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LOSS Program Office
721 N. LaSalle Street
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Featured this Month:

Private Grief Stories
Thursday, October 19, 2017 by Private Grief Stories
On 9/11/17 I was watching speeches and ceremony regarding America’s evolving grief in the wake of its huge loss of life on 9/11/01. The anniversary events were beautifully intentional, formal and moving. I thought about Emily Dickenson’s verse: “After great pain, a formal feeling comes.” And I couldn’t help but think about our LOSS families. Is it odd that I might connect those experiencing the devastation of suicide loss with this grand scale, national observation of lost lives and collective meaning?

I’ve learned some things about grief through my own experience and the experience of my clients, but I keep asking questions. I wondered about the stories of those who were babies and children fifteen years ago when the towers came down and the planes crashed. During the ceremonies, their lost parents or siblings were named with reverence and some were described heroically. These children’s lives developed, and were informed by absence, stories and pictures of their loved ones. The families reconstructed themselves over time with the memories of those whose names are now immortalized in pristine, public spaces.

There seemed to be a great arc of stillness and preservation hovering over the massive 9/11 gatherings. Memories of chaos were elevated by the quiet order that characterized the ceremonial action. I watched how ceremony created meaning around the loss of life, and revered the courage of the victims. To an observer, the stately significance expressed through collective mourning appeared strikingly removed from the agonies of personal grief, as well as the horror experienced by those who lost their lives. The diminishing reverberations of a struck bell honored memory and time as it washed over lives now gone. To this observer, the collective mourning was about the dead. The ceremony seemed to lift memory of the lives that were lost to inform and enrich America’s story, its history. And by default, the ceremony seems to imply that the living, America’s future, are distinguished and honored by their loved ones’ heroic sacrifice. How different is the private, slogging grief of individual survivors.

The stories of lost lives and grief in the LOSS Program are unquestionably unique, but I would bet that the imagery of the 9/11 destruction has had relevance for LOSS survivors. With any sudden, violent bereavement we visualize literal destruction: the loved one is deceased, our hearts are broken, our identities and relationship with the deceased may be questioned and lives forever changed. Many new survivors feel they are starting their grief journey in a wasteland. Private grief can be very messy, and the climb toward recovery takes time. Suicide losses are complicated because they generate questions and feelings about our relationship with the loved one who died. It is enormously personal. Those questions and feelings lead to meanings or interpretations of the death. Each survivor will tell themselves a story of the relationship with the deceased in the context of that loved one’s death that will impact the survivor’s personal identity as time passes, and the story may shift and change with healing or subsequent losses. After a suicide loss, a significant part of grief is self-centered. The loss is about the griever’s story, the griever’s life and sense of self in relation to the loss and his or her recovery. The individual’s rise from the ashes becomes the Ground Zero.

When a grieving person tells the story of his or her loved one’s death by illness, accident, disaster or war, the bereaved person’s sense of self may encounter challenges in finding new meaning in living and rebuilding without the deceased, but the experience of feeling abandoned or guilty is less characteristic than for those grieving a suicide. The relational nature of suicide grief usually includes intense questioning about our sense of responsibility for the death, our awareness of the loved one’s mental health crisis, our last words, whether we really knew the loved one like we thought we did, whether we should have taken action, or not gone to work or called to check in, etc. Many suicide survivors feel personally diminished by suicide loss.

A child’s or adolescent’s story of suicide loss is also relational, sometimes tending toward a story of abandonment. Over time they will use their evolving developmental capacities to work through a way to know their deceased loved one and compassionately understand the suicide. Like their caregivers, they can benefit from professional help to express feelings and form a non-blaming story of loss as they mature.

Despite the differences between collective mourning and private grief, there might be relevance between the milestone observances in national loss, and our LOSS families who are journeying through a different kind of life-changing bereavement. For a brief time during the national ceremonies, each one of our grieving hearts shared a knowing, mutual respect because collective, national mourning universalizes the human loss experience. The participants are lifted to a height in which loss is suspended in time and the dead are immortalized. National ceremonies clearly celebrate the lives that have been lost rather than the arduous steps taken by any given survivor in the aftermath. The survivors stood with grace and remembered their loved ones. They were prepared for the solemn rituals. But they must have had thoughts about the courageous, very difficult steps they took to rebuild their lives and the lives of their children, while holding an intimate connection to the loved one that they lost. They must have privately remembered the stories they have internalized over years of grief.

Our grief stories are told to ourselves and those we trust during daily life, perhaps while driving, showering, during grief therapy, or in support meetings. Our stories are shaped by our dark hours, our traumas and the intention to survive. Our grief stories interpret our loved one’s death, our relationships with them and the possibilities for our future. They influence the words we choose to talk with our children about how suicide took the life of their sibling or parent and changed their lives. Our stories are told on folding chairs, sipping coffee with other survivors of suicide. When we speak our stories they become immediate and witnessed. They do not feel distant or preserved, as we might find in national mourning events. Rather, they are complex, living narratives that change with our life experiences, our evolving world views and in collaboration with our intimate others. When we revisit our losses during times of collective mourning, then we will take the hushed, long view.



