30 March 2009

In One Moment

It is becoming more beautiful and warm every day here in wine country, feeling more and more like a new season - it's light when we wake and when we finish dinner, and we can walk around outside barefoot. It's a happy time, a transformative time.

I have thought a lot in the last week or so about death and grief. The weekend before last, four police officers in Oakland were murdered by a man who was then shot and killed by police. It was a shockingly violent event, even though we have become accustomed to hearing about hatred and violence and general disregard for human life.

That same day there was a private plane crash in Montana that killed three young families from here in Northern California. Three whole families were gone in an instant as their plane nosedived to the ground. Two of them had two children each and one had three. It is difficult to wrap my mind around what that scale of death means because, while we hear about intense violence every day from other parts of the world, these families lived mere hours from me. Their photos looked like photos of my family 25 years ago. I can relate to what their lives were like before they got on that plane, and that makes what happened after harder to comprehend.

This past Wednesday I went to the second weekly meeting of my 8-week group grief counseling program, where I sit for two and a half hours with other people in various stages of grief. This last time I felt like I actually started to get to know, and like, some of the other group members, although our backgrounds and "grief stories" are all drastically different. I think my participation in these sessions might be able to explain how I've been processing this recent series of sudden, local, and publicized deaths. I've found myself pondering much more the ones left behind - the sister, wife, and father of a policeman who died, the siblings or colleagues of the families on the plane, the mutual friends of those families, the police officers who were in the same units as the ones who were killed, and the family of the man who killed the police officers.

How does one process shock and the early stages of grief when it is seems so collective? The funeral for the policeman in Oakland more than filled the arena where it was held (that normally houses basketball games or massive concerts); so much so that there was overflow into the adjacent coliseum. News reports of the plane crash are still in the paper and on the air. While the public has moved on to dissecting the why's and the hows (Why was this man out on parole? Why did the plane change its destination at the last minute?), I know those who grieve for the ones gone are still just trying to survive each day.

The way I processed the juxtaposition of spring, with all its glorious sunshine, warmth, and blossoms, with the darkness of the violent deaths of my Northern California neighbors was as an observer. I do not grieve for the ones who died yet neither do I feel completely outside of the experience. I felt like I was standing back and watching two different screens of reality put on top of one another to create a completely different image, but yet the images and I are within the same warm bright pocket that is spring. For me it was a new sensation; rather than just feeling or thinking it was an interesting combination of the two.

I hope for the families of all those that were killed that even for just a moment they have been able to turn their faces upward and feel the warmth coming from above.

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