A repost from November 16, 2022
Today, I was approached by a member of my workplace about hosting a space for grieving for folks who continue to struggle after painful decisions made in 2019-2020. The desire for this person was to process grief with the hope that we could find a space to do that as a workplace and community.
For backstory: In the fall of 2020 and Spring of 2021 my office organized, I think 4 of these opportunities. The first couple were well-attended but then attendance dipped. Then another member of the community approach me and wanted me to plan something (he had not attended the first 4 we hosted). I told this person that I would do if if they helped plan something. We did and it was nice but only a couple folks came. I began to wonder who we were doing these for. Finally, another group came together, and this time we came up with an idea for an embodied approach to grieving. We made a life-sized COVID cell and invited folks to fill it with their grievances and we burned the thing down.
This event was very cathartic. Everyone who was involved loved it and maybe in some ways it helped, at least those of us involved, process that grief. But the reality is that for those of us who experienced some of form of trauma via our workplace that event didn’t bring an end to the grief even if it helped us process some of it.
Today, there are plenty who are still hurting and angry. Plenty who are grieving. Holding onto things that happened in the past – justified or not – is a thing that some struggle with more than others. I do not understand all the reasons why some have been able to manage and move on and why others are still looking for something to soothe their hurt. I am also unsure of what a secular institution is to do about all of this? The leadership is mostly new. A lot of the folks most severely impacted are long gone. We have done many different types of things to try and create space and ritualize what happened AND there is still plenty of unresolved grief work to be done.
What I was able to offer this person in that moment – knowing all of this as backdrop – was this; and I confess that I am not sure this is the best or right response, but it was what I was able to offer in that moment:
I am happy to meet with people one on one to help them with their grief. To listen to their hurts and help them think about what they need to move forward.
I don’t think secular institutions can really do much to help people process that grief – grief is communal but it is also deeply personal, complex, spills out beyond work, and spills over into work when it is not work related. In the end, grief is our personal work. It does not have to be done alone but it is my work to do. No one else can do it on my behalf.
We can be friends to each other in that process of hearing ourselves into healing.
Grief work is ultimately our own to carry because the DNA of pain is so unique.
No one else can do it because a big part of the grief we each experience is a symptom of some painful disconnection that took place. Those disconnections are different for each of us. The most painful disconnections come when a loved one is lost, but other painful disconnections happen like a betrayal of a person or institutional you trusted, disconnection through the loss of an identity, a job, a community, a friendship, a role that was cherished.
Besides doing our own work with a therapist. Through prayer, silence, and deep listening. With a friend and a community. In a meeting, church, or a faith community, we can also work on our grief by reconnecting. Those reconnections may come in the form of rebuilding broken relationships and they may come from forging new relationships with a person, a place, an organization. Accepting what is now does not mean that you must neglect what you once loved, but it might mean that we need to reconnect in new ways to what is yet-to-be-loved.
If grief is, in part, a symptom of being disconnected from something we loved, than healing must be, at least in part, a process of reconnecting with ourselves, other people, and those places we have held important to us in our lives.