A few months ago the world was mesmerized by the wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise ship; today the last five bodies recovered were identified. This news announcement caused me to reflect on the importance of our need to grieve and the importance in many religions of having remains to bury. This was poignantly discussed last fall when I volunteered at the VOICES of September 11th 10th Annual Day of Remembrance Information Forum. I had been asked to facilitate a roundtable discussion comprised of survivors who had lost someone during the terrorist attacks. There were many themes of loss discussed with the central theme being the need to remember and to honor their loved ones. Frustration about the inability to do so for many, because of the inability to recover remains was a particular point of their inability to grieve.
With the media coverage of the Titanic’s 100th anniversary, I was again reminded of the inability to grieve when the location of loved one’s remains was in the middle of an ocean not easily accessible. These types of losses are complicated and for many disenfranchising; the need for healing overwhelming at times.
There is no grief like the grief that does not speak. -Henry Wordsworth
After death, there is a need to mourn and to complete mourning tasks such as relocating the deceased, clearing personal possessions, and funeral or memorial services. When this process is interrupted such as when the loved ones are killed in terrorist attacks or tragedy, it can lead to an inability to grieve or to move forward. Mary Fetchet, founder of the VOICES of September 11th whose son Brad was killed in the WTC attack, keenly understood this and a part of her organization’s work is commemoration – something that honors or preserves the memory of another. In the absence of traditional mourning opportunities as in a burial – prevented in the Jewish faith – commemoration and ritual become even more important and healing.
There are many helpful ways to remember our loved ones when the traditional methods are unavailable. I have had clients write letters, create collage, listen or create music in their attempts to mourn and heal. Without remembrance, there can truly be no healing. Without healing, we can remain stuck in our loss until the body can no longer bear the burden of the pain and begin to develop illness. In my clinical work with chronic pain, there is often unresolved or traumatic grief – a consequence of the inability to grieve. It is therefore, critical to give sorrow words as Shakespeare told us centuries ago.
For those interested, Mary Fetchet will be a CT Counseling Association Annual Conference Presenter and will facilitate a roundtable discussion on the importance of commemoration.
Deb Del Vecchio-Scully is a counselor and writer who focuses on healing the mind, body and spirit. She specializes in PTSD, Chronic pain and mood disorders. For more information: www.anschealthandwellness.com