The anniversary of September 11, 2001 has brought a resurgence of memories of that day. You’ve no doubt thought about what were you doing when you first heard about the unfolding events, and how your life was different afterwards.
This weekend I heard a native New Yorker talking about how his city was altered by the events of 911. He described drivers pausing to allow in other drivers, folks saying, “Excuse me,” when they bumped into one another in the elevator, and more eye contact between people on the sidewalks. And in the 10 years since, the crime rate in New York City has decreased.
I recall feeling hopeful about our country in the months following the attacks, thinking that this would be a time when we would pull together and hit the volunteer centers, rather than the malls. Flags flew from many homes, and we were all a bit more pensive, less negative, and more prone to appreciate one another. The United States had the support of the world! I felt so fortunate at the time that my parents, who live 3,000 miles away, had a scheduled visit to my home in the Pacific Northwest just a few weeks later. It was such a comfort for me to have a few days with them at a time when I was feeling such unease. And then…. slowly things returned to normal. The flags came down, the malls filled, and America returned to her bullying ways.
But for thousands of people, life would never be the same. Some lost spouses, parents, or other loved ones, and others were emotionally scarred by their experiences. Many of these individuals have not healed, but some, miraculously, have thrived in spite of the trauma and loss. What factors may have aided in these recoveries in the face of such grief, loss, and trauma?
It might just be that many of these individuals hold the belief that, “Every cloud has a silver lining.” Simplistically, this means that every bad situation has some good aspect to it. The silver lining saying was coined by John Milton way back in 1634 and has not lost its power. But how could a person whose husband died in the attacks of 911 possibly bring forth anything good from this horror?
One example is Melodie Homer, whose husband was a pilot on Flight 93 that crashed into a Pennsylvania field that morning. She describes her husband, LeRoy, as a man who dreamed since boyhood of being a pilot. After his death, she started a scholarship fund in his honor. The town of Shanksburg, Pennsylvania pulled together also, and a group of volunteers worked to ensure that visitors to the site of the crash of Flight 93 were met and greeted. This action has no doubt served to strengthen the bonds of this community. These people turned their grief into positive action.
Exactly how does one work through grief? First of all, I believe it’s critical to allow yourself to fully experience grief in all its stages.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross developed five stages of grief, starting with denial that the loss has occurred. Denial shifts then to anger, with a feeling that you’ve been treated unfairly. Bargaining comes next, with pleas for a miracle such as waking up and finding out that it’s all just a bad dream. After bargaining comes depression, often manifested in a deep sense of hopelessness and despair. During the depression stage, many tears are shed and the grief-stricken wants to be alone. The final stage is acceptance, with renewed strength to face the reality of the loss. One common question is how long it takes to grieve. I often find myself reassuring patients that there’s no set time—we all work through our losses differently. It’s clear, though, that silver linings cannot be discovered until the grieving process has taken place.
In thinking about my own life, it’s interesting to see how losses have turned into silver linings. For example, grief over past pets results in me cherishing my dogs more than ever. And going through the pain of divorce results in me taking care of my own marriage and supporting the new marriages of young people in my life.
Think about yourself? What silver linings have you created from the clouds of life?
Photo by Graur Codrin
This post is part of a collective tribute for September 11th. Click here for more Care2 stories on 9/11.