost, and to realize that each of these lives was as precious as that of our dearest loved one, is difficult to fathom. To envision the tens of thousands of homes destroyed or uninhabitable, and to know that each home belonged to an individual or a family who needs a home just as much as our families do, is beyond distressing.

But in response to the hurricanes, we’ve seen a number of heroic acts. Hundreds of Airbnb hosts are offering rooms to house Dorian evacuees. A Lakeland, Florida, hotel is seeing customers give up their own rooms or pay for rooms on behalf of evacuees. In North Carolina, volunteers are helping the elderly prepare for the storm. When hurricanes hit, we see people stepping up to make a difference. We see people showing that they care. This kind of commitment to goodness doesn’t come from a place of comfort. It comes from an awareness of the suffering of others. It comes from the internalization of their pain, and the channeling of this pain into sympathy, and ultimately, action.

We can only transcend the pain of loss by allowing ourselves to feel this hurt. As Dr. Alan Wolfelt says, we must go backward before we can go forward. In other words, we must allow ourselves to feel sad and painful emotions in order to move towards healing. The people who take action understand this essential truth of grief. They have opened themselves up to the suffering of others, and have chosen to expose themselves to pain and discomfort. By moving outside of themselves, they set an example of hope and goodness that is inspiring to all of us.

How You Can Help Those Affected by the Hurricane

In light of the recent natural disasters, you may want to consider ways in which you can help.  If you feel moved to take action, you have the opportunity to partner with organizations that are making a difference in the lives of those affected by these natural disasters, for example:

  • To give toward Hurricane Dorian disaster relief in the Bahamas, this article shares several ways you can help, including the Red Cross, World Central Kitchen, Global Giving, and other Bahamas-based organizations.
  • Americares has set up an Emergency Relief Fund for Hurricane Dorian so that you can help Americares offer medicine and medical assistance. A $10 donation can provide up to $100 in aid to those in need.
  • The Red Cross has a disaster relief program set up to bring aid to those affected by natural disaster.
  • The UNICEF Disaster Relief program works to meet the basic needs of children and their families who have been affected by Hurricane Dorian.

Grief is an avenue for change. It allows us to confront the reality of other people’s pain in order to better care for them. Because grief is unpleasant, our culture tends to downplay its importance. But shying away from painful emotions keeps us complacent. By crossing the threshold of sadness, we find the sympathy that connects us and reminds us of our common humanity.

By letting ourselves grieve, we allow ourselves to acknowledge the needs of those who are hurting. To bury the pain of this loss is to miss an opportunity to show compassion to others. It’s okay to temporarily welcome the sadness. Sadness reminds us that people are in a time of need. It provides a lens through which we can see more clearly to help others. It moves us from mourning to sympathy, from sympathy to action, and from action to inspiration. Tragedies of this kind are always distressing. However, we often find that in the midst of such hardship, humanity shines brightly.

Grief and Loss in the Wake of Hurricane Dorian

By Current Events, Exclude from Top Posts

Hurricane Dorian is lashing against the East Coast‘s shores, sure to cause life-threatening conditions, catastrophic flooding, and property damage. Hurricane Dorian is the first large hurricane of the season and has already devastated the Bahamas. In recent years, we have seen a number of hurricanes wreak massive amounts of damage, including Hurricanes Michael and Florence last year and Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and Hurricane Maria the previous year. Together, these hurricanes contributed to the deaths of thousands and caused billions of dollars in property damage.

Losing everything so suddenly can be especially difficult to grapple with because all that is familiar–your home, your belongings, your pictures, even loved ones–are gone, washed away by an unrelenting storm.

The trauma of such a devastating and sudden loss can manifest as complicated grief. Be aware that total loss as a result of a sudden natural disaster can possibly trigger severe trauma responses, including anger, depression or anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder. Usually, the severity of the response depends on previous life trauma and the support that survivors are able to find after the event.

If you are looking for ways to help others during this time, it is important not to put your own life in danger by going out into affected areas on your own. Consider volunteering with an existing organization or donating to worthy organizations that are making a difference in impacted communities.  This article shares ways to contribute to hurricane and disaster relief efforts.

If you know or are helping someone who has been affected by a recent disaster, the best thing you can do right now is listen to their story and offer tangible help in any way you can. Nothing will take away the pain of total loss. The rebuilding effort for both cities and individual lives will take time. There is not much that we can do to “fix it” or take their pain away. We can’t bring back homes, precious pictures, heirlooms, and loved ones. What survivors need right now is help with day to day necessities, as well as someone who is comfortable being a listening ear and a witness to their pain and loss.

