United in Courage & Grief 

Why does my heart Feel so bad?
Why does my soul Feel so bad?

Why does my heart feel so bad?

Loss is the disappearance or sudden deprivation of something cherished. It is a common experience that can be encountered many times during a lifetime; loss does not discriminate for age, race, sex, education, economic status, or nationality. Death is one of the most commonly recognized losses, but there are many many others. Some examples of loss include: loss of health, loss of job, loss of relationship, loss of freedom, loss of pet, loss through natural disaster or in this case loss through human caused disaster. What many are experiencing in the aftermath of the September 11 tragedy is the loss of safety, loss of life-style and loss of innocence.

A Significant Life Change can be an event or occurrence--a loss or a gain; it can be something either positive or negative. With a significant life change after it happens, a person's life is never the same, he/she cannot go back to the way life was before the event or occurrence. In the aftermath of Tragic Tuesday, we have experienced a loss that has resulted in a significant life change. We will never be the same again.

Grief is the normal reaction to a loss; it is the means by which people begin to accept the reality of an event which will change their lives. One can also grieve over positive events--such as a birth, a wedding, graduation--because the change results in a loss of life as we knew it. Grief is a natural and complex, emotional reaction to a loss, one that can impact the grieving person physically, psychologically and emotionally. When grieving your entire being--body, mind and soul--is adjusting to a new world one that has been forever altered by the loss.

When there is the loss of a person there is the physical loss and the companionship that is lost as well as all of the hopes and dreams of the future.

Grief is a trail of dreams, fulfilled and unfulfilled,
all that could have been, never can be again.
On this forlorn night walk, the path to new promises is still beyond the horizon,
awaiting the hazy, yet inevitable, future.
-Molly Fumia
Following a loss, during the grief response, a void results, an emptiness that can be felt in different parts of the body-- heartache, an ache in the pit of the stomach--which can cause significant suffering and distress. Two quotes below help to describe the deep emotions of grief. (For more clinical signs and symptoms see the section on Health Concerns.)
Grief is a tidal wave that over takes you,
smashes down upon you with unimaginable force,
sweeps you up into its darkness,
where you tumble and crash against unidentifiable surfaces,
only to be thrown out on an unknown beach,
bruised, reshaped...
It is the ashes
from which the phoenix rises,
and the mettle of rebirth.

It returns life to the living dead.
It teaches that there is nothing absolutely true or untrue...

Grief will make a new person out of you,
if it doesn't kill you in the making.

- Stephanie Ericsson

Deep sobs -
That start beneath my heart
and hold my body in a grip that hurts.
The lump that swells inside my throat
brings pain that tries to choke.
Then tears course down my cheeks -
I drop my head in my so empty hands
abandoning myself to deep dark grief
and know that with the passing time
will come relief.
That though the pain may stay
There soon will come a day
When I can say her name
and be at peace.
-Norah Leney
Loss Due to Unimaginable Events
When the loss is due to such an unimaginable event such as the human caused disaster--in this case a terrorist act--our reactions to the loss become much more complicated and may become more difficult to overcome. Suddenly, with these acts of terror, the world as we once knew it, no longer exists. We no longer feel safe. We fear for ourselves, our family and friends. Our thoughts can become preoccupied that such a random act of violence might happen again. We become suspicious of those who might look like the terrorists. We start questioning our beliefs and our values. Goals, Plans, Purchases which were once important the week prior to the event now seem trivial by comparison. We are forced to look at and re-evaluate our priorities. Time spent with loved ones, tender moments with our children take on greater meaning. Thanksgiving may have much more meaning this year as we reflect on all that we have to be thankful for. Life is very different in the aftermath of these events. All of these reactions are normal. It is important to take the time to sort through these feelings and complex emotions.

We all know for sure now how fragile, how uncertain yet extraordinary, life can be. May we always remember.

