United in Courage & Grief 

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill,
that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship,
support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the
survival and success of liberty.

John F. Kennedy Inaugural Address January 20, 1961
What is Different about this Incident?
The tragic events of September 11, 2001 are like nothing this country has experienced before and with luck will not experience again. This tragedy is different for a variety of different reasons.
The magnitude of the tragedy--the loss of American life on American soil. This magnitude of loss has not been seen since battles during our own Civil War. Estimates are over 6,000 lives lost at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in the four planes that were hijacked and crashed. The difference in the lives lost--is these lives were innocent civilian lives, people going about their daily work or flying on routine flights. The United States was not the only country to loose people. The World Trade Center housed employees from countries around the world. Many other countries lost many of their people in this disaster. This even united the world in grief, trying to explain the unexplainable.

The start of the first war of the 21st century--a war against terrorism. The terrorists found a new weapon of destruction--airplanes filled with passengers and fuel--and were willing to die for their cause. This type of kamikaze, suicide soldier is a different mentality than the United States is used to fighting in the past. It is also difficult to accept that the first losses in this war of the 21st century were civilian losses not the military losses that we are more used to expecting during battle. We, as a peaceful people, are uncomfortable with this paradigm shift.

The suddenness of the attack--seemingly out of nowhere. These attacks appeared to come out of nowhere, without warning. It leave us questioning the capabilities of our government intelligence to detect terrorist acts. We are also left wondering about the safety procedure of airlines which allowing the terrorists to get through with "legal" weapons. Overall, following this attach we are left question the safety of the country and our own personal safety.

The type of tragedy--calculated, methodically planned. As we now know these attacks had been planned for and trained for over many years. We also know, many of the terrorists learned how to fly and trained in this country, again leaving us to question our personal safety and wonder why no one suspected anything.

The physiological and psychological impact of the attack.  The terrorists not only planned for the initial death and destruction, but  they planned on long-term terrorism actions by waging psychological warfare against the United States. With the sudden unexpected strike, the terrorists wanted to undermine American's faith in the government, disrupt people's lifestyle and day-to-day routines, change how people think, how they travel, and how they interact with others. It may be years before the full physiological and psychological effects of the attack are known.

The viciousness of the attack--from foreign soil.  It difficult for most of us to believe that fellow human being are capable of such atrocities and capable of such hate against our country. These are not the types of acts that have generally happened in the United States, at least not in such an organized fashion. We have seen the viciousness in the attacks on Oklahoma City and Columbine, but these attacks we by deranged American citizens, not foreigners. As President Bush told the world, this attack is a "reminder that evil exists in our world."

The Many Losses
The events of September 11, 2001 resulted in the loss of life, property, the change in the New York Skyline and the defamation of the Pentagon. Perhaps, most of all, following the tragic events, as a country and as individuals, we are experiencing many significant, life-altering losses--our way of life and many of our freedoms previously taken for granted prior to this incident. When a significant life change occurs, 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 many losses that have resulted in a significant life change. We will never be the same again. We, in the United States and many in the international community are experiencing the With so many losses sustained, in particular the loss of innocence and loss of safety as we have already seen there will be an extended period of grieving--the means by which people begin to accept the reality of an event which will change their lives and mourning--the outward expressions of grief.

One of the reasons that this event has impacted so many people is because we have, as a country, lost our innocence--our belief that people are fundamentally good and that bad things don't happen to good people. We have also lost our sense of safety the ability to feel safe at work, at home and especially when flying. Our thoughts may become preoccupied that such a random act of violence might happen again at any place and at any time. Life in the aftermath of these events is very different.

We all know for sure now how fragile, how uncertain yet extraordinary, life can be.
May we always remember.
-Oprah Winfrey
The Media Coverage
In unprecedented news coverage, the events at the World Trade Center was covered live. Anyone watching television coverage after the initial plane attack watched in real time as first one and then the second Tower collapsed. The media coverage of this event allowed us to live and then keep reliving the images of destruction, over and over again. Following this disaster, much of the country spent hours, even days, in front of the television waiting for news, waiting to hear about survivors, just watching and waiting. Although we had the power to turn off the images, to change what we are watching, and stop the information overload, many of us felt mesmerized by the images. There was a certain sense of "duty" to watch the tragic history-making events unfold, to be a witness, again and again, to the death and the destruction--in some way honoring the lives of those lost.  The first week after the event, nearly all major networks broadcast nothing but continuous coverage about Tragic Tuesday.

The magnitude of this disaster will not be felt for several months, even years. As we viewed the images from September 11, 2001, we all became victims of the disaster. There are likely to be thousands of "secondary victims" who are or will be suffering emotional and physical problems after watching the disaster coverage. The media coverage allowed us to be "up close and personal" with the events as they were happening. Disaster research has shown that particularly for those involved--directly from being at the events, or indirectly from losing a loved one--that exposure to images and unexpected messages on television can cause a reappearance of stress-related problems.

Following the unexpected deaths of John Lennon, Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy Jr., the Oklahoma City Bombing or Columbine tragedy, the media provided news coverage of these events. Traditionally, Grief, Loss, Bereavement have not been "sexy" enough topics. The tragedies sell papers, magazines and air-time, but the media has done little to educate the public on how to deal with these emotions or provide good, available resources.  In the past news and radio stations have not want to spend too much time discussing the grief response to a loss, a "downer" topic for fear of pulling down their ratings. The emphasis has always been on just covering the tragic stories, not recognizing the loss and the grief response of those involved.

