Mirror Mirror - 2021


At the End We Find Peace: A Study of Grief and Camraderie

By Jennifer Allen

“I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process." ~ CS Lewis

Sorrow (noun)
* distress caused by loss, affliction, disappointment, etc.; grief, sadness, or regret.
* a cause or occasion of grief or regret, as an affliction, a misfortune, or trouble
* the expression of grief, sadness, disappointment, or the like

I still remember the first time I truly experienced grief in my life.

An 8-year-old me traveled with my parents down to South Carolina to visit my grandfather… for the last time. We walked into the house and almost instinctively I could sense that something was amiss. The house had always carried a peculiar aura of cheer and warmth. It was a household filled with a mixture of sights, sounds, and smells that made it so extraordinary and inviting.

But this time… the house felt cold, dark, and downright unsettling.

It wasn't until we walked down the hall and finally reached the master bedroom that I discovered why.

My father stopped us right before the closed door and warned me that the sight of my grandfather may appear shocking at first glance. With that, he opened the door and my eyes finally caught exactly what I'd been told to prepare for. Now, keep in mind that my paternal grandfather was a stocky, barrel-chested man who was considerably stronger than he looked. His Irish heritage had molded him into a man who could be both amiable and stubborn. He also had a humorous charm about him that was incredibly contagious.

The man lain out in his easy chair when my father opened the door… had lost most of that sturdy physique and all his hair.

He reached a wobbly hand up to pull down a heavy breathing mask just so he could give me a weak smile and whisper my name.

He was in the final stages of terminal lung cancer, but somehow a sliver of that warm spirit was still inside the emaciated state he was now in.

His death hit the entire family extremely hard. I was the youngest of all the cousins with full memories of him, as my next closest cousin was only three when he passed and only has vague pictures in her mind.

On the outside, I was just a kid who had her first full experience of loss. The world felt strange as I didn't quite understand at the time how much of a pillar of my existence he was, until that pillar had suddenly crumbled and disappeared.

He became the first of many loved ones I'd lose over the years, including my mother a short eight years later to cancer as well. Still… we found solace in the memories shared amongst us at various get-togethers over the years. In the process of sharing those unforgettable stories, each of the lost never truly went away.

We, as human beings, have had to deal with grief and loss in various ways. Most of the Western world has come to categorize this concept as the “five stages of grief". In fact, it's become part of the zeitgeist to manage each of these stages in turn: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.

While this appears to be a baseline, in truth we all deal with sorrow in so many ways that it's far too difficult to pinpoint. A bereaved person can feel sad, but also experience anger, irritability, tiredness, a lack of motivation, or a plethora of other emotions.

It's often in these times of grief that we as people are drawn to find like-minded individuals with whom we can confide our pain.

There's a reason that 'misery loves company' has become such a popular phrase. Especially in these trying times of a global pandemic, our society has been forced to shift towards a world without as much social interaction. Some of us have lost the ability to comfortably collaborate with others beyond a computer, tablet, or phone screen and it's only getting worse.

It seems, perhaps, a tad ironic that this month marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A seemingly quiet Tuesday morning in the United States when news feeds were suddenly shaken by the sight of a passenger plane crashing into one of the twin tower buildings in New York City which would kick off a sequence of tragic events that would send out shockwaves for years to come.

If there's one silver lining I do miss from the aftermath of that fateful day, it has to be sight after sight of fellow human beings sharing in this overall sense of camaraderie and support.

We supported the courageous work of the first responders. We came together to assist families of the fallen. We were united in a tragedy that the US had not experienced since Pearl Harbor.

Perhaps this sense of togetherness also stemmed from a common enemy that served to widen the range of in-groups to whom people felt they belonged and encourage fellowship among those facing the same threat.

This connection of sorrow is a silver lining, in a way. Because of our forced detachment the mind is able to spend more time reflecting on grief and grapple its meaning. Loss can inspire people to examine life more deeply than they did before, and foster a greater awareness born from their own fragility and a stronger sense of purpose and ultimately... resilience.

If there's anything that grief through collective crises have taught us, it's that this sense of tolerance must be managed with an understanding of peoples' fears and wishes, including their inherent need for kinship and acceptance.

Unfortunately, with the world's social structure so strained by social distancing through necessity, I'm not sure if we as a people will be able to experience a true sense of togetherness like that. Yet, there are moments where we do find a way to bring just a little bit of hope back into the world.

We're all facing this pandemic together… and a sense of common fate, shared identity, and acting for the common or the social good is needed more than ever.

Life isn't about going through the storm… it's about learning to dance in the rain and that kind of celebration is much more special when shared with friends. I'd like to think that my grandfather would join in to such a dance and fill the hearts of everyone around him with his warmth and light.

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Jennifer Allen works at Saathee and is also a Podcaster, Blogger, Photographer, Graphic Artist, Gamer, Martial Arts Practitioner, and all around Pop Culture Geek.