Archives:

Private Grief Stories
Thursday, October 19, 2017 by Private Grief Stories
On 9/11/17 I was watching speeches and ceremony regarding America’s evolving grief in the wake of its huge loss of life on 9/11/01. The anniversary events were beautifully intentional, formal and moving. I thought about Emily Dickenson’s verse: “After great pain, a formal feeling comes.” And I couldn’t help but think about our LOSS families. Is it odd that I might connect those experiencing the devastation of suicide loss with this grand scale, national observation of lost lives and collective meaning?

I’ve learned some things about grief through my own experience and the experience of my clients, but I keep asking questions. I wondered about the stories of those who were babies and children fifteen years ago when the towers came down and the planes crashed. During the ceremonies, their lost parents or siblings were named with reverence and some were described heroically. These children’s lives developed, and were informed by absence, stories and pictures of their loved ones. The families reconstructed themselves over time with the memories of those whose names are now immortalized in pristine, public spaces.

There seemed to be a great arc of stillness and preservation hovering over the massive 9/11 gatherings. Memories of chaos were elevated by the quiet order that characterized the ceremonial action. I watched how ceremony created meaning around the loss of life, and revered the courage of the victims. To an observer, the stately significance expressed through collective mourning appeared strikingly removed from the agonies of personal grief, as well as the horror experienced by those who lost their lives. The diminishing reverberations of a struck bell honored memory and time as it washed over lives now gone. To this observer, the collective mourning was about the dead. The ceremony seemed to lift memory of the lives that were lost to inform and enrich America’s story, its history. And by default, the ceremony seems to imply that the living, America’s future, are distinguished and honored by their loved ones’ heroic sacrifice. How different is the private, slogging grief of individual survivors.

The stories of lost lives and grief in the LOSS Program are unquestionably unique, but I would bet that the imagery of the 9/11 destruction has had relevance for LOSS survivors. With any sudden, violent bereavement we visualize literal destruction: the loved one is deceased, our hearts are broken, our identities and relationship with the deceased may be questioned and lives forever changed. Many new survivors feel they are starting their grief journey in a wasteland. Private grief can be very messy, and the climb toward recovery takes time. Suicide losses are complicated because they generate questions and feelings about our relationship with the loved one who died. It is enormously personal. Those questions and feelings lead to meanings or interpretations of the death. Each survivor will tell themselves a story of the relationship with the deceased in the context of that loved one’s death that will impact the survivor’s personal identity as time passes, and the story may shift and change with healing or subsequent losses. After a suicide loss, a significant part of grief is self-centered. The loss is about the griever’s story, the griever’s life and sense of self in relation to the loss and his or her recovery. The individual’s rise from the ashes becomes the Ground Zero.

When a grieving person tells the story of his or her loved one’s death by illness, accident, disaster or war, the bereaved person’s sense of self may encounter challenges in finding new meaning in living and rebuilding without the deceased, but the experience of feeling abandoned or guilty is less characteristic than for those grieving a suicide. The relational nature of suicide grief usually includes intense questioning about our sense of responsibility for the death, our awareness of the loved one’s mental health crisis, our last words, whether we really knew the loved one like we thought we did, whether we should have taken action, or not gone to work or called to check in, etc. Many suicide survivors feel personally diminished by suicide loss.

A child’s or adolescent’s story of suicide loss is also relational, sometimes tending toward a story of abandonment. Over time they will use their evolving developmental capacities to work through a way to know their deceased loved one and compassionately understand the suicide. Like their caregivers, they can benefit from professional help to express feelings and form a non-blaming story of loss as they mature.

Despite the differences between collective mourning and private grief, there might be relevance between the milestone observances in national loss, and our LOSS families who are journeying through a different kind of life-changing bereavement. For a brief time during the national ceremonies, each one of our grieving hearts shared a knowing, mutual respect because collective, national mourning universalizes the human loss experience. The participants are lifted to a height in which loss is suspended in time and the dead are immortalized. National ceremonies clearly celebrate the lives that have been lost rather than the arduous steps taken by any given survivor in the aftermath. The survivors stood with grace and remembered their loved ones. They were prepared for the solemn rituals. But they must have had thoughts about the courageous, very difficult steps they took to rebuild their lives and the lives of their children, while holding an intimate connection to the loved one that they lost. They must have privately remembered the stories they have internalized over years of grief.

Our grief stories are told to ourselves and those we trust during daily life, perhaps while driving, showering, during grief therapy, or in support meetings. Our stories are shaped by our dark hours, our traumas and the intention to survive. Our grief stories interpret our loved one’s death, our relationships with them and the possibilities for our future. They influence the words we choose to talk with our children about how suicide took the life of their sibling or parent and changed their lives. Our stories are told on folding chairs, sipping coffee with other survivors of suicide. When we speak our stories they become immediate and witnessed. They do not feel distant or preserved, as we might find in national mourning events. Rather, they are complex, living narratives that change with our life experiences, our evolving world views and in collaboration with our intimate others. When we revisit our losses during times of collective mourning, then we will take the hushed, long view.