9/11: Grief and Remembrance

By Current Events, Exclude from Top Posts

It’s been 17 years since the devastating terrorist attacks of 9/11. On September 11, 2001, two planes hit the World Trade Center in New York City and one plane crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. A fourth plane, headed to Washington D.C. was brought down in a Pennsylvania field in a struggle between civilian passengers and the hijackers. 2,996 lives were lost and thousands were injured.

American Tragedy

The effects of the tragedy on American life were monumental, and the image of the planes hitting the buildings was burned into our collective consciousness. Across the nation, citizens sat in front of television screens, hardly able to believe their eyes. Over and over again, news stations showed the planes tearing through steel and glass, the plumes of smoke rising to the sky, and the citizens, firefighters, and police officers of New York City caked in dust and rubble.

As a nation, we mourned collectively. We mourned the disruption of national security, the desecration of a national symbol, and most discouraging of all, the loss of nearly 3,000 American lives. In 2009, Congress designated September 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance, officially marking the day as a time to reflect on the tragedy and honor the lives that were lost.

Personal Tragedy

But September 11 is hardest of all for families and friends who lost loved ones on that day. While the entire nation mourns the loss of its citizens, nobody grieves like a wife who lost her husband, a father who lost his daughter, or a child who lost a parent. For those who were personally connected to the victims of the terrorist attack, the weeks of early September are often extremely difficult to get through.

In the aftermath of 9/11, many of those who were personally tied to the attacks experienced significant psychological trauma. Many of the injured civilians, first responders, family members of the victims, and people who witnessed the terrorist attack firsthand struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sought out counseling and therapy. The events of 9/11 have changed their lives forever, and their pain needs to be acknowledged by a loving and supportive community.

Support and Remembrance

For this reason, it’s important that we continue to show them that we care. We don’t need to crowd or overwhelm them. But we do need to honor the memory of their loved ones and respect the lives that were lost by taking the time to remember. When September 11 rolls around again, it’s tempting to dive into our jobs and our personal lives to avoid thinking about the tragedy. But instead of losing ourselves in work, we should take this time to fully address the events that occurred 17 years ago. Remembrance is the gateway to healing.

Moment of Silence

We are creatures of ceremony, and in difficult times, we often turn to rituals to acknowledge our true feelings. Funeral services do a particularly good job of allowing us to embrace our emotions, and funeral elements such as the visitation, the gathering, the time of eulogy and remembrance, and the use of symbols, music, and readings enhance the ceremony.

In the same way, when a cultural event changes our lives, we can turn to rituals to process our thoughts. The moment of silence is a useful ritual that we can participate in every year on September 11. At 8:46 AM (Eastern Time), many people choose to enter a period of silent reflection at the time of day when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. This September 11, consider planning your schedule around this moment of silence, so that you can join with others across the country in honoring the lives that were lost and showing your respect.

Meaningful Actions

Actions bring meaning to experience and help us heal. If you have an American flag, fly it at half-mast on this day to honor the memory of the 9/11 victims. This national ritual functions as a powerful symbol of mourning and unifies us in our grief. You can also use your social media account as a tool to express your support. On Facebook, you can like the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, or you can follow the Memorial Museum Account on Twitter. Ask your family and friends to support this wonderful museum on their accounts as well. By doing so, you draw attention to a resource that does great work in honoring the lives that were lost on 9/11.

A Time of Healing

Times of reflection are times of healing. We need constant reminders, year after year. It will be a healing event when we remember in 2027. It will be a healing event when we remember in 2057. We will never be “over” 9/11, and if we ever were to adopt such a mindset, it would be indicative of our inability to acknowledge the personal loss of thousands of individuals as well as our loss as a nation. By acknowledging the pain of the loss and allowing ourselves to mourn as a nation, we strengthen our ties to each other and experience something valuable.

As anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows, the grief journey is not linear. Grief bursts occur throughout the lifetime of anyone who has experienced a loss. National grief bursts can occur as well, so it’s important that we acknowledge the continuation of grief after the tragedy. September 11 will never stop hurting. But through acts of remembrance, we can take healing steps, grow closer to each other, cultivate compassion, and become stronger people.

Mourning at the Movies: Manchester by the Sea and the Academy Awards

By Current Events, Exclude from Top Posts

It’s Oscar time again. On Sunday, February 26, all of the glitter and glamour and pomp and splendor will be on full display.