-Oprah Winfrey
Why do I continue to "feel so bad"?
The experiences of mourning and the grief response have not changed over centuries. People feel bad, feel off, feel different, feel a void following a loss. What has changed is the society we live in and the pervasive attitude towards grief.

We are a society that expects those grieving to quickly "deal with it" and "get over the loss." A death occurs and with luck, we are given two weeks off from work "bereavement leave," to deal with the immediate issues surrounding the funeral, dealing with personal artifacts, property, and wills. At the end of the two weeks (which may be vacation time, rather than personal time--depending on the company) we are expected to return with the grief still fresh, but "dealt with" and the workers is expected to "get on with life." Another major loss may occur e.g. a diagnosis of a major medical condition, the breakup of a long-standing relationship, the loss of a cherished pet, but this loss does not meet the criteria for bereavement leave thus no time is available to take off, rather people are expected to show up at work and keep functioning. This lack of recognition by our society at large as to how a person may be impacted by a loss--whether an acknowledged or a disenfranchised loss--and how long their grief response may go on, can significantly contribute to why we continue to "feel so bad." Lack of social support and sympathy can result in a greater chance that a grieving person may be compromised in his or her grief process.

This tragic event united the country in grief, but we could still see the prevalent expectation that after two weeks one should be getting back to normal. After a weekend of suspended sporting events, baseball resumed less than a week after the tragedy. After a week of round-the-clock television coverage, normal television programming resumed. Flags did not even fly at half mast for a full two weeks at Camp David or over New York Stadium before they were returned to full mast. We are being urged to start flying again, start spending and start getting "back to normal" whatever "normal" is now.

As a society that typically denies grief, we are afraid to be around someone who is grieving. We are unsure what to say,  how to act, what to do. One of the most valuable gifts we can give someone who is grieving to help the loss become real, is the gift of listening.

Let the person in need of comfort talk! Let him or her talk about people..events..feelings. One of the major tasks of grief is for the loss to become real. Listening to someone talk will aid this process. Each time the story is repeated, the reality becomes more realized. Listen particularly for feelings. Accept these feelings without judgment.
-Hardy Clemons

One of the things I have been struck by in this event is how important it has been for people to tell their story. Whether a survivor of the incident, a friend or family member awaiting news, families dealing with the painful loss of a lost loved one, the people who have been influenced by the incident or capturing the events on home video, the medical responders they are all telling and sharing their story--again and again. These stories have been repeated in the media, written in magazines and papers and posted on a variety of sites on the Internet. The healing process begins as the grieving person is able share their story of their grief and give voice to the loss. (See Telling the Story for more)

What can also be helpful at this time of crisis is becoming more sensitive of the grief response in others as we become more aware of our own grief response to this tragedy and recovery. (For more on the normal grief response see the section on Health Concerns.)

Grief has a quality of healing in it that is very deep because
we are forced to a depth of emotion that is usually
below the threshold of our awareness.

-Steven Levine
Why was this event so stressful?
We must remember that the goals of the terrorists were two-fold. First, they wanted to cause the destruction and devastation. They may have even delayed the second attack on the World Trade Towers slightly so that the media would be filming it live as the plane crashed into the tower. However, the long-term psychological warfare they waged with this attack, that continues is even more important goal than the initial physical destruction. This psychological warfare may have much longer lasting effects, on a much wider range of people, in countries around the world. The terrorists wanted to cause a decay in the American life-style, to cause a disruption in people's day-to-day routines, to change how people think, how they will travel, how they interact with others. They wanted to disrupt the American People's faith in our government and in the economy.

Human caused disasters such as the September 11th events catch us off guard. These acts are viewed as random acts of violence, can be more frightening than natural disasters, often viewed as "acts of God." Because of the acts were committed by humans rather than a natural "act of God" there is the perception that "We should have seen it coming," "We should have been more vigilant," "We could have prevented this event from occurring." It is difficult for many of us to believe that our fellow human being are capable of such atrocities. There are several differences between human and natural disasters that make the event even more stressful:

If we give in to the terrorists, if we crawl into our shells or our homes, afraid to venture out, then they have won the psychological battle. They have succeeded in instilling the fear, in changing our habits, in undermining our way of life and of living.
When will I feel better?

