United in Grief

“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.”

Leo Tolstoy (1847-1910)

I had the opportunity to facilitate a two-day retreat a couple of weeks ago at Beaver Hollow Conference Center in Java, New York. This program was comprised of a diverse group of 20 participants, ranging from young professionals to more seasoned employees to retirees, and both black and white.

I led this same program last summer, so I had an awareness of both how sensitive this topic is, and how people may express a wide variety of emotions due to the nature of the information shared and conversations we had. 

The one common denominator is that each person had experienced the death of a significant person in their life, either recently or in the past. In order to gauge where everyone was at I asked them all to introduce themselves, what their employment status was, and if they worked, where. I also asked them to share why they wanted to attend the retreat. 

Each person had their own unique story about someone they lost. Husband, wife, other family members, or friend. I was quite moved when hearing each person share about the person(s) they were grieving for and realized quickly that this was going to be a profoundly impactful experience, not just for them, but me as well.

Over the two days, we discussed such topics as grief and loss, trauma (including individual and collective trauma), self-care, and “the new normal” in which we explored the participants outlook for the future and how they intended to utilize the tools they had learned while there. At the onset, I stressed the need for confidentiality so that everyone would know that they were in a safe space and could share without judgment.

In the first session on grief and loss, I referenced the Pulitzer Prize winning hip hop artist, Kendrick Lamar, and his song from his latest album, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers, United in Grief. In the song, Kendrick gets into the idea, among other things, that he grieves differently, mainly through material possessions, but that these weren’t what he really was looking for:

So what? Paralyzed, the county building controlled us

I bought a Rolex watch, I only wore it once

I bought infinity pools, I never swimmed in…..

In the last stanza, he declares that we all have our own ways of grieving:

I grieve different

Everybody grieves different

Everybody grieves different

I grieve different

While, neither I or any of those in attendance at Beaver Hollow could never understand the life that Kendrick has had, we could all acknowledge that we grieve. And each person has their own way of coming to terms with their loss, no matter how long it may take. For some people the pain never truly goes away.

What we did, however, was discuss ways to cope with the grief of losing someone, whether it be going to professional counseling, talking to a friend, using spiritual supports, or even such simple things as taking a walk, cooking a favorite meal, or exploring a new hobby 

When we were leaving, I had the sense that everyone who was there was leaving with some practical tools to help manage their grief, and to understand that grief is universal. We normalized it. Everybody grieves different.

Published by Mental Health Verses

I'm a mental health advocate, educator, and TEDx speaker. I also am a featured columnist for BP magazine, I have lived with bipolar disorder since 1981 and I'm in long-term recovery from addiction. I host the program, Mental Health Verses on the SUNY Buffalo State radio station, WBNY 91.3 FM

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