The Many Faces of Grief: V - Z
Veteran grief, Verbal abuse, Violence, Victimization, Victimizer, Vulnerability
On veteran grief:
At the end of World War II, some Japanese communities had the wisdom to understand that many of their returning soldiers were not fit or prepared to re-enter civil, peaceful society. The veterans’ only identity for their formative years had been as a “loyal soldier” to their country. They needed a broader identity to rejoin their communities and families.
So, the Japanese created a ceremony whereby a soldier was publicly thanked and praised for his service to the people and to the country. After the soldier had been profusely honored, an elder would stand and announce with authority:
“The war is now over!
The community needs you
to let go of what has well served you up to now.
But now we need you to return to your community
as a man, a father,
a husband, a leader, and something beyond a soldier.
Lay down your arms!
You are now honorably discharged!”
This kind of closure is much needed at the end of all major transitions in life. Otherwise, we remain stuck and trapped in early pain, and early identities. Most of us are trying to live a human life with an “unhealed soldier” dragging them down.
Opening up to past trauma is difficult, but self-awareness is key to addressing issues that leave us vulnerable.
What’s your poison, people sometimes ask, but Gabor Maté doesn’t want to ask what my poison is, he wants to ask how it makes me feel. Whatever it is I’m addicted to, or ever have been addicted to, it’s not what it is but what it does – to me, to you, to anyone. He believes that anything we’ve ever craved helped us escape emotional pain. It gave us peace of mind, a sense of control and a feeling of happiness.
And all of that, explains Maté, reveals a great deal about addiction, which he defines as any behavior that gives a person temporary relief and pleasure, but also has negative consequences, and to which the individual will return time and again. At the heart of Maté’s philosophy is the belief that there’s no such thing as an “addictive personality”. And nor is addiction a “disease”. Instead, it originates in a person’s need to solve a problem: a deep-seated problem, often from our earliest years that was to do with trauma or loss.
“Our birthright as human beings is to be happy,
and the addict just wants to be a human being.”
~ Dr. Gabor Mate, author and founder of Compassionate Inquiry
Interview in The Guardian, November 2018
I think the feeling of grief lets us know the power of wounds to shape our stories. I think it lets us know how capable we are of having our hearts broken and our feelings hurt. I think it lets us know the link that we each have because we’re human. Because we’re human, we hurt. Because we’re human, we have tears to cry. Because we’re human, our hearts are broken. Because we’re human, we understand that loss is a universal language. Everybody grieves. All of humanity grieves. All of us have setbacks, broken dreams. All of us have broken relationships or unrealized possibilities. All of us have bodies that just don’t do what they used to do. Though grief is personal, every person grieves.
~ Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis
War, Widowhood, War trauma, Wounded warrior
Five years after my husband died, I wrote in my journal: “I am so much more than just a widow. I’m a thriving independent woman!”
Yes, I was firmly in Stage 3 of widowhood — transformation — after navigating the first two phases of grief and growth. Like many other women who also have also experienced the terrible ache of widowhood, the third phase was quite gratifying for me.
This is when a widow is past the painfully vulnerable and confusing grief of Stage 1. There, she focused on immediate needs, applied for death benefits, checked her cash flow and didn’t make big, irrevocable financial decisions. In yoga terms, it was simply a time to breathe.
Moving into Stage 2 (growth), a widow takes care of financial business beyond the basics: updating her will and beneficiary forms, evaluating investments for appropriateness, making necessary changes with insurance coverage, deciding whether to stay in her house or relocate, and considering pre- or post-retirement choices.
If a widow has minor children, she thinks about money implications as a single-parent family. A widow’s life begins to feel more in balance during this growth stage.
The final stage for a woman after her spouse’s death is a time of fulfillment — transformation. This can be a very meaningful time.
Often new purposes and interests evolve as she learns to embrace life without her spouse. She’s ready for more advanced wealth-management issues, including legacy planning and future family bequests. This may include a living trust.
A charitable component may be added to her estate plan. She also considers special family related decisions, such as helping with grandchildren’s education expenses or assisting an adult child with a start-up business venture.
Finding her new focus in life can become a special joy. This may be her extended family. If she’s not yet retired, professional work can provide much more than a paycheck. Supportive colleagues and a sense of accomplishment are important “psychic income.”
Perhaps her congregation, synagogue or nonprofit group offer meaningful volunteer activities, giving a widow a unique sense of intention.
