Where's the Grief Beef

August, 2020


why not a global day of empathy?

Earlier this month, I opened the Nick “file.”

It’s actually a box I stashed in my closet shortly after my brother died in 1996. Nick was only 45 years old at the time, and it was a tragic, premature ending.

This is a box I am reluctant to open. But I am so glad I did. The Nick “file” contains condolence cards, obituaries, programs from his singing or acting performances, photos, and myriad other memories. Going through the stored items evokes feelings of sadness and powerlessness that may never totally disappear.

Nick’s final five-page autopsy report, alone, was staggering to revisit. He had so many things that went wrong, medically, or that just plain gave out on him. I had to stop looking after page one. So no, it wasn’t much fun to travel back in time to 1996 when all of us felt so helpless about Nick’s dire situation.

But there was some joy in that box, too.

As a social worker assisting students and faculty at a private school, Nick recommended a life-changing book (The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller) to a student. Her condolence letter to my parents about this was deeply moving. Nick suggested the same book to me at a pivotal time and it was life-altering for me to read, too! This helped me remember and re-connect with my beloved brother. Nick could be a major grump at times, but he could also induce joy in others with great ease. His comedic facial expressions alone . . . priceless!

There was another gift in that box. By re-connecting with my sorrow at the loss of Nick in ’96, and other members of my family since then, my empathy skyrocketed for others whose grief is extremely raw right now.

I thought about all of the people around the globe who have died from the COVID virus. Some much younger than 45 years old.

I reflected on all who have been murdered due to unnecessary violence and war, especially people of color and others hated for their religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation, etc.

And then I thought about each person impacted deeply by each of those deaths. There are brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, friends, offspring, pets and, in some cases, complete strangers who are in the throes of deep mourning right now. And what are we doing to support them?

Much of the world is still either sheltering in place or not back to any kind of normalcy. The inability to attend or participate in any kind of public bereavement ritual undoubtedly compounds the sadness and suffering in the aftermath of loss.

Humans are able to get mad and mobilize when injustices and losses take place. Our anger or fury often leads to calls for action. And this is needed.

Are we as able to tolerate being sad? While anger propels movement and action, sadness slows us, and in some cases, to a full and complete halt.

I don’t think this is an either/or proposition. It makes sense to be fearful of the inertia that could arise if we were to indulge that sadness.

I just wish there was more time and space to weep. To be in and feel our sadness. To allow ourselves to truly register what this loss or cluster of deaths means to us. (For more on this, see my article “Time-Out: Take a Break for Grief” at my website.)

Memorial Day, here in America, commemorates those who have died while serving our country in the military. Why not a national or global Day (or Days!) of Mourning to commemorate all whom we have lost?

Why not a national or global Day of Empathy for all those who are grieving? Many suffer silently or turn to other distractions because there is no leadership or modeling for “just” being with and feeling grief. Overt bereavement is still pretty darned taboo. (See “I’m Not Contagious: Feeling Invisible While Grieving” at my website, for more.)

Re-opening the box of memories of Nick opened up my personal grief file. I haven’t taken any action out there in the world but I feel greater alignment with my global brothers and sisters who are mourning more acutely right now. This, believe it or not, brings me some kind of unexpected joy.

I think this qualifies as good grief.

Got any tales of joy that have emerged from places and files you wouldn’t expect? Feel free to share in the comments section below.


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Prompts For Joy


Click here for a reminder about how kindness begets kindness.

(Thank you, Claudette Bergman.)


Click here because sometimes something silly is mood-altering!

(Such a winner, Sarah Nelson!)


Click here for all previous Prompts for Joy.


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