Moved by grief on 9/11
I know. The big tenth anniversary observance of 9/11 has come and gone. The media was full of it, and perhaps you saw a few people who, themselves, seemed “full of it”. Perhaps you've had your fill of it.I was surprised to see how moved I was by watching people tell their stories of grief and loss, of suffering, and simply of the events themselves that transpired now ten years ago. Ten years. Young children became adults. One child had not yet been born when he lost his father, and so he never knew him firsthand; yet, he grew enough to be able to vocalise his experience of all that had taken place.
Family members read off the names of people lost. (I was touched to learn that in other countries people read these names as well.) Others in the crowd of families held pictures and cried. Anguish disfigured their faces, and tears rolled down their cheeks.
Paul Simon sang 'The Sound of Silence'.
During the ceremonies in New York, they observed six moments of silence to correspond to events that took place on that day ten years ago. I turned on the programme late and did not know what was coming, but suddenly they stopped what they were doing, noted that they would then observe the first moment of silence, and someone rang a bell. One small tone. It went right through me, and suddenly I felt shaken. Tears formed. My throat choked. I could feel a wave of sadness.
After you have lived for awhile and had a large measure of life affect you, it seems to me that life has the capacity to affect you even more deeply than might have been expected. The ground of one's emotions gets softened over time.
I lived through a time of war in the late 60s. I took care of men who were fresh from the combat zones of Vietnam. If someone dropped something and made a sudden loud noise, these men were diving under the beds. They were dazed. They were disoriented. They were depressed, and they were anxious. Some were psychotic. Some were addicted, but almost all of them were angry. In their anger, they sometimes turned on the corpsmen like myself who were trying to help them. Frequently I found myself part of a code team obliged to restrain one of these combat veterans, which was no simple assignment, because many of them were trained to defend themselves. We had a riot once on the locked ward, and I got my skull fractured. Some of that work was directly dangerous, but much more of it was vicariously traumatic. Such things tend to take something out of you.
I have now lost a beloved grandmother, a brother, a mother, and a father. Some of my friends have died. I cry much more easily now than before.
I am reminded of the scripture that exhorts believers in Christ not to grieve as those who have no hope: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus…” It goes on to say that believers will be reunited with their loved ones who have fallen asleep (this is a euphemism for dying).
What does that mean? Does that mean that somehow, then, such a believer, when a loved one dies, does not get sad? Does it mean that if a person has “hope” that the sadness of grief doesn't hurt quite as bad? Does it mean you have to stuff it down inside and not let others see how painful a loss can be?
The hope in the context of the passage that talks about this kind of grieving is the hope of a resurrection in which all who have died while believing in Christ will be raised to new, bodily life in Him, and that all such persons will be together. That is a future orientation, but what about right now? What does a person do in the meantime?
Such hope does not eliminate current grief. Current grieving still takes a toll over time, and after a person has lived for a few decades, the cumulative effect of loss is that its remembrance seems sorrowful.
Grief can become pathological when grief is obstructed. Sometimes over-spiritualising a loss is actually an attempt to avoid grieving the effort to make “not grieving as those who have no hope” into not grieving at all. Being joyful at the “homegoing” of a loved one can, in some cases, obstruct healthy grieving.
To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord, and that is, of course, a better place. Sometimes we hear how someone who has died is in that “better place”. Such statements are often used to assuage the grief of those who are still here in this place, but if they deflect from healthy mourning, then grief can become pathological.
I have increasingly accepted my humanity, which was created in the image of God with various capacities, and one of them is that I am a finite and emotional being. I will not live forever in this body, but while I do live in this body, my experience of being alive is an emotional experience (it is also an experience characterised by thought, purpose, etc, but it is surely an emotional experience as well).
So, these days I cry much more easily than I ever have before. I take comfort in the fact that Jesus also wept. He seemed to be at home with his humanity. According to Old Testament prophecy concerning the Messiah, Jesus was “ … A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…”.
On the tenth anniversary of 9/11 I gave myself permission to grieve, and I became sorrowful, tearful, and I mourned the loss, and the pain, the struggle, and the anguish of people I have never met just like they were my own family. I have hope, but I also have loss. I am a whole human being caught between this world and the next; my citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, but I live, and move, and have being as a member of the community of human beings who inhabit this world in the world, yet not of the world. It's a delicate balance.