11 September 2012

9/11. Again. Eleven years later I really can still 'see' and 'feel' that morning. Waking up, going downstairs to start the day, turning on the TV just in time to see the first tower fall.

I was seven years old and in classes at St Joseph's Catholic Elementary School, Pomona, California, USA. We were getting ready to start the maths portion of our school day when one of the novices came in sobbing, whispered into Sister Mary Alligator's ear something so terrible that Sister Mary Alligator burst into tears too. It was the one and only time I saw Sister Mary Alligator as a person who felt things, who had dreams too, just like mine. In that moment, and only for that moment because the aftermath of it all only made Sister meaner, I realised something had happened that crushed her dreams. She had us on our knees praying for the life of President Kennedy in a half a heartbeat. 

The days that followed are acid etched into my memory, and the terrible moment when John Jr saluted his father's casket especially so. When John Jr was killed in that July plane crash my first thought was of that little boy I'd seen, that now he and his father were together but surely President Kennedy was grief stricken that his son had joined him far too early. 

We all have days or times that are acid etched into our hearts and minds, national griefs. Days like 22 November and 9 September. Days like 6 and 9 August. Days like 7 July, and 11 March.

Days like the Cuban Missile Crisis, when we were all sure we were going to die horrifically and even though we didn't, the terror never really went away because the horror was tinged with the most profound of griefs-that we'd unleashed something so awful as instant world destruction that although we'd averted it, we'd only averted it 'for now'. Out there somewhere someone could push a button and nuclear winter would descend on a planet devoid of nearly all life. Except cockroaches. Which somehow made it all that much worse.  

We have the personal days Grief arrives and changes our life; griefs so deep, so profound we are sure we will never 'get past' or 'get over' It. Griefs that we endure day after soul numbing day. Over the years that pass after a personal grief, we are sure the pain will never go away and the truth is that the pain indeed NEVER goes away.

I'm reading a David Baldacci novel, One Summer, and this Scottish morning, five hours ahead of New York City, I stood in the back door watching the sunrise as I read another chapter of the book. In the chapter I read, one of the characters is trying to comfort and strengthen her grandson-in-law in his grief at the loss of his beloved wife, and she writes to him these words:

"It's not so much that time heals all wounds, Honey, as it is that the passage of the years lets us make peace with our grief in our way."

I can relate to that, actually, even though my heart really does continue to ache at all my personal griefs, and certainly at the national ones. Over the years, on personal and national anniversaries of the arrival of Grief, I've managed to 'get through' the anniversary without revealing to others how very much I am still profoundly grief stricken. I consider it an achievement. In that I am no different than any other bereaved person.

The sun will rise over America this morning in five hours, and people will get up to start their day. Family members and loved ones of all the people who were murdered that morning eleven years ago will begin what ever ritual they have developed over the years to get through the anniversary. I remember when I was in training to be a grief counselor and the admonition came from our instructor that anniversaries do not become easier for the grief stricken but instead become increasing difficult because the grief stricken cannot understand how the world has gone on so normally when something so completely awful has happened-'How,' they wonder, 'how can so many years have gone by without (insert name of loved one here) in the world?!'

(Insert a tinge of 'survivor's guilt' here, the bereaved ALWAYS feel some. Even if they have found a way to 'make peace' with their loss. Always. It's normal. It should be acknowledged and dealt with or else the survivor ends up suicidal.)

After the first few years the bereaved takes especial care to conceal the difficulty from others. It's one of the ways the bereaved 'make peace' with the grief, that determination not to spread their misery.

Grief, personal and/or national, changes us. We truly are not ever the same person again after Grief arrives. Too many griefs unhinge, there is a limit as to how much grief a soul can endure without going mad in one way or another; the worst evil Grief does to the soul is to force it to endure to the breaking point by having to conceal the depth.

In the eleven years since 9/11 there are those who say we should 'get over it', and in so doing they reopen the wound. These people force those of us who grieve to conceal our grief to avoid hearing the impatience, the lack of respect is a profoundly painful 'secondary wounding' and those who inflict it on the bereaved are either inappropriately 'coping' with their inability to cope with their own grief, or they are unfeeling savages who at least privately acknowledge that they are incapable of feeling grief and are taking their embarrassment at the unfeeling lack out on those who do feel.

Take your pick, and I'm at a point where my patience is unfortunately exhausted for those who refuse to face their grief and find a way to make peace with it. Belittling someone else' depth of grieving no matter how long it has been is NOT an appropriate way to cope with one's own grief (or recognition of the lack of grief), it just isn't.

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