This year, one of the leading films in the Oscar race has some powerful things to say about the grieving process and the ways in which we attempt to cope with loss. This authenticity has become a rare thing in Hollywood, which often struggles to deliver accurate portrayals of grief. It’s not that filmmakers are incapable of conveying an emotionally engaging moment of tragedy or pain. But they often fail to capture the nuances, paradoxes, and complexities of the grief journey. The movies that are bold enough to examine a character’s road to healing are usually guilty of oversimplification.

But Manchester by the Sea, the critically acclaimed new film by writer-director Kenneth Lonergan, gets it right. One of the most important films of Oscar season, it’s received six nominations including Best Picture. Manchester is a mature and honest examination of loss, grief, and the process of healing. The following summary will carefully side-step any “spoilers” and will stick to the meat of the plot. No important plot developments will be explored that haven’t already been depicted in the trailer and film advertisements.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a world-weary janitor and handyman in Quincy, Massachusetts. His simple life is disrupted when he gets a call that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died of a heart attack. He returns to his home town of Manchester to learn that he has been appointed the guardian of Joe’s 16-year-old son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Dissatisfied with the role, but unwilling to leave Patrick in the hands of his alcoholic mother, Lee agrees to keep Patrick until he can think of a better solution, and makes plans to bring Patrick back to Quincy. Patrick doesn’t want to relocate; he’s the popular guy in school, with friends, love interests, and a good spot on the hockey team. He tries to convince Lee to move from Quincy to Manchester. But this doesn’t sit easy with Lee, who has painful memories associated with the town of his childhood.

It quickly becomes apparent that something else is tormenting Lee. Beneath his quiet, stoic façade, he is barely containing his grief and self-loathing. While the death of Joe hits Patrick extremely hard, Lee seems somewhat numb to this new pain, and the demons of his past trouble him more deeply.

The story of Manchester is painful and unsettling, but amidst the darkness, Lonergan finds room for subtle humor. This humor is not offensive: it does not aim to mock or cheapen the pain of the characters. Rather, it shows the paradoxes of the grief journey. After a loss, people go through a wide range of emotions. At a funeral, it is quite common to move quickly from hope to grief, laughter to tears. The film understands the full scope of human emotion in the aftermath of senseless loss, and adopts a tone that reflects this inconsistency.

Manchester differentiates itself from the average drama by refusing to provide the characters with closure. Funerals don’t end the grieving process. Rather, they get us off to a good start. Lee, Patrick, and the other grievers don’t have one big cathartic moment of pain, only to come out on the other side happy and refreshed. Rather, they embody a central truth that grief experts have always known: that healing is a slow, nonlinear process, a slog through the mundane rituals of everyday life. The journey does not consist of a few giant leaps (or epic movie scenes), but of many small steps and challenges. Grief is a lens that turns normal daily activities into titanic obstacles to be overcome.

Manchester depicts these small moments perfectly. Few contemporary films so effectively capture the minute details of daily life. Lee and Patrick fumble for their keys, forget where they parked the car, and pack the freezer with too much food, so that it all falls out when the door is opened. These relatable details show the subtle ways in which grief affects the day-to-day life of the characters. They are depressed, absent-minded, and unfocused. This approach is in direct contradiction to that seen in many tragic movies, in which the characters process their feelings and assess their pain with Zen-like clarity. Instead, Lonergan crafts a quiet but gut-wrenching scene in which two characters fail miserably to convey their feelings. It’s a brilliantly written scene, composed of broken fragments of conversation that are nothing more than desperate, incoherent attempts at connection.

Other essential grieving elements that the film captures are the importance of symbols and the role of memorialization in the grief journey. After a loss, it’s important to take time to remember the life of the loved one. Often, it’s hard to fully accomplish this with words alone. When words fail, we turn to symbols to capture our feelings. In the film, Patrick views the family fishing boat as an important symbol of his relationship with his father, while Lee suggests that they sell it to get them through a financially difficult time. This ongoing conflict speaks volumes about the ways in which the two characters deal with grief: one attempts to process his emotions, the other avoids them by hiding behind practicality.

Manchester by the Sea embodies many of the truths that grief counselors emphasize in trying to help people cope with loss. It’s a sophisticated work that sheds some much-needed light on end-of-life issues. Pop culture often tries to intersect with important topics and profound human experiences, but rarely is the result so genuine, heartfelt, and enlightening. Kenneth Lonergan’s film is worthy of its many nominations, and if justice is served at the ceremony this year, it will receive some love from the Academy. It’s challenging and complex, rich and rewarding, a work of great maturity and clarity. Many of those who have lost loved ones will find it relatable, and many of those who haven’t will find that it provides them with a necessary perspective. To put it simply, what we take away from the film is a deeper understanding of what it means to grieve.