We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full.

-Marcel Proust

Contrary to popular belief one doesn't just "get over" loss or a significant life-changing event. The journey of recovering from losses and significant life changes is a process that does not occur over night, it may take weeks, months, years, or even a life time--depending on the person and the type of loss. There is no "perfect" or "right" or "correct" way to process a loss. Each person's experience of loss, like each grief experience will be unique. We need to remember that Grief has its own rhythm.

Each of our lives has its own rhythms. Grief, which is part of our life, has its own rhythm.
It is propelled by our feelings and our circumstances. The duration of its expression is guided by our instinct.
To try and force grief into a time frame or a pattern will not work.

- Carol Staudacher [5]

Tragic events can be much more difficult to recover from quickly, or at all, depending on the nature of the tragedy e.g. unnecessary or accidental death, rape, loss through natural disasters, death during war-time, unnecessary acts of violence. When a death is considered to be "traumatic" e.g. a death that is sudden or unanticipated, violent or destructive, random and/or preventable or when their are multiple deaths, this predisposes the grief process to be at a higher risk for complicated mourning. Complicated Mourning is a delayed or incomplete adaptation to loss or failure in the process of mourning. These types of losses are the ones that often require counseling and professional help from someone knowledgeable about traumatic losses to help the grieving cope with the loss.

Major Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are potential sequalae of complicated mourning, that can also
occur from being a secondary victim of the incident--from watching the events unfold on television. However since the
diagnosis of depression or PTSD is only made after experiencing symptoms for several weeks to months after the initial event,  it will be months before we know how many people will be diagnosed with these disorders in the aftermath of this tragedy. (For more clinical signs and symptoms see the section on Health Concerns.)

What really matters now is love...
that condition in the human spirit so profound that it allows us to rise.
Strength, love, courage, love, kindness, love. That is really what matters.
There has always been evil, and there will always be evil,
but there has always been good, and there is good now.
-Dr. Maya Angelou

~ The Candle Of Peace, Hope & Unity ~
Peace for a Nation that is hurting.
Hope for more Survivors to be found.
Unity among all Americans.
  This candle was lit on the 11th of September 2001.

I believe that when you lose a loved one you gain an angel whose name you know.

-Oprah Winfrey
Parkes CM, Markus A. Introduction. Coping with Loss. London, England: BMJ Books, 1998.
Rando TA. Treatment of Complicated Mourning. Champaign, IL: Research Press: 1993.
Rando TA. Complications in Mourning Traumatic Death, Chapter 11. In Doka KA (ed). Living with Grief After Sudden Loss: Suicide, homicide, Accident, Heart Attack, Stroke. Washington DC: American Hospice Foundation, 1996.
When Bad Things Happen http://www.redcross.org/services/disaster/keepsafe/badthings.html
Why Do I Feel Like This? http://www.redcross.org/services/disaster/keepsafe/terror.html
Other Resources and Information:
United in Courage and Grief - Introduction Page
Why does my heart feel so bad?
What is Different about this Event?
The Importance of Telling the Story
Wake-up Call for the World
Health Concerns for Witnesses
Blessings, Lyrics, Poems & Quotes
Remembering Our Children
Helping Children to Cope with Tragedy
More Resources
Ways of Helping & Coping
Share your thoughts Transformations on the Journey
Page posted October 7, 2001.
In Memory of all those lost and forever missing from the events on September 11, 2001, the day our world changed.
The ribbon art was created by Alon Cohen. Available at: http://people.bu.edu/xrpnt/ribbons/
The Candle of Peace, Hope and Unity arrived via an e-mail message. Available at: http://www.sillyfun.com/funpages/amcandle.gif
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