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The Many Faces of Grief: I

Identity, Incarceration, Isolation, I am

On gender identity:

Do you, like a growing number of teenagers, identify with a nontraditional gender label, or do you know someone who does?

The word “nonbinary” became something people asked the internet about around 2014, making a steady upward climb to present day. Gender identity has become an international conversation, especially among teenagers. In 2017, a University of California, Los Angeles study found that 27 percent (796,000) of California youth between the ages of 12-17 believed they were seen by others as gender nonconforming.

More teenagers overall are identifying with nontraditional gender labels, according to a March 2018 study published in the journal Pediatrics. Some progressive synagogues and Jewish communities are holding nonbinary mitzvahs. Nonbinary teenagers are choosing non-gendered for driver’s licenses.

“When we’re looking at trends that we might see in the community of youth who are identifying as nonbinary, what we really are seeing is a community of people who are just accepting the diversity of gender expression,” said Jeremy Wernick, a clinical assistant professor in the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at N.Y.U. Langone. Mr. Wernick’s work focuses on gender-expansive children and adolescents.

“Yes, nonbinary kiddos are sort of leading the way in pushing the boundaries of those binary stereotypes,” Mr. Wernick said. “But what they’re really doing is modeling for other young people and adults the reality that gender expression can inevitably have an impact on the rest of the world if things are accepted and celebrated.”

~ Katherine Schulten, The New York Times, April 6, 2021

“The tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible."

~ Anderson Cooper, journalist and TV personality

I met you, Grief, for the first time when I was ten

You were disguised as anger

About what, I don’t remember

It was winter and my 10th birthday

We were moving

I ran away in the snow

But I got scared and let them find me

There’s the story right there

Anger – Leave

Pretty simple

But you came back

So I kicked the dog

Until she whimpered

There was nowhere else to go

Nowhere to put you

No one to tell

I hit my horse

And she got mad at me


Grief is me

Grief is my identity

I hold on so tight

What would I do without you?

I’d have nothing

But yet, there’s guilt and shame

Are you one and the same?

You pull me

I follow you

But I don’t see

What’s good in you

You, Grief,

You bring me down and under

You hold me

You’re my friend

My anchor, my home

Warm and familiar

A safe place to rest

I wrap you around me

Up to my neck, tight

It’s hard to breathe

Is there air in here?

Can I please leave?

It’s too uncomfortable

Didn’t you say

You wanted to stay?

Is there a place

Empty and numb

Where I can curl up

And not be bothered anymore?

Billowing black

Out of old rusty fuel stacks

Blowing through the emptiness

Wafting, floating, dissipating gently

Whispering, are you there?


It’s time again

You’re mine again

Come sleep with me

Wishes don’t work here

Promises are broken

Dreams are dead

Why can’t I make it right?

What replaces the energy and fire of youth?

I’m going to die

There’s no escape

I crawl into my shell

Like a snail

So dark and cozy and safe

I’m paralyzed

Others walk and talk and live

While I watch and listen

All I do is listen

That’s all I do

And chip away

Bit by bit

At my little self

A tiny piece rides away

On the back of every story I hear


“How terrible to think of not being the hero of one’s own life. This is the role for which each of us is cast, no matter how unsuccessfully we play it. Man is not here on earth by accident, but for a purpose, and that whatever that purpose may be, it demands from him the discovery of his own meaning, his own totality and identity. A human being is born to set out on this quest, his quest, like a knight of Arthur’s court.”

~ D.M. Dooling

On incarceration:

Shelley Winner was introduced to alcohol by her dad at age 11. Her drug and alcohol use grew from there to trafficking in drugs in her 30s. She was arrested and received a 4-year sentence in a federal institution in California. Believe it or not, it turned out to be one of the best things to happen to her. She got clean, gave birth to a wonderful baby boy and now works for a high-tech company. She advocates for formerly incarcerated people around the country.

76 % of all people released from prison will re-offend and return to prison; this is called “recidivism”, and Shelley is working to turn the tide on this statistic. She is very active in the restorative justice movement in San Francisco and wants to educate the public about the benefits of hiring the formerly incarcerated.

~ TedX Fondu Lac

On isolation:

Grief seems to me like a winter house: guarded, sheltered against an outside world that’s expected to be difficult. The windows are small to keep out the cold, and little light gets in. The darkness and warmth make a cozy place to hide, to nurse wounds, to incubate what is not yet ready to be exposed.

~ Janet Cedar Spring

On “I am”:

In these times of great concern and distress, while global safety agitates our minds and hearts, I’m listening. I hear the sounds of fear; I hear the sounds of loss and hopelessness. I wonder, how are you feeling? How would you fill in the blank: “I am _____________.”

I took a look at this recently; it was another death anniversary, and I was feeling a lot of loss, even after all these years. I began to write a little note to him, and the message that jumped onto the page at the end of the note gave me something that startled me………….something beyond courage, beyond hope.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound”…………….you wanted bag pipes at your burial service, Dear Son; it’s what I’m humming today as we mark another year since your passing. You would love to know that we have survived; the family goes on………..and on.

Since that day at the cemetery, the old gal Grief has become a bestie; we walk arm in arm, in step, in sync. She has watched over me as I created a new life. Indeed, it’s true: a creator dwells in every loss.

We created a symphony out of all the parts and patterns and seasons of grief. It’s a musical story with many scenes and movements, and finally manifested in grief programs for children and adults that have blessed untold numbers of lives. This octave of selfless service has been a great joy.

I bow to you, Dear One. You were and continue to be an inspiration and powerful teacher. On that day of the bag pipes and yellow butterflies so long ago, my loss was profound. I was crushed under the weight of knowing that you were gone from the midst of our world. Today, all these years later, I see you everywhere. I see you in your brothers; I see you in the eyes of your grown daughters. I feel you in the energy and vibrations of MotherEarth and her many glorious manifestations of power and beauty. You are loved and remembered with every breath into eternity. And we thrive, ever growing, ever green.

I am, because you are. We are, because you are.

Indeed, it’s true that we stand on the lives and shoulders of many dear ones who have come and gone, and whose lives were not easy. They survived the hard times, and we are here to bear witness to them. We are part of something that continues, and we will endure. We’re not the beginning or the end, but something wonderous in between. I am because you are. Blessed be.

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