Let’s be clear right up front. For so many things in the grief and loss world, I just don’t get it.

I have never been pregnant, felt the movement of arms and legs inside of me, and then felt the terrifying absence of movement.

I have never had to tell my children that their mother is dead.

Never have I had military personnel on my doorstep asking to come in to deliver bad news.

I have never felt the horror and loss of sexual assault.

I have not experienced the loss of family or friends when I “came out.”

A physician has never told me that my death is in a matter of months.

I do get some things. I walked with my mom to the end of her cancer journey. I was there when the breathing tube was taken out of my father and he breathed no more. I rocked our baby, only as big as my hand, until his heart stopped beating. I saw the news report with the body bag of a family member being carried from the river. Watched too many children die.

I get things that happened to me. But really, that’s about it. I try to understand other things. Listen and watch and learn. Start with how I would feel in another person’s situation and move to how I would feel if I was that person—with their history, personality, and perspective—in that situation. I can get closer, but I’m not that person. I don’t know what it’s like to be them and how this experience is for them. I get glimpses and hints, and sometimes if I listen hard with head and heart, I get closer. Nevertheless, there will always be a gap despite all efforts to the contrary, and it’s best that I recognize that. In the end and in important ways, I just don’t fully get it.

There’s another whole category of loss and grief that I just don’t get. The grief of a Black person in America. And fellow white person, neither do you.

I look more like the officer with the knee on George Floyd’s neck than I look like George Floyd. I look more like the father and son who stalked and killed Ahmaud Arbery than I look like Ahmaud. And Breonna Taylor looks more like someone else’s daughter than she does my own.

Does that mean I’m not distressed, that I’m not angry and heartbroken, that I don’t think something has to change? No, it doesn’t mean that. But it does mean that whatever I feel about these tragic deaths is just the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” compared to Black mothers and fathers, Black sons and daughters, Black sisters and brothers. They can see and feel themselves more clearly under the knee, running from the pickup, and in one’s own bed than I can see and feel. And to these names there are dozens of others in the news in recent years and hundreds, thousands more stories of mistreatment, abuse, and death that I will never know or feel. I haven’t experienced these historic and present traumas, and I haven’t been exposed to the daily threats and fears, skepticisms, microaggressions, and indignities of being Black in America. Clearly, obviously, I don’t get it. How could I?

But fellow white people, just because it’s impossible to “get” the experience of being anything but white, we are not off the hook. When we don’t get it, we need to listen to those who do. Who is the expert of a loss and its grief? The grieving person, of course. Whose expertise is needed for what is appropriate support and prevention of more loss and suffering? The people who have experienced and continue to experience losses. Not interested in preventing more loss and suffering? Then it’s a shock that you have read this far and there is little else to offer you. But most of us—all colors, varieties, and shapes of us—never want to see again what has been represented in the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. No more “I can’t breathe.” No more it’s not safe to walk or run in the neighborhood. No more death breaking down the door. All tragically and ridiculously related to the darkness of one’s skin.

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Greg Adams

Greg Adams

Greg Adams is a social worker at Arkansas Children's Hospital (ACH) where he coordinates the Center for Good Mourning, a grief support and outreach program, and works with bereavement support for staff who are exposed to suffering and loss. His past experience at ACH includes ten years in pediatric oncology and 9 years in pediatric palliative care. He has written for and edited The Mourning News, an electronic grief/loss newsletter, since its beginning in 2004. Greg is also an adjunct professor in the University of Arkansas-Little Rock Graduate School of Social Work where he teaches a grief/loss elective and students are told that while the class is elective, grief and loss are not. In 1985, Greg graduated from Baylor University majoring in social work and religion, and he earned a Masters in Social Work from the University of Missouri in 1986. One answer to the question of how he got into the work of grief and death education is that his father was an educator and his mother grew up in the residence part of a funeral home where her father was a funeral director. After growing up in a couple small towns in Missouri south of St. Louis, Greg has lived in Little Rock since 1987. He married a Little Rock native in 1986 and his wife is an early childhood special educator and consultant. Together they have two adult children. Along with his experience in the hospital with death and dying and with working with grieving people of all ages, personal experiences with death and loss have been very impacting and influential. In 1988, Greg’s father-in-law died of an unexpected suicide. In 1996, Greg and his wife lost a child in mid-pregnancy to anencephaly (no brain developed). Greg’s mother died on hospice with cancer in 2008 and his father died after the family decided to stop the ventilator after a devastating episode of sepsis and pneumonia in 2015. Greg has a variety of interests and activities—including slow running, reading, sports, public education, religion, politics, and diversity issues—and is active in his church and community. He is honored to have the opportunity to be a contributor for Open to Hope.

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