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How to Cope with Grief and Loss on September 11

We’re approaching the twenty-first anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. For so many of us, the date brings up profound feelings of grief and loss. Even if you weren’t directly affected by the attacks, it’s difficult not to feel deep sorrow as the U.S. commemorates the nearly three thousand lives lost. And if you were personally touched by the tragedy that day, the anniversary is bound to bring up decades-old trauma, anger, and pain. Today, I’ll talk a bit about how to care for your mental well-being as we navigate this difficult day. It’s important to know that no matter how you’re feeling, you’re not alone. On September 11, millions of people in the U.S. and around the world are mourning and remembering with you.

Grief and Loss on September 11

The anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is never an easy one. It’s been twenty-one years, and the memories of that Tuesday morning are still as clear as day for so many of us. We remember the horrible images on the news, the frantic phone calls, and the tears. If you lost a loved one or had a near-miss that day, there’s nothing anyone can say to make your grief any easier. And even if you only saw the events unfold on TV from many states away, it’s still completely understandable to feel sadness and anger when you remember the attacks. It’s a collective trauma that affects an enormous segment of the population of the U.S. That’s why it’s so important to take good care of your mental health on and around the anniversary

African American couple grieving.
It is Normal to Feel Sadness When You Remember 9/11(Image Source: Shutterstock)

It’s Okay to Cry: The Stages of Grief

Now let’s talk a little bit about the grieving and healing processes and what they might mean to you. The Swiss-American psychologist and author, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, outlined the five stages of grief in her best-selling book On Death and Dying. The stages are:

  1. Denial: a rejection of the present reality, like a terminal diagnosis or the death of a loved one. At first, you are so in shock that you refuse to accept what has happened.
  2. Anger: frustration or rage at what has transpired. You may wonder why this happened to you—it just isn’t fair. You may feel angry at the people around you.
  3. Bargaining: negotiating with a higher power or the universe to change what has happened. You may try to “make a deal” with God to spare yourself or your loved one from illness, suffering, or death.
  4. Depression: feeling deep sadness, pain, and hopelessness. You may wonder what the point of life is after your diagnosis or loss. 
  5. Acceptance: making peace with what has happened or will happen. This doesn’t mean you’re okay with it—it simply means that you are no longer in denial. 
African American family holding hands, supporting, comforting each other to cope with loss
It’s Okay to Cry (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Note that the five stages of grief aren’t meant to serve as a linear timeline. You may vacillate between some or all of the stages before reaching a state of acceptance. Even when you’ve accepted your loss, you may feel angry or depressed from time to time. Our grieving processes are as individual as we are.

You should also note that grieving can apply to more than illness and death. You might experience any or all of the stages of grief after a loss of employment, breakup or divorce, or even a big move. You don’t need to feel that you’re “making too much of things” if you feel a profound sense of sadness or loss after an unexpected life change. It’s okay to feel what you feel and to take the time to process your emotions.

How to Cope with Grief

As you’re navigating your grief, it’s important to be good to yourself. How would you take care of a friend or relative if they were in your shoes? That’s what you need to do for yourself right now. Here are some suggestions for coping with grief as the September 11 anniversary approaches.

How Grief Affects Your Brain And What To Do About It | Better | NBC News

Don’t Watch the News

When you’re feeling vulnerable, it’s important to protect yourself from reminders of past fear or trauma. The news media has a tendency to replay the most tragic moments from the 9/11 attacks, like images of burning buildings and recordings of heartbreaking phone calls. This year, leave the TV off on September 11, and don’t open your social media apps if you think you’ll see posts about it. There’s nothing selfish or immoral about wanting to avoid emotional triggers. You can remember the events of the day and the lives lost without subjecting yourself to upsetting content. 

Practice Self-Care

When you know you’re approaching the anniversary of a sad date, plan to give yourself some extra TLC. You could start the morning with your favorite coffee drink, end your day with a long, hot bath, or engage in some pet therapy. Our self-care practices are as unique as we are, so choose something that will make you feel a little calmer and happier. Again, this isn’t selfish or self-indulgent on your part. As we commemorate a great tragedy like 9/11, many of us feel a renewed calling to make the world a kinder and more peaceful place. And we can only give the best of ourselves to others when we’re feeling strong, balanced, and focused. Taking some time to relax and recharge will help you to go into the world ready to make a difference. 

African American woman in her living room drinking holding a coffee mug
Practice Self-Care: Start Your Day with Your Favorite Coffee(Image Source: Shutterstock)

Reach Out 

When you’re feeling sad or angry, know that you’re not the only one. If you take comfort in spending time with other people, make an effort to connect with friends or loved ones on the September 11 anniversary. You might visit a memorial, light a candle, or say a prayer together—it’s up to you. And if you know someone who might be having an especially difficult time on the anniversary, be sure to include that person in your activities. Grief is difficult enough on its own, and feeling left out can only compound the sadness and hopelessness.

For all of us who are old enough to remember the events of 9/11, I don’t think that day will ever be anything but a day of mourning. Remember that you don’t grieve alone. Take some time to remember and reflect, and take good care of your soul. Be well.