This weekend, Oakland lost a tremendous number of incredible young folks in a tragic warehouse fire of epic proportions. This week, we grieve deeply with you, as many of us at Wear Your Voice call Oakland our home, too, and have lived communally in similar structures, as well as sharing community and friends with those affected by the fire.
For some of you reading this, this may be your first time losing someone or losing someone aside from an elder family member. Sadly, for others, this may be par for the course in a climate hostile to BIPOC, trans, queer, disabled and impoverished folks, and a housing market that often refuses to accommodate such identities, forcing us to live collectively. The same outside hostility causes us to hold one another more closely, with greater love, which is exactly why this kind of loss hurts so deeply. When you lose integral members of community and a community space, it can feel as though you’ve been set adrift once more.
There is no “right” way to grieve, but there are safer ways to cope.
As Dr. Sameet Kumar of the Memorial Cancer Institