Our United States have been torn with violence and grief. A season of brokenness seems to grow with each new event of loss. It seemed that not a breath passed after Orlando – the largest mass shooting modern U.S. history – than our entire country viewed and felt the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castil. Only a few days later our hearts were torn again as we witnessed our public servants gunned down during what was intended to be a peaceful march.
I live in Chattanooga, TN. For us the wounds of grief only a year past are still fresh. This weekend we remembered and honored the five servicemen that were lost on July 16th, 2015 – Randell Smith, Carson Holmquist, Squire Wells, David Wyatt, and Thomas Sullivan. Checkout this 30 for 30 short here.
After all that’s happened it is really easy to be angry or shout statistics about gun violence or systemic racism. It is really easy to target the president or those that stand across the political isle on facebook and twitter. Those on the opposite side of the isle are infuriating! Right? Or… Left? Didn’t you know that gun sales are booming and boom after mass shootings? Didn’t you know that a disproportionate amount of mass shootings are related to gang and domestic violence? Haven’t we learned that blacks and Latinos are 30% more likely to be pulled over than whites and three times more likely to be searched? Haven’t you seen the statics, the videos?
I have consumed it. The challenges facing our present moment are more available for consumption than ever before – instant access, viewable in our pockets at any moment. I have been increasingly drawn into feelings of anger, disappointment, and grief, but mostly anger. I believe that in our United States, no matter what side of the isle you may stand, we are addicted to anger, feeding off it. Anger is a drug and its often unconscious. My experience is that the degree I toss blame at others is always in direct proportion to my inability to take responsibility for my feelings and actions.
I’ve been about the work of healing for some time now. Most recently I’ve been immersed in Grief Recovery. I’ve read enough about grief to know that it is deeply neglected by most people. As individuals deny the process of grief after loss society as a whole suffers. The increasing amount of violent mass shootings in our country is point-in-case and is symptomatic of accumulated, repressed pain that has no healthy outlets. Our great social institutions – family, school, church, government – offer few tools to negotiate and heal from grief.
The messages/tools most of us receive growing up are clear. Crying in public is shunned. Wipe away your tears quickly. Don’t let anyone see. Often we cry alone or not at all. We immediately try to quiet a crying child with incentives – “Cookies and milk?” Later in life we try the same strategy on ourselves: drugs, alcohol, sex, hyper-exercise, workaholism, binge-watching or eating, even religious fanaticism, even violence. Doctors consistently mis-diagnosis grief and prescribe anti-depressants or mood-stabilizers. Or we cope with grief by attempting to quickly replace the loss with another object – offering the child a new dog or jumping from relationship to relationship, cross-addictions. Grief irrupts as anger or depression even in folks we would consider relatively productive and happy. We explode or act-out and often we don’t know why!
Loss is profoundly impactful and inescapable. It is not only encountered during the loss of life – as in the death of a loved one; it is felt when one loses a pet, a business, health, an intimate relationship or even an ideal, expectation, or dream. I have been learning that there are better strategies to receive, honor, and integrate grief – more holistic and sufficient strategies offered through grief recovery. We explored a few of those tools this past weekend.
The framework of grief recovery has a great deal in common with the 12-step process; much of the practice felt very familiar to the 12-steps. Openness. Honesty. Willingness. The willingness to practice grief and relationship inventories, the openness to participate in group processing and be guided by the frameworks of recovery created opportunities to heal from our grief.
In one conversation we were discussing forgiveness. Forgiveness is a skill, an action word. Like faith, love, or even death, forgiveness is my responsibility. No one can forgive for me, like no one can suffer for me or die for me; it is my duty and how I respond to that task is my gift to the world. One of my favorite books is Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. In it he speaks to this point:
When a man finds that his destiny is to suffer (or grieve), he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bares his burden… (and speaking about his experience in the concentration camps) Once the meaning of suffering had been revealed to us…there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer (grieve).
Grief and mourning are natural responses to being human, to honestly encountering the human condition without fear or distraction. Grief is absolutely emotional and bound up with our unique spiritual calling. Our grief is the pathway towards generational healing. Taking responsibility for our own grief, embracing the courage it takes to fully feel our pain, and practicing the art of healing through specific action-steps creates space for us to be more alive, and future generations benefit as we intervene, rupture, severe the lines of pain that flow through our society, family, history, experience.