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The Journey

The Importance of Grieving and Facing Our Fears in Journey of Reconciliation

By Stephanie Hixon & Thomas Porter

Excerpted from "The Journey: Forgiveness, Restorative Justice and Reconciliation," United Methodist Women's 2011 spiritual growth study.

Why is grieving so important? Not grieving the trauma often pushes it deep in our psyche where we medicate it with, for example, drugs or alcohol. It can create numbness and isolation. Suppressing grief can create a volcanic mix of anger and emotions that erupt in destructive ways. The other tragic reality is that those harmed can become those who then harm others. Cycles of woundedness, retribution and violence are repeated.

We cannot heal what we cannot feel. We need time to feel our pain and loss and all of the emotions and tears that surround them. As we mourn and grieve we start the journey of healing the wound. It is important to our healing that these laments are heard by others who are willing to acknowledge, attend to, recognize and respect our loss.

We know that mourning provides a way to integrate our losses into our lives. It is essential for the journey of healing and reconciliation within us and in our communities. This journey has many rhythms — whether weeping and wailing with dances and shouts or tending to details of burial rites, or prayerfully writing out our hearts in our journal, or exercising vigorously to release rage and pain — these and many more are expressions of lament and mourning. As the early church began to tell and retell the events of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, the power and hope took root.

Finding Safety

Finding a place of safety is important in being able to deal with our grief and our fears, as Jesus recognized with his mother and the beloved disciple. A few women in the Wajir district in the northeastern part of Kenya wanted to make sure that the market was safe for anyone to buy and sell in order to feed their children. Wajir at the time of the mid-1990s was experiencing increased clan-based conflict and a flow of refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia.

During a night when gunfire erupted Dekha was holding her child under the bed. As she held her own child, she heard her mother tell the story of holding Dekha in safety under the bed some 30 years ago. Dekha decided to reach out to other women. Lamenting the violence, the trafficking of guns, the fear of rape and abuse facing their children, they decided to create a safe zone for the market. Using their personal connections, they eventually worked with elders from the clans and enabled the war to stop for a period. Without refuge, a safe house, a sense of relative security, we are prone to react to perceived danger — to fight, flee, hide or deny our loss and fear. Dekha and her women friends created such a place of safety.

Affirming Ourselves as God's Children

Affirming ourselves as beloved children of God is important in dealing with our grief and our fears. For Cheryl, the words during the morning ritual at the shelter for women and children became her sense of security and safety within herself. Somehow looking in the mirror each morning and repeating, “You are a beloved child of God” clothed her with what was required to face another day toward recovery and healing for her and her children. She said them again and again standing in front of the mirror at the beginning of each day. She showered those words on her children.

It had been a couple of weeks since she had left the home she shared with her husband and their son and daughter. She wondered aloud to herself now why she had not left sooner. She was confused by what she heard from the pastor — that she should try to work on this marriage, that her husband was after all the head of the household, and that perhaps her willful behavior was contributing to his violent outbursts. But the drinking was getting worse, and though she loved him, she feared for her safety and that of her children. She finally turned to a friend in the congregation who connected her with the women’s shelter. She was not at all certain what the future would hold, but for the time being, she and her children were in a safe place.

Giving Voice to Trauma

Giving voice and witness to our stories and experiences of harm and trauma is important in dealing with the unspeakable, the isolation, the silence, the fear and shame. It is also important to our healing that our stories are heard, acknowledged and respected by others. In the next chapter we will deal in greater depth with the importance of telling our stories and restorying our lives. There is much loss in our world related to trauma, to violence, abuse and atrocities perpetrated on humanity and God’s creation.

Trauma and woundedness not touched in some restorative way can become the source of reenacted trauma. Here is where we find hope in the practices of restorative justice — addressing harm, real accountability and the engagement between those harmed and those perpetrating harm. Breaking those cycles of violence is critical to our healing and wholeness as a community.

From Aggression to Reconciliation

As we continue to explore the journey of forgiveness, restorative justice and reconciliation, we have found the diagram on the following page helpful. This visual was created by Olga Botcharova from lessons learned from her work in dealing with violence and the trauma of war and atrocities in the former Yugoslavia. As you can see, there is an inner circle that cycles from aggression back to aggression. It begins with injury, pain, shock, denial and realization of the loss. It includes suppression of our grief and our fears, being stuck in our anger and the question of “why me?” leading to a desire for revenge. In the process we create myths and heroes and the “right conflict history” in order to justify our own aggression. Olga realized that the only way to break out of this cycle of violence and retribution is to begin with mourning, expressing our grief, accepting our loss and confronting our fears. In the next chapter we will try to understand the remainder of her diagram, starting with naming our loss and our fears through confronting the other.

Last Updated: 04/14/2014

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