This year the holiday season will be different from any before for many, including the four families associated with the tragic death of Walker Fielder and the seriously injured Blanche Williamson, both run down near The Oxford Square on Sunday morning, October 16. Seth Rokitka and Tristen Holland face charges in this senseless incident. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day and beyond, sorrow and sadness will probably prevail in all these families. They will likely grieve as never before. They are not alone in their grief.
In a New York Times article by Neil MacFarquhar (“Murders Spiked in 2020 in Cities Across the United States,” published September 27, 2021, updated November 15, 2021), MacFarquhar reported that homicides in 2020 showed the largest leap from the previous year since 1960, when national records started. Memphis was one of the cities in 2020 that recorded their highest homicide numbers ever (289).
Nation-wide there were 21,500 homicides reported that year. At the time of the article’s update, figures for 2021 showed that, while homicide rates continued to rise, the pace had slowed somewhat. MacFarquhar wrote that “murders tend to have the most devastating impact of all crimes.” No doubt.
In addition, CDC Wonder, an online database of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recorded 278,345 accidental deaths in 2020 (84.5 deaths per 100,000 population).
In a CNN report by Janie Boschma on November 23, 2022 (Mass Shootings in the US: 2022 Could be the Second-highest Year), Boschma wrote that, “between 2019 and 2020, the total number of mass shootings all year jumped from 417 to 610. The number jumped again in 2021 to 690. In 2022 so far, at least 3,179 people have been shot in mass shootings, resulting in 637 deaths and more than 2,500 people injured.”
While statistics don’t tell the stories of loss for the families directly impacted by the untimely deaths of their loved ones, by their very existence, these numbers speak of the hundreds of thousands of people facing the holiday season for the first time with the long black veil of grief draped over their soul.
Those of us who are veterans of a swipe or two by the scythe of the Angel of Death have to figure out how to face a joyful season with Swiss cheese hearts, knowing that no amount of eggnog or fruitcake could ever fill the holes left in us by the deaths of our loved ones. How do we do that?
There are a few important things about grief that everyone should hear.
- The most predictable thing about grief is that it’s unpredictable. Grief can be triggered at any time by anything. Grabbing a garden hose where my late father had repaired it once left me sobbing, but told me more about the man he was than words could have.
- There’s no one right way to grieve. All emotions are valid.
- You don’t get over the loss of someone, including pets. You get through it.
- There’s no time frame on grief. There’s nothing magical about reaching the milestone of the first anniversary of someone’s death.
- The stages of grief aren’t sequential. While healthy grief will move toward healing and the ability to return to joy, there’s a lot of back and forth, ups and downs, and crossovers throughout the process.
- Grief doesn’t have to be over someone’s death. There are plenty of losses we legitimately grieve, such as the losses of a friendship, a dreamed-of future, a marriage or partnership, a burned down house, and, yes, a family member who’s going to prison.
- If we don’t face our loss, it’s likely to explode in our faces some day.
- Platitudes almost always make things worse.
- There is such a thing as “good grief”.
Holidays can be the most difficult times for those who grieve. It behooves us to heed the words of my friend, Jack Sonni, a man who has suffered great loss: “Hug them while you can, chilluns.”
Hug them while you can, indeed.
…and that’s the view from The Balcony.
Randy Weeks is a Licensed Professional Counselor, a Certified Shamanic Life Coach, an ordained minister, a singer-songwriter, and an actor. He is well-acquainted with grief. Randy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.