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September 11th was a weepy day for me...

Q & A by Bereavement Counselor Marty Tousley 

Question: Yesterday [September 11th] was a heavy day. I found myself weepy all day as I remembered all those who died on September 11th (including a former colleague who perished in the WTC), as well as, other loved ones who've died but not on September 11th. Can you offer up any insight into this kind of collective grief? 

Answer: You are not alone in the sorrow you're experiencing, my friend, as our entire nation is called to remember the second anniversary of September 11th For many Americans the feelings of grief ] associated with this event may seem as new and as raw as they did when these terrorist attacks first happened two years ago. A newscast or film clip from September 11 can catch us by surprise, acting as a trigger, and it's as if we're confronted with the event for the first time, all over again. 

Like aftershocks following an earthquake, some of the feelings we experienced then and thought we had put behind us can crash in upon us like a tidal wave - especially when we are flooded with so many reminders in the media. Painful images surround us, and it feels as if we're starting the entire mourning process anew. 

Dr. Frank Ochberg's Interview 
On the first anniversary of September 11, an informative interview on this subject was conducted with Dr. Frank Ochberg, founding board member of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies and an expert in post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dr. Ochberg described September 11 as "one of these days that is going to live in infamy, a day of collective remembrance." He noted that there are some people "who lost a loved one on 9/11 or people for whom events were so personal and so intense that the anniversary and public expression is bound to return them to the scene . . . but it doesn't mean that you are actually back there . . . [and] it does not mean you're going to have to recover from the start all over again. Even if we did not lose a loved one in the attacks of 9/11," Dr. Ochberg continues, "the images can remind us of our own tragic losses that may have gone unrecognized and unacknowledged." 

Plan for Anniversary Dates of Loss 
It is wise to remember that oftentimes the anticipation of an anniversary date can be worse than the actual day. When you are grieving the loss of a loved one, it helps to identify those days, events and seasons that are likely to intensify and rekindle your pain, and build comfort and healing into them. Plan what you're going to do ahead of time, even if you plan to be alone. Don't set yourself up for a bad day. Let your friends and relatives know in advance which days and events are significant for you. Verbalize your needs and include them in your plans. They may be very willing to help, but need for you to tell them how. 

If you're feeling anxious, confused or immobilized as a certain date or time approaches, get the reassurance you need by participating in a grief discussion group, attending a grief support group or speaking with a bereavement counselor. 

Handle Your Memories With Care 
If your memories are painful and unpleasant, they can be hurtful and destructive. If they create longing and hold you to the past, they can interfere with your willingness to move on. You can choose which parts of life you shared that you wish to keep and which parts you want to leave behind. Soothe your pain by thinking of happy as well as sad memories. The happiness you experienced with your loved one belongs to you forever. Hold onto those rich memories, and give thanks for the life of the person you've lost instead of brooding over the last days. Build "memory time" into the day, or pack an entire day with meaning. It's easier to cope with memories you've chosen than to have them take you by surprise. Immerse yourself in the healing power of remembrance. Go to a special place, read aloud, listen to a favorite song. Celebrate what once was and is no more. 

Letting Go Doesn't Mean Forgetting 
Letting go of what used to be is not an act of disloyalty, and it does not mean forgetting your lost loved one(s). You will never forget, because a part of this person remains in you. Letting go means leaving behind the sorrow and pain of grief and choosing to go on, taking with you only those memories and experiences that enhance your ability to grow and expand your capacity for happiness. 

As you've already discovered, you're never really finished with loss when someone significant leaves you. This loss will resurface during key developmental periods for the rest of your life. You will have to face it again and again, not as the person you are today, but as the person you will have grown to be in two or five or twenty years from now. Each time you will face it on new terms, but it won't take as long and it won't be as difficult. 

Wishing you Peace and Healing,
Marty Tousley, Bereavement Counselor




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Marty Tousley, MS, RN, CS is a content provider for Self Healing Expressions. She is a hospice bereavement counselor helping people find their way through grief following the death of a loved one. As a volunteer with the Pet Grief Support Service in Phoenix, AZ, she also works with bereaved animal lovers, both individually and in groups, and consults with veterinary clinics to foster greater understanding of pet loss among staff members, thereby building better helping relationships with grieving clients.

A frequent contributor to healthcare journals, newsletters and magazines for the lay public, she has written several articles and book chapters in the professional nursing and medical literature, and has authored three books addressing various aspects of loss and grief. Her award-winning Internet Web site, www.GriefHealing.com offers information, comfort and support to anyone who is anticipating or mourning the loss of a loved one, whether human or animal.

Copyright 2003, 2004 Marty Tousley. All rights reserved. If you wish to publish this article, please email contact@selfhealingexpressions.com



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