Today is National Grief Awareness Day. I’d planned weeks ago to write a blog about grieving as it relates to our relationships. Then, a beast named Harvey came to town. Not to my town, but it might as well have been. My town has been plundered by Harvey’s wicked brothers and sisters through the years. I bet you’ve heard of them. Frederic, Elena, Katrina… and Ivan to name just a few members of this dysfunctional family.
When storms like these barge into our lives, they take advantage of us, make a mess of things, and harm us physically… and emotionally. They steal from us.They steal our homes, our possessions, our sense of security. Sometimes they steal people we love.
You want to talk grief? Walk through a neighborhood after a storm like Harvey finally gets the heck out of there. Look at the slumped shoulders, defeated faces, and vacant stares of the people who are returning to find “nothing” where the “something” of their lives used to be. I’ve seen it.
I’ve seen it as a journalist who covered every northern Gulf Coast hurricane from Frederic to Katrina. But, I’ve also seen it as the adult daughter of parents who basically lost everything when Ivan stormed into town.
I was a TV news anchor in Mobile, Alabama that September night in 2004. Initially, we thought Ivan was heading west of us. At pretty much the last minute, he hooked east. My parents, my siblings, and even my children (who had evacuated to “safety”) were now in the bullseye. It would be several days before the roads would be clear enough for me to be reunited with my family. Cell phone coverage was spotty at best. When my mom would get a signal and call, she couldn’t talk. All she could do was sob.
When I was finally able to get to her, I saw why. Their house, and pretty much everything that had been inside, was gone… swept away by wind and water...or buried.
|Aerial shot of my parents' home after Ivan from the back. Photograph: Pensacola News Journal|
|Ground level from the front. See that one remaining front wall?|
There was basically nothing behind it, but air.
From mid-September to December, my mother would go daily to the place where her home used to be and dig through the shambles Ivan had left behind. She was looking for anything that might have survived the storm. It didn’t matter how damaged the “anything” might be. She just wanted to get back some of what Ivan had stolen from her. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t about “things.” Things can be replaced. It was about memories and life. It was about photographs, her grandfather’s glasses, a trinket her brother had given her when she was just 8 years old, an afghan that her mother had made by hand.
Someone told me that I should stop her from going to the house every day. They told me it wasn’t healthy. I begged to differ. I told my well-intentioned friend to think of it like this: Some people grieve the loss of a loved one by returning to the cemetery every day for--- well, for as long as it takes. Others rarely, or even never, return. Grieving is deeply personal. What’s right for one person may not be for another. And while a loss to a storm is different from the loss of a loved one, it's still a loss. It's real. It hurts.And, we have to heal in the way that's best for us.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified the 5 stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.* Most physicians will tell you it’s a good model to work from. But not everyone’s grief looks the same. Not everyone goes through all of the stages, and if they do, they may not come in that exact order.
So, what can you do? If you are the one experiencing the loss, don’t deny your grief. Don’t stuff it back and put on a brave face 24/7. Acknowledging the loss is painful, but it’s essential to begin the steps to healing. Cry… or scream if you have to. Talk to a friend or a counselor. Don’t refuse help from anyone and don't be afraid or too proud to ask for help, whether it’s from a family member or the Red Cross. Remember there are people who love you and who want to help you reassemble your life.
And remember to pray. Then pray again. And again.
If you are helping someone who is grieving after the storm, don’t try to tell them what they should or shouldn’t do. Let them grieve in their own way. Be encouraging, but not demanding. Listen a lot and talk a little. Hold them while they cry.Sit silently with them when they cannot speak. Answer your phone when they call, even if it’s midnight.
And remember to pray. Then pray again. And again.
The important thing to remember is that when you, or someone you know, feel the emotions of grief, it’s okay. The grieving process helps us return to a healthier state of mind and body. Don’t let the emotions rule your life, but don’t shut them out of your life, either. Let them happen, work your way through them, and come out stronger on the other side.
It’s not easy. I know that. But, I also know from more than thirty years of interviewing people who have grieved the losses caused by weather thieves with names like Andrew, and Charley and Alicia…and Harvey… that the storm does eventually pass. The sun does eventually shine. The heart does eventually heal.
We’re going to see a lot of spirit and spunk in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. We always do after storms like these. But, we are also going to see a lot of grief. If you are one of those affected, I may not know your name, but I understand your loss. Please know that I am praying for you. I pray for your recovery and the return of peace to your life. I will pray. Then pray again. And again. And, if you want to share your story with me, I’m happy to listen. You are not alone.