For me, writing and speaking about widows and their financial issues become my passion, my mission. Indeed, this focus of helping my “widowed sisters” and their financial advisors became an important part of my own healing process.
Spending time with friends and family or taking on a new, enjoyable hobby may bring happiness to a widow during Stage 3. She’ll want to budget accordingly, taking into consideration some increased costs for these activities.
Don’t be a purse
Certainly, a widow may welcome a new romantic relationship in her life during this chapter. If you’re a widow who decides to date again, be careful about a potential mate who expects you to be their purse, providing financial stability for them.
Be careful about intentions of suitors who think you’re a soft touch. Our research showed that many widows, especially mature women, may be susceptible to unhealthy advances.
Keep money matters to yourself until you get to know the other person well. If a special relationship evolves into remarriage, a widow can consider asking her attorney to prepare a prenuptial agreement.
Likewise, if it’s a committed long-term relationship, she’ll want to talk about how the money will be handled with her partner — separate, blended or both types of accounts. A widow’s financial planner can provide helpful guidance here.
Leave your own legacy
During Stage 3, what I refer to as “legacy lifeprint,” activities can be gratifying. These actions involve sharing a widow’s stories, values and gifts for future generations. (Some of these activities are also referred to as legacy wills or legacy letters.)
They can take several forms, including print, photo, video and audio recordings or documents. It might be a scrapbook, painting, memory book, cookbook of favorite family recipes, video and more. A special charitable component may also be included.
For example, several years after my friend Judy’s husband died, she expanded her legacy planning to benefit her family in a distinctive way. Working with her local community foundation, she created a fund that will pay an income to her two children after she passes on. They will each receive an annual check on or about their birthday every year. She thinks this is a great gift that will keep giving throughout her children’s lives.
After all those “birthday annuity” checks have been distributed, the remaining principal will be given to the university where Judy and her husband met years ago. At that time, a scholarship fund will memorialize their names at their school. Putting this future gift in place also made Judy an immediate member of the foundation’s Heritage Society.
That includes invitations to attend social events. (On a technical note, this gift will be funded with a portion of Judy’s individual retirement account after she passes on. There will be no tax due on the transfer of this asset to the nonprofit community foundation.)
Judy wrote a legacy letter to her children, sharing some of her history about how she and her late husband appreciated their university, which brought them together. She also tucked in a sentimental picture of herself and their father taken on that campus.
Her letter emphasized how happy she was to put plans in place for the scholarship fund that would carry their names forward forever after paying income to her children for life. As Judy said, “I feel like I’m having my cake and eating it, too, with this gift plan.”
These and other fulfilling activities can make Stage 3 a rich time in a widow’s life. She will always love her husband, and she will have his love forever, just in a different way during widowhood.
Yes, she has loved. Yes, she has lost a lifestyle with her prior husband. But it is possible for her to move forward into a transformed life that is highly meaningful.
~ Kathleen M. Rehl, financial planner and author
Xenophobia is a word that comes to us from the Greeks: xeno is the Greek word for 'foreigner' and phobia is the Greek word for 'fear.' So, therefore, xenophobia is a word used today to mean fear of the other, of strangers, of people who are different. To say it's a very serious word with very serious connotations would be an understatement. It has resulted in wars, misunderstandings, draconian policies, persecution, and interpersonal violence.
The United States has always been a nation of immigrants—and seemingly also always a nation suffused with xenophobia, a fear or hatred of those same immigrants.
In 1750, Benjamin Franklin worried that large numbers of “swarthy” foreigners, speaking their own language among themselves, would swamp the colonies and their British subjects. The dangerous outsiders? They were Germans.
Erika Lee tells that story, among many others, in her award-winning book America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States, published last year. Regents Professor and the director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota, Lee says it’s important to know this complex history to be able to overcome it.
“Xenophobia doesn’t just reveal itself through a bigoted relative who is saying stuff about ‘the Mexicans’ at Thanksgiving dinner,” says Lee. “Xenophobia is a form of racism that has been embedded in our laws.”
One way to overcome the alienation that xenophobia brings is to combat the negative stereotypes about immigrants and refugees, and help see them as fellow human beings just like us, Lee says. She leads an effort to do just that, with the Immigrant Stories digital storytelling project. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the project’s 350 digital stories profile immigrants as “real people, not stereotypes,” she says.
