On September 11, 2011, we remember the 10th anniversary of the day when nearly 3,000 victims were killed after two airliners were crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City, another plane hit the Pentagon, and a final plane crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania.
In 2001, the barrage of bruising images from that fateful day imprinted, pained and wounded our collective psyches. The killing of innocent and unarmed people touched our nation’s heart with universal feelings of sadness and, as a country, we are forever changed. We also didn’t know where to turn with fracturing losses of this magnitude.
The September 11th attack made us feel insecure and angry, too. It was a monumental call to be courageous despite our grief. Once again, we learned that America can be brave and feel sad at the same time. These feelings are not mutually exclusive.
Grief Changes Over Time
Now, 10 years later, we may be astonished at how much time has passed. The loss of time perspective during mourning coincides with the grief experience in general; our souls don’t mark time linearly. Let me explain a little about a mourning period.
In the immediate aftermath of a person’s death, it can be hard to breathe and everything hurts; we are in shock. As time goes on, the initial shock and emptiness shifts to what some refer to as the new normal and with it other emotions such as anger and sadness, longing and depression emerge. These emotions go up and down as we attempt to cope and heal.
September 11th touched so many of us on an enormous scale not only because of the initial horror of it but because of the intensity of the ongoing reporting of it and continuous replaying of the images. This upcoming 10th anniversary will likely bring about a similar flood of reporting of that day and the days which followed the attacks. It can bring about more suffering to those personally involved.
Experiencing Loss All Over Again
Because I did not lose anyone close to me on 9/11, I sought counsel from Madeline Paske Baulig, MSW, LCSW who continues to work with the surviving families of September 11th. This dedicated social worker speaks about the positive aspects of the world reaching out to others on this 10th anniversary. While the support absolutely engenders a sense of community, she voices a concern for the families with a direct personal involvement. “It can be difficult for those individual families who are grieving in their own private way,” she stated.
Ms. Baulig expects that much of the media attention will be respectful on this 10th anniversary. But this great exposure to those early images and documentaries, detailed analysis of the buildings and those who have died will again be put in front of those people.
It will be especially difficult for the children who were 6 then and protected from the onslaught of images. Now, they will be exposed to the full replay of the horror. The children she counsels say that no matter that Osama Bin Laden was finally killed, “It doesn’t change anything because my father’s chair is still empty at our dinner table.”
How We Can Help The Survivors of 9/11
– Reach out with compassion to any person you know was involved in 9/11 and express your feelings of sorrow for their painful loss. If they helped out in the aftermath, thank them.
– Send a sensitive note to a family who lost someone or write your thoughts or feelings on your Face Book Page. Use Twitter, too, because these venues are read by multitudes and you could have just the right sentiment that some brokenhearted widower needs to read.
– Invite them to tell you what their dad or mom, uncle, aunt, sister, brother or friend was like. Tell them with all sincerity that you cannot imagine how hard it must be for them if you don’t know personally how it feels.
– Validate a parent’s strength to comfort his or her growing family in the absence of a lost parent. Invite that child or family to hang out with your family in your home with a more the merrier mantra prevailing.
– Remind the grieving person that our relationship with our departed love ones goes on forever. If you happen to be that grieving person yourself, safeguard your own vulnerability because 9/11 will evoke a primal wound in your own spirit; therefore, pace yourself when you find your mind reflecting on those 9/11 days. Also, consider being with other 9/11 survivors for support because there is comfort in a fellowship circle. And don’t feel that you have to explain or defend yourself to anyone else.
Let us remember that the human condition is a soulful place where we are all one. Let us remember that grieving and longing won’t stop our hearts from beating – despair might. So let us help one another to keep some faith that their loved one now gone is safe and peaceful and wants the same blessed serenity for you and yours.
Mary Jane Hurley Brant, M.S., CGP 2011