On September 11, 2001 the media's role changed, as they recognized the magnitude of the event and the need to educate the public about the emotions the country was feeling, as part of the beginning of the healing process. For the first time in memory, news programs, websites, and newspapers in addition to running the stories of the tragedy were also helping to "get the word out" about available grief resources. Newspapers, websites and news programs ran information on helping with donations, but also information for ways of dealing with the crisis--phone numbers for crisis lines, links to websites, and information for coping with the tragic events. This tragedy has caused many of the public figures to be exhibiting a more human side. We witnessed seasoned news correspondents, talk show hosts, clergy and government officials become tearful and/or deeply emotional when discussing the events or participating in the many memorials.

In the aftermath of this different type of tragedy, the media has been instrumental in beginning the healing process. Healing begins as the grieving person is able share their story of their grief and give voice to the loss. In addition to the tragedies and the images of devastation and destruction, the media has helped provide us with images of hope, courage and love. We have seen faces and heard stories and remembrances about the missing, the victims, and about survivors.  We have been witnesses to these stories, helping each other heal by listening to their stories.

We can only hope that this event has served to educate the media of the pivotal role that they can play in aiding in the healing of the grief response, and when future disasters occur, they will continue to provide the information and resources for the public to aid more quickly in the healing process.

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. They wanted to cause the destruction and devastation. They may have even planned the second attack on the World Trade Towers 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. 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.

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." There are several differences between human and natural disasters that make the event even more stressful:

Do not expect, bewildered by your tears,
An easy answer for the heart or mind,
Nor sudden truth to blaze from the unseen,
Nor magic respite from the wound that sears..
-John Lehmann, Elegy
The Unanswerable "Why?"

As with many others, when I think about and try to understand these recent events, I am left asking "Why?" "Why did this happen?" Yet events such as the tragic ones from September 11, 2001 were beyond anyone's control--a sudden, unexplainable loss.

It is human nature to want to answer the question "Why?" yet at times like these it may be difficult if not impossible to find an answer. Often times the question "Why?" is more of a plea for meaning and understanding. The thoughts of Rabbi Earl Grollman are helpful for coping with this difficult question:

Now death has shaken your faith, "Why?" "Why must life be one of sorrow?" "Why?" There are no pat answers. No one completely understands the mystery of death. Even if the question were answered, Would you pain be eased, your loneliness less terrible?

"Why" may be more than a question. It may be an agonizing cry for a heart-breaking loss, an expression of distress, disappointment, bewilderment, alienation, and betrayal. There is no answer that bridges the chasm of irreparable separation. There is no satisfactory response for an unresolvable dilemma. Not all questions have complete answers. Unanswered "Why's" are part of life. The search may continue but the real question might be "How [do I] pick up the pieces and go on living as meaningful as possible?"

Asking "Why" may be counterproductive, especially to the healing process. Perhaps we should be asking "What can I do about it now?," "How can I help?" or "How do I pick up the pieces and go on living as meaningful as possible?"

The three phrases that I should let go from my mind, if I want to be serene
"What if?" "If only..." and "Why Me?"

-Author unknown

Those who have witnessed and survived this tragedy have received a "Wake-Up" call. We have been given the chance to reassess and re-evaluate our lives. Because of the magnitude of this event, the need for self reflection was even greater, as we are reminded that life is so precious. Goals, plans, purchases which were once important the week prior to the event now seem trivial by comparison. Life is very different now.

Perhaps the events of September 11 will become a wake up for change and reform, for education and listening. When enough people--the public and the politicians, the political leaders--in the right places become angered and move towards activism, things will change. With luck, we can hope that after living through these events it will make us understand the suffering of others as we will no longer turn our backs on others who are grieving. Most of all we should appreciate that life is very short, and time with loved ones precious.

There are some improvements in our national character that have come about because of this tragedy. We're a softer people, we're a more deeply sober people. I think we realize now our vulnerabilities in a way that make us appreciate the fragility of life, that make us kinder to each other...I think that when you suffer, you're more sensitive to the suffering of others.
-Marianne Williamson
Dyer KA. Thompson CD. Internet Use for Web-education on the Overlooked Areas of Grief and Loss. CyberPsychology and Behavior. 2000; 3(2):255-270.
Red Cross. Why Do I Feel Like This? http://www.redcross.org/services/disaster/keepsafe/terror.html
Red Cross. When Bad Things Happen http://www.redcross.org/services/disaster/keepsafe/badthings.html
Grollman, E. Living When a Loved One has Died. Boston, MA: Beacon Press; 1995, p. 8.
Grollman RA. Why? Journeys Newsletter. Washington D.C.: Hospice Foundation of America, March 2001 p. 3. 
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 Unity Ribbon was created by Rowan in response to the September 11th Tragedy to be a symbol that could draw people back together and help unite not only the United States, but also the world. Available at: http://www.theunityribbon.org
The smaller ribbon art was created by Alon Cohen. Available at: http://people.bu.edu/xrpnt/ribbons/
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