Finding Meaning from Tragedy: 9/11 12 years later

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9/11 was a turning point in my life. I wasn’t in New York, I didn’t see the smoke and destruction, and yet my life changed that day – as it did for millions of Americans. Every year since then, people across the country have taken a moment to remember the nearly 3,000 lives lost that day and to honor the families most deeply affected. Remembering that day 12 years ago, I am left to wonder: What does it mean to commemorate this national tragedy and how does our grief look today?

First, I want to recognize that many people outside of NYC felt somewhat left out because there was an ownership of grief taken by New Yorkers – and of course they had a right to it. However, what the Psychology community has recognized is that “outsiders” can also mourn and grieve – and hope. For me, 9/11 will always be remembered because it was only three short months after I experienced a significant loss. Those of us who had existing grief, who experienced personal problems, who were generally sensitive, or survivors of previous trauma were particularly affected.

Trauma can either be a painful and permanent scar that continues to disrupt life, or it can be transformed into something that gives us a sense of purpose and meaning. This kind of healthy expression of trauma doesn’t mean an absence of pain. In fact, I believe that the pain can never really go away. Rather, those who learn from trauma develop the ability to allow the love to grow larger than the pain.

At first, I felt overwhelmed by my personal grief as well as the compounded grief of those around me, and those who I didn’t even know. Over time and with the support of a kind and wise therapist I learned how to channel that grief into a life’s purpose – to help others who felt the way I did.  Although I knew I wanted to be in a helping profession, I started to focus my energies on becoming a Clinical Psychologist who specializes in helping people heal during times of grief.

I do not believe that I have special abilities or that I am set apart from others. In fact, as you read this article you might start to remember a time when you experienced tragedy, loss, or trauma and surprised yourself at how well you were able to recover from that experience. The families of the victims of 9/11 have really taken the lead in showing the nation how to come to terms with a tragedy, and how to make meaning out of the event.

Finding meaning from tragedy is an extraordinarily important aspect of dealing with trauma, but it certainly isn’t easy. The following points are offered as a guideline and a starting point only. Please feel free to take what works for you, and leave the rest. An important thing to remember is that there is no one right way to grieve and no one right timeline in which to do it.

Finding Meaning From Loss:

  1. Pain is often the shell that encloses understanding. Summon the courage to allow yourself to experience the pain and be open to uncover the understanding that lies beneath.
  2. With trauma, it is extremely beneficial to tell your story to somebody who can listen and offer meaningful and wise feedback.
  3. Connect with family, friends, and your community – this will remind you of the ‘good’ in life and help you maintain perspective.
  4. Commemorate the day in a way that is special to you.
  5. Spend time alone to reflect on your innermost thoughts and feelings.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I honor the courage that you have shown to begin the journey of healing. I wish you peace and comfort as you work towards developing a sense of purpose and meaning in your life.

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