In light of many comments, public and private, about my previous post “Loss as loss, not as lesson”, I thought perhaps now is the time to share a little bit about what I’ve been learning concerning trauma, and specifically sudden, violent death.
After a few weeks of cofacilitating a support group for people who have lost loved ones to homicide, suicide, or accidental death, I began to learn how very, incredibly different the grief process is for this kind of violent death than for other types of loss.
All loss is loss, no doubt; violent loss is different.
I can think of people by name who have
lost a mother in gunfight.
lost a cousin in a robbery gone wrong.
lost a son in a hit a run.
lost a baby to violence.
Three days from today will be one year since my grandfather died. I will never forget the day he passed away, kissing his forehead, and telling him thank you for everything. I had watched as the sinfulness of Parkinsons ate away at his body for several years. Meals had become special. Kisses on the cheek had become monumental. Laughs shared and jokes made had become cause to gather everyone’s attention in the room. Our family was making meaning together, in the privacy of our home, of the life of our husband, brother, father and grandfather. We spent many holidays saying things we needed to say, hearing things we needed to hear. And at his funeral, almost a year ago today, we celebrated his life with grief and with gladness. Meaning had been made, and we could be at peace with his lost.
This is absolutely, positively nothing like losing someone violently. There is no hierarchy of grief, and no need to compare stories, but the grief associated with violent death is sharply different and should be seen and understood as such.
In the loss of our community at the beginning of this week, a freshmen in college dies in a car accident.
The family has no time to make meaning together, in the privacy of their home, around meals, holidays, laughs and stories. They have, no doubt, been doing these things in passing, unnoticed, like we all do. But we do them differently when we see the shadow approaching. So when the shadow is not seen, they are not done. No one is to blame…it is the way we are.
But the story is immediately stolen. There are phone calls and conversations. News reports and tv coverage. Facebook updates and emails asking, wondering, trying to make meaning in places that feel meaningless.
So now, there is not only no opportunity to plan for the grief, but there is no privacy to the story. It cannot be told the way we get to tell the story of an aging grandparent.
The story tells itself. In public.
And then the news tells it. And then the neighbors tell it. Questions of why it is important, what is to be learned, and how to prevent it linger in the mouths of other people. The story is everywhere, and belongs now to everyone.
But most importantly, it is co-opted from those grieving the loss.
To grieve is––in itself––an act of worship.
Pine Tree Dr.
“Real criticism begins in the capacity to grieve because that is the most visceral announcement that things are not right. Only in the empire are we pressed and urged and invited to pretend that things are all right – either in the dean’s office or in our marriage or in the hospital room. And as long as the empire can keep the pretense alive that things are all right, there will be no real grieving and no serious criticism.”
+ Walter Brueggeman, The Prophetic Imagination