The United States has a very long history of xenophobia, as you document in your book. And yet most Americans don’t know about it. Why is that?
Erika Lee: This is one of the most important questions to ask, because it speaks to why and how xenophobia can persist and endure. We don’t recognize what a strong and pervasive force it has been—or we discount it or willingly ignore it.
But I think it also speaks to a much larger question about history, memory, and the uses of history in crafting our understanding of ourselves.
One of the most important things about xenophobia is that it’s a shapeshifting, wily thing, just like racism. You think it’s gone away, and it comes back. It evolves so that even though one immigrant group finally gains acceptance, it can easily be applied to another.
And sometimes the group that just made it can be very active in leading the charge against the others. It’s unfortunately one of the ways in which racism and our racial hierarchy are at work in the United States.
Are some classes of Americans more xenophobic than others?
I would say that xenophobia flourishes in every community and in every class. One of the great examples of this is Chinese immigration and exclusion. In the book, I focus on the campaigns to drive Chinese people out of Seattle in the late 1800s. There was mob violence that was led by those whom we have been accustomed to identify as working-class whites.
And then there were the more “polite” campaigns, the ones that were led by judges, lawyers, professionals who basically told the agitators, “We agree with you. The Chinese must go, but do we need to resort to lawlessness? How about we organize a campaign of intimidation? Let’s blacklist the housewives—the employers who hire Chinese people, and publish their names in the newspaper. And let’s make it so just horrific to live in Seattle if you’re Chinese that they will self deport.”
Before studying this history, I don’t think I completely understood the depth of that cross-class racism, and the ways in which it can manifest itself differently.
You write in the book that xenophobia is a form of racism. How does that work—and has it changed over time?
Racism identifies certain groups as good and superior to others. In the early 20th century, it was considered a matter of biology. Today, we often talk about it as being a matter of “culture.” There are “good immigrants” and there are “bad immigrants” who are a threat to “us.” The dividing line between “good” and “bad” has been marked by religion, national origin, class, gender, and sexual orientation. But especially race.
This relationship between xenophobia is a legacy of the racism that justified slavery and settler colonialism. In fact, early immigrants were always judged in relationship to their place on that spectrum of whiteness and blackness.
For example, Germans were first labeled “swarthy,” a term that was meant to signify blackness and to imply that German immigration was undesirable. But we never restricted their immigration or their ability to become naturalized citizens.
Cartoons of Irish Catholics from the 19th century make them look very similar to apes. This was effective in marking the Irish as a threat, because African Americans were already drawn in similar stereotypical and dehumanizing ways. But again, we never restricted Irish immigration or prohibited them from becoming naturalized citizens.
But then the Chinese came, and here we can see the difference that race makes. The Chinese were automatically seen as more like Native Americans and African Americans than European immigrants. The Chinese were excluded and barred from becoming naturalized citizens.
How can the view of immigrants be more positive, especially among those who fear the effects of immigration?
I think about this on a daily basis. I really want to try to change the narrative about immigration, to combat the threat narrative.
I direct the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota. It started 55 years ago as an immigrant archive. Its founders believed that it was necessary to document the experiences and life histories of what was then called the “new immigration” from southern, central, and eastern Europe. One goal was “to recover the full-bodied humanity of immigrants” through oral histories, research, and archive-building.
We are still working hard to achieve this mission in a new era of global migration. In 2012, I wanted to do the same for this new generation of immigrants and refugees, and especially the young people who were in my classrooms.
So, my colleagues and I started the Immigrant Stories digital storytelling project, and it grew nationally and internationally. It’s a digital storytelling website that allows anyone anywhere to create, preserve, and share their story for free with video, audio, and text. There are now over 350 stories in the collection representing 55-plus ethnic groups.
I really believe in the power of storytelling to change the ways in which people think about immigration and to challenge xenophobia and racism. They help us see immigrants and refugees as real people, not stereotypes. And they remind us what unites us, rather than divides us.
~ Taylor McNeil, Tufts University
In conclusion, Dear Reader, I bear witness to the many faces of grief; and I stand in solidarity with the suffering. It is a powerful force that visits us all and shapes us with strength, humility, compassion, tenderness, and connection with all sentient beings. Indeed, it’s possible to lay down that grieving person and step “beyond self”. I invite you to stand toe to toe with Grief. She offers a gift.
May you be at peace,