Watching on TV the havoc wrought by the tornadoes in Missouri and Oklahoma reminded me of how destructive natural disasters can be to those affected by them.  Not only were many lives lost – wives, husbands, children, parents, pets  – but also homes, schools, hospitals, entire neighborhoods.

Think about the memories contained in all of those people and places.  We humans form many attachments in the course of our lives.  First and foremost, we value our family members and friends.  Beyond our immediate circle of intimates, we interact with so many other individuals who contribute to our lives with their knowledge, skills and talents, teaching our children, caring for our ailing parents, repairing our homes, pouring us a cup of coffee in the local café.

These tornadoes, as well as the floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes we have witnessed, rob survivors of treasured objects acquired from experiences shared with others.  These objects are valued for many reasons, the least of which is their monetary value.  Studies have shown that what survivors miss the most are the memories their ‘things’ represent – photographs,  sentimental  gifts given or received, special books and music they have enjoyed, that have been saved for future reference as memories that compose their lives.

Grieving for these losses is just as legitimate as grieving for someone who died, because these treasures reflect lives lived.

Loss takes many forms, human and material.  Socrates said:  “Life is a teacher in the art of relinquishing.”  As I point out in my book, The Five Ways We Grieve, survivors lose their identity when a part of their life is taken away.  Learning to live in a new way as a different person is the challenge we face when we experience a significant loss, regardless of the form it takes.

Susan Berger 2011

Susan Berger

Susan A. Berger, LICSW, Ed.D. has extensive experience counseling individuals confronting the death of loved ones and other life changes. Drawing on research results and anecdotes gathered from the bereaved over the past ten years, Berger examined how a person’s worldview is affected by major loss. She wrote her book, The Five Ways We Grieve, finding your path to healing after the loss of a loved one, (Trumpeter Books, 2009) to assist professionals, and survivors and the general public understand the lifelong impact of loss on the bereaved. She founded The Center for Loss, Bereavement, and Healing in Framingham, MA, a clinical practice, helping individuals, couples and families cope with life stresses. She also provides workshops on her unique approach to lifelong grieving to professionals, such as physicians, psychologists, social workers, nurses and hospices, as well as presentations to community groups. She has published articles in professional and trade publications, as well as many media, including The Washington Post on mental health, substance abuse, health and human resources topics. She has also been cited nationally in numerous print and broadcast media, and has spoken at many conferences and workshops throughout the country. Previous experience includes academic appointments at Emmanuel College, Northeastern University, Merrimack College, and MassBay Community College. Dr. Berger earned her Doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, as well as a Master’s degree in Social Work and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Boston University. To enhance her expertise in the area of loss and bereavement, she earned a Certificate in Thanatology (Death, Dying & Bereavement) from the National Center for Death Education at Mt. Ida College in Newton, MA. Dr. Berger has volunteered as a hospice volunteer working with the dying and bereaved families. She is herself the survivor of early parental loss.

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