Similarities in the Grieving Nation and the Bereaved Parent

Submitted by Alice Wisler, Editor of "Tributes", a monthly online magazine to offer comfort and hope for those who have had a child or sibling die, and author of "You Can Help a Grieving Heart".

It has caused us to hug each other more tightly, fly our flags, light candles and unite in prayer. Even the geese flying south seem to have a distinctive somberness in their caws in the cool early mornings.

Over the week we have listened to the journalists, politicians and talk show hosts with new ears, ears that were at first unable to believe such horror, ears, desperate to hear sounds of hope and serenity.

America under attack. Over 5,000 dead at the hands of terrorists. America now at war.

The bereaved parent knows death and what it means to be in grief. Unfortunately our society has had to gird itself and learn about the devastation of death. You can tell those who have already known of grief long before this national tragedy. They are the ones who don't have to drop as far to reach deep sorrow for they've been living with sorrow due to losses prior to Tuesday, September 11. They know too well what it is like to see that empty place at the table and to wonder what might have been.

Since that horrible Tuesday, our country is searching for who we are as a nation, what we will and will not support, who our friends are and how we will carry on from here. These are all part of what we, the bereaved, went through after our children died. Were we still parents? What was the meaning of life? Nothing seemed important to us during the dark season of our new grief. How could we carry on? Who was to blame? Why didn't we foresee this tragedy? Where was God? Would our friends continue to stand by or shake their heads and not understand our plight? Where do we go from here? It must be the end of the world.

Many bereaved parents have emailed to say this nation's sorrow is bringing back clear pictures of when their own child died. The images of the last breath, the demolished car, the officer at the front door, the respirator, the cold body. The nation's tragedy has heightened our own grief. As we listen to our car radios we may find ourselves missing turns and wondering where we are headed just as we did after our own child's death.

When Daniel died I wanted the world to stop. I wanted flags flown at half-mast. I wanted to hear dirges and well-known dignitaries talk of what a terrible and tragic loss. But Daniel's death was not a national event. He was four and died after cancer treatments in a hospital bed in Chapel Hill, NC.

Now it seems, the country wants to hear about grief. Classes on training professionals how to deal with people facing trauma are cropping up all over the country. Rabbis, priests and pastors are asked to address the questions pertaining to God, faith, forgiveness and healing.

Guest psychologists on radio talk-shows are explaining the new fears that come to a nation crippled by destruction --uncertainty about the future, a deep sense of vulnerability and the fear that this devastation could happen to us again.

And we, the bereaved parent, know what they have to say all too well. Since the death of our child we have struggled with these issues. This is new territory for many in our nation but for us fellow travelers on this rocky road, we are more familiar than we ever wanted to be.

"Getting on with life" and "getting back to the nation's business" are our new mantras. We remember similar phrases directed at us a week, two weeks and even two months after our child died. Many wonder why even though the President urged us to get back to work on Monday, six days after the hijackings and devastation, they still are unable to concentrate on anything but the news coverage. We seasoned bereaved parents knew this shortened attention span and the inability to function as we once did, would occur.

My neighbor and I discussed last week's tragedy the other night. He said this has made him realize that he could get in his car to go to work and never come home due to being killed. Life is unpredictable. I nodded. He was only learning this; I learned it February 2, 1997, my "ground zero" day when Daniel died.

Our President has asked us to be patient. We bereaved have learned to be patient with the media as they use clichés to the newly bereaved who had loved ones die on September 11. We feel at times they are saying the wrong things and not realizing what grief is all about.

We know too well what grief is. We ache for the newly bereaved. We ache for our nation. They say life will never be the same again. Where have we heard that before? From the depths of our own hearts, broken the day our child died. Our nation is scarred and we know what that means.

We also know that there is no way our nation will be back to normal. Wounded hearts heal to a point but the scar always remains. We can never discard what we have lost; never act like it didn't happen.

Let us lovingly and patiently reach out to our hurting nation because we, the bereaved parent who knows suffering all too well, have much to teach. Yes, we can suffer and still carry on. We are examples of how it can be done. We tell our stories of our children, we share our pain, weep boldly, rage and support one another. This is how it is done. This is how we heal. This is how we demonstrate our resolve. We can be instrumental in showing our communities getting on with life means honoring our pain.

Alice J. Wisler

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