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May 25th, 2011

Watching on TV the havoc wrought by the tornadoes in Missouri and Oklahoma reminded me of how destructive natural disasters can be to those affected by them. Not only were many lives lost – wives, husbands, children, parents, pets – but also homes, schools, hospitals, entire neighborhoods.
Think about the memories contained in all of those people and places. We humans form many attachments in the course of our lives. First and foremost, we value our family members and friends. Beyond our immediate circle of intimates, we interact with so many other individuals who contribute to our lives with their knowledge, skills and talents, teaching our children, caring for our ailing parents, repairing our homes, pouring us a cup of coffee in the local café.
These tornadoes, as well as the floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes we have witnessed rob survivors of treasured objects acquired from experiences shared with others. These objects are valued for many reasons, the least of which is their monetary value. Studies have shown that what survivors miss the most are the memories their ‘things’ represent – photographs, sentimental gifts given or received, special books and music they have enjoyed, that have been saved for future reference as memories that compose their lives.
Grieving for these losses is just as legitimate as grieving for someone who died, because these treasures reflect lives lived.
Loss takes many forms, human and material. Socrates said: “Life is a teacher in the art of relinquishing.” As I point out in my book, The Five Ways We Grieve, survivors lose their identity when a part of their life is taken away. Learning to live in a new way as a different person is the challenge we face when we experience a significant loss, regardless of the form it takes.