September 11, 2012

11 years ago today: Dealing with the grief of a nation


   This year, as we mark the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when Muslim extremists committed acts of war against America, there's a difference.  Osama bin Laden is dead.  When it comes to bin Laden, justice has been done.  But knowing that doesn't make reliving the events of that horrible day any easier.  As long as I live, I will never forget that Tuesday morning, September 2001.  I remember it as if it were yesterday, exactly where I was and how I felt - the shock, the fear, the uncertainty, the grief. Unbearable.  Thousands of irreplaceable lives were cut short out of hatred and thousands of people’s lives were left to deal with the grief and loss of a loved one. Grief is never easy and it is very difficult to deal with the loss of a loved one or just loss in general, but at some point in your life, you will have to deal with loss. Your loss could be a personal one, such as the death of a spouse or the end of a relationship. Or, your loss could be on a much grander scale, like the grief that our country, and the entire international community, felt for the victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks. The finality of events such as the death of a loved one, the end of a loving partnership or the violence and hatred displayed on that fateful day can leave us stunned and in despair. How do you move on from grief, put the past behind you, and come to terms with your loss? 

The 5 Stages of Grief

There are 5 stages of grief that you will go through after a loss.  Keep in mind not everyone experiences all five of these stages, in order. Some people start with “depression” and then jump into “anger” and may never get to “acceptance.” More likely than not, if you’re experiencing a very tragic loss, you will face one or all of these emotions head-on:

1.  Denial – Refusing to believe what has happened, feeling shocked. “This can’t be happening.”

2.  Anger – Accusing others, such as a supreme being or friends, for what has occurred. “How dare you let this happen?”

3.  Bargaining – Asking the universe or a supreme being to “cut a deal” with you. “Just let me live to see my daughter get married.”

4.  Depression – Experiencing listlessness or exhaustion combined with feelings of helplessness, guilt and lack of interest in life. “I might as well give up.”

5.  Acceptance – Facing the loss and moving on, returning to setting goals in your life and focusing your energy more positively. “I’m ready to deal with this now.”

Understanding the 5 Stages

Although these five stages can be a helpful model to keep in mind as you deal with grief and sorrow, everyone’s grieving process will be different. Sometimes a person will follow these stages exactly in order, sometimes out of order and other times only a few stages. Also, the length of time you will spend in each stage varies. Even though these stages were modeled for someone who’s dealing with recent or imminent death, this model can apply to other situations as well. A divorce, betrayal by a friend or large-scale tragedy like 9/11 can also send a person through these stages.

1. Denial – You pet your animal over and over again, telling him to wake up even though you know he’s gone.

2. Anger – You blame yourself, saying, “If only I had taken him to the vet, this wouldn’t have happened!”

3. Bargaining – You may try to sweet talk a supreme being, saying, “If you just let him wake up, I’ll volunteer at the Humane Society.”

4. Depression – “I’ll never find another pet that I love as much as him.”

5. Acceptance – “I gave my pet a good long life, but he was old and it was his time to move on.”

Dealing With Grief Your Way

Though a pet’s death is not on the same scale of tragedies like 9/11, this model tells us something important about human nature. Any change of circumstance, tragic or not, can cause us to experience the five stages of loss. You may realize that you experience these stages multiple times on a daily basis, or they may be completely unfamiliar to you. No matter what, understanding how you deal with the daily conflicts that are part of life can help you understand how to better deal with a major trauma or heartache.

Many people who are in the grieving process don’t feel like the five stages apply to them, and that’s perfectly normal. Grief is a complicated emotion, and your grieving process is uniquely your own. But no matter which stages you go through, everyone needs to reach the last stage of acceptance. No matter how you get there, you need to eventually grow to accept the situation in order to be a healthy person – mentally, emotionally and physically. Acceptance doesn’t mean that you need to forget the traumatic event and erase it from your memory forever. Rather, acceptance means being able to remember what you lost but still being able to move on with your life.

Moving on with Your Life

After a tragedy, many survivors feel guilty for still being alive. Pleasurable activities like eating and laughing may bring guilt. You might think, “What right do I have to live my life and enjoy myself knowing that terrorists attacked the twin towers and killed so many innocent people?” Or, if your spouse has died, you may feel as if you are betraying your deceased lover by dating again, even if you’re lonely and want a companion. But there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take pleasure in all activities and live your life to the fullest.  The best thing you can do to move on is to celebrate your own life. Isolating yourself won’t help rebuild the twin towers or resurrect someone you cared for. So get out there and enjoy all the beauty that the world has to offer. Don’t let your life, along with the lives of those you lost, be destroyed as well.

Take a little time today to respect those men and women we lost, have compassion for those who are still mourning, and have great admiration and gratitude for the selflessness of all those men and women who gave their lives to protect the lives of others.

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