Rio Retreat Center logo

9/11 20 Years Later: Dealing with Grief

By Melissa Riddle Chalos

Every year since the tragic events of 9/11, we pause to remember and mourn the unfathomable loss of life that we as a country sustained in those terrible days. An entire generation has been born in the 20 years that have passed, but grief does not keep time. 

Grief is unpredictable. It is emotionally complex and as unique as the individual experiencing it. It can sting as ferociously 20 years later as it did on that fateful day. As the names are read. As the flag flies at half-mast. As we remember the innocence lost that day and in all the days since.

Grief is a highly individual process, as unique as the people experiencing it.

COVID Pandemic: Grief and Uncertainty

As if the national grief of 9/11 isn’t enough, the US is experiencing an unprecedented wave of grief in the wake of COVID-19. Nearly 650,000 deaths. 5 million left to mourn, including more than 120,000 children who have lost a primary caregiver.

The global scale and complexity of the pandemic — and the feelings of helplessness and guilt that have accompanied it — will exact a tremendous physical and mental health toll in the coming years. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we’re already seeing it: 

  • Mental health visits to emergency departments by adolescents rose 31% over 2019
  • Suspected suicide attempts among girls ages 12-17 increased by 50.6%

The ongoing stress of adjusting to pandemic life increases not only depression and substance abuse, but also heart disease, cancer, blood pressure, and autoimmune disease. 

And then — piled on top of all that — is the grief. Five million left behind to grieve the loss of a loved one, in a season of isolation unlike any other we’ve seen in the last century.

Dealing with Grief

Dealing with Grief - Rio Retreat Center So, how do we deal with the weight of grief? According to psychologist and therapist Nick Wignall of Medium.com’s Mind Cafe, there is no one-size-fits-all approach: “Grief is a highly individual process, as unique as the people experiencing it. Everything from our personal histories and culture to personality traits and temperament affects how we experience and cope with a major loss in our life.”

Grief mostly unfolds in its own way and in its own time. It cannot be forced. It cannot be hurried. If you push yourself into what you think grief should look and feel like, you’ll only be frustrated. You cannot run away or hide from it; you have to work your way through it.

When you give your grief the respect, compassion, and care it deserves, you begin reconnecting to parts of yourself long-hidden or unrecognized.

Healthy Grieving

Coping with grief can be overwhelming. There can be anxiety, tears, anger, rage, feelings of abandonment, longing, fear and confusion. But when you are able to acknowledge and process these emotions in healthy ways, grief can develop into a deeper understanding over time: a deeper understanding of the loss, the relationship itself, and a deeper understanding of yourself. 

Dealing with grief can lead to great healing and closure, but to get there requires acceptance and gentleness. Here are six reminders to help you in the process: 

  1. Grief does not keep time, so don’t set a timer for yours.
  2. Your grief will not look the same as others’.
  3. Be intentional with grief. Make time to feel and explore your feelings.
  4. Stay connected with others, but when and with whom you share your story is up to you.
  5. Grief is emotionally complex: It’s not just about sadness.
  6. Be sure to take care of your mind, body, and spirit while you grieve.

At Rio Retreat Center, we specialize in mending heart wounds. Our grief workshop assists those who have experienced great loss to begin to process it in a contained and supportive environment. 

“By getting in touch with the deeper parts of yourself,” says Senior Fellow Dr. Tian Dayton, “the container of grief can hold it … you can reorder it and start to make sense of what happened … This is your natural yearning; this is our path out into the light.”

When you give your grief the respect, compassion, and care it deserves, you begin reconnecting to parts of yourself long-hidden or unrecognized. Healthy grieving allows you to connect with your true self. And that is the beginning of moving forward.