The tenth anniversary of 9/11 will have reminded everyone of the grief that thousands experience as a result of that day. Not only those killed then, but all those killed in subsequent acts of terror or war come to mind. We think of those we ourselves have loved and who have died. We understand grief, of course; but do we understand grieving?
I know I often refer to the origins of words in this blog, but to remember that ‘grieve’ is related to Old French ‘grever’, meaning to burden or encumber, and ultimately to the Latin word ‘gravis’, meaning heavy or weighty, is to understand something of the burden that grieving imposes. We are literally weighed down. And while grief can be a more or less fleeting feeling of loss and sadness, grieving is a longer and more difficult process as we try to accept and adapt. We have to accept the loss of someone we love, but we also have to adapt to the altered condition in which we find ourselves, living with absence rather than presence. That takes time, and our society doesn’t allow much time. ‘Move on, move forward’, we say, but the heart lags behind.
As we pray today for those killed on 9/11, those dying a slow death as a result of the toxic dust and fumes unleashed by the catastrophe, those killed in subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and terrorist acts throughout the world, let us also pray for a better understanding of grieving, that we may give others time and space in which to accept and adapt. Catholic tradition reminds us that death is not an ending of life but an entrance into another form of life. We are encouraged to pray for the dead and to ask the prayers of those who have gone before. That has always seemed to me a reassurance that grieving is natural and something we do in union with others. Grief, by contrast, is a lonely business: ‘Un seule être vous manque / Et tout le monde est dépeuplé’. Let us not forget that we grieve together.