Finding a Sense of Belonging In Grief

Author: Marilyn Weisenburg

Your heart has broken into a million little pieces and you feel like you can’t take another breath. Stunned beyond your capacity to think through what you need to do next, your entire world has become utterly undone. The ability to fit the pieces back together is insurmountable.

You are broken, numb, lost. The thought of ever moving forward from that moment you were told of the death of your loved one seems out of reach. Many of us find ourselves in prone positions in expressions of lament, crying out for mercy in the midst of deepest sorrow.

With a gaping hole now marking the place your loved one held in your family, you find the dynamics of your family are thrown completely off kilter. Where you once belonged, with other whole families, now you feel “other” and as if you don’t fit in anywhere.

We must belong somewhere, right? It’s a basic human need, to be seen, to belong.

Military Survivors

We become well acquainted with grief. The waves of grief became a familiar story in our new journey. I was aware early on, after my son was killed in Iraq in 2004, that I needed to meet my grief head on. I was willing to be vulnerable with my feelings and allowed my heart to open to the pain and lament the death of my son.

The work of facing my grief was very hard, exhausting and terrifying. What would be on the other side? Would I ever laugh again? Is joy attainable or would it be categorized as “that was before?”

Last year, I traveled from Oregon to attend the TAPS Austin Regional Seminar to be trained as a Peer Mentor and to attend the seminar. I knew a handful of the TAPS leaders from other events who would be attending; I would need to connect with others. I quickly met several people in the Peer Mentor training, and we became fast friends.

That night, we sat outside in the warm Texas evening air, talking for hours. A growing sense of belonging ensued as we made space for one another and told our stories. Being seen and heard gave me the hope for a growing, beautiful friendship with each of these broken mamas, aunts, and sisters. I have lovingly come to refer to these new friends as my Texas Posse. In our brief time together over the weekend, loving friendships were established, and we shared a keen sense of belonging.

Sitting together at the seminar’s final evening meal, my new friends and I enjoyed one another’s company and that of some of their family members who attended. Music from the live band filled the air as we enjoyed our dinner and conversation. As dinner finished, the band played on. We noticed the empty dance floor. Our eyebrows raised across the table from one to another.

One friend was reluctant, admitting she’d never been on the dance floor…ever. After some gentle prodding, she shrugged her shoulders and agreed to join us. The five of us got the party started.

In a room full of hundreds of people, all touched by death, joy emerged out on that dance floor. Others joined in. Some of the children from the Good Grief Camp stood on the sidelines smiling, shy, but eager to dance as well. We saw them and asked if they’d like to join us; they jumped right in. Each of us paired off with a child and our dance party swelled.

Along with dancing, enormous smiles emerged on the faces of everyone dancing. It was pure joy to connect with both adults and children alike.

My friend who’d originally shown reluctance to dance later shared something she’d heard before: “We will not be robbed of our joy!”

As I watched her dance with her husband of more than 25 years for the first time, my eyes filled with tears. I was filled with hope and deepened joy. They have such love in their hearts for each other.

We connected over our deepest sorrows, and we experience joy because of our connection. It’s a gift of grace to see the places where joy can break through the fog of our grief and lament. We can easily get stuck in our grief; I know I did.

My hope is that my heart will be attuned to the mercy-gift of taking one step at a time and look for the places where joy shows up, waiting to be recognized and embraced. Look for it in the faces of those sharing their stories with you, when you feel that deep connection with another surviving military family member.

Even in sharing the deepest sorrow, we can find the joy of being seen and finding a place where we belong with one another.