September 11 ~ Grief
The First Year of Grief: Help for the Journey
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Dear Marty ~ September 11th was a weepy day for me. . .
Q & A by Bereavement Counselor Marty Tousley
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
You are not alone in the sorrow you're experiencing, my friend, as our entire nation is called to
remember the anniversary of
For many Americans the feelings of
associated with this event may seem as new and as raw as they did when these terrorist attacks
first happened in 2001. A newscast or film clip from
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.
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,
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.
Honor the Memory of Your Loved One with Service
The families of 9-11 were instrumental in creating the
9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance.
Service to others can be healing and transformational. Visit their
service and remembrance site
and see if some form of service to others calls out to you.
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
Copyright © 2003 – 2009 Marty Tousley, CNS-BC,
All rights reserved.
Marty Tousley is the author of these popular online grief healing courses and ebooks:
The First Year of Grief: Help for the Journey
A Different Grief: Coping with Pet Loss
A Different Grief: Helping You and Your Children with Pet Loss
How To Write a Eulogy: Guidelines & Examples for Paying Tribute to Your Loved One
Heartfelt Condolence Letters ~ With Condolence Message Samples
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