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The Space Between

There are moments of heaviness in this time. For some, more than moments. Sheepskin coat, standing in a downpour with no umbrella, kicking rocks kind of heavy. As if the pandemic were not enough to weigh us down, we now face the boiling over of racial injustice[1]. An oft repeated phrase is “I/we stand with you.” We want to offer, instead, to sit with you in this heaviness. What does it mean to sit with someone? There are examples throughout history and in religious traditions of sitting with others in mourning and anguish. Our nation and our world are in a time of grief, pain, and anger. While there is the glow of hope appearing on the horizon in front of us, healthy healing includes pausing to acknowledge and feel this grief.

One tradition in the Jewish faith that is based on this idea is called “sitting shiva.” Following burial services, close family members spend seven days together mourning their loss and comforting one another. During shiva, mourners often sit on low stools to signify humility and lack of concern for their own personal comfort. In essence, Jewish families have reserved time and customs to process their grief in a communal way. [from]

Our Partner Emeritus, Joe Hoffman, said at the beginning of the pandemic that there will be a beginning, a middle, and an end. This was simple but wise advice that has carried me through. Part of those phases includes something called liminal space. The Latin root for liminal is limen, which means threshold. Often defined as a place of waiting between what was and what will be, liminal space is an uncomfortable, ambiguous zone. Unfortunately, particularly in the U.S., we scramble toward control, toward returning to “normal” quickly. If we look to the scholars on grief and PTSD, they implore us to not rush to normal. Rather, to sit in this liminal space and process it fully, as uncomfortable as it may be.

“Paradoxically, the only way to lessen your pain is to move toward it, not away from it.” [from]

Alan Wolfelt writes in Reframing PTSD as Traumatic Grief: “Grief is the sum total of what we think and feel inside when we experience a loss. Mourning is the outward expression of our grieving. Mourning is treatment, if you will. The griever may try to push away the reality of loss at times. It is a sign of healthy discernment to want to protest the reality of the horrific event and the devastation it created. Some degree of denial, especially in the early, shock-filled days following the event, is a healthy coping mechanism.”

While liminal space is uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking, and ambiguous, it is also freeing. It allows us to transform and can be a great source of creativity. There will be a time for us to move toward what will be. Before we do that, we invite you to take this moment with us to get uncomfortable and sit in that liminal space together, to face that heaviness and grief together.

-We sit with you, business owners and leaders, who feel the weight of responsibility for your team and your company. We see you fighting and showing up, masking your own worry and pain.

-We sit with you, our friends of color who are angry, tired, and fed up by the injustice in our society. We will raise our voices with yours in this fight.

-We sit with you, mothers and fathers, who have somehow managed to juggle parenting, teaching, working, cleaning, cooking, and worrying all at the same time.

-We sit with you, grandparents, who bravely face fears of illness while being isolated from those you love most.

-We sit with you, employees, who endure the uncertainty of job security and navigate the strange requirements put upon us by these times.

-We sit with you, those who feel confused, frustrated, and overwhelmed by what seem to be constantly changing norms and waves of misinformation.

-We sit with you when you feel like you are both overreacting and underreacting all at the same time.


Reframing PTSD as Traumatic Grief: How Caregivers Can Companion Traumatized


[1] Note: A separate blog post about racial injustice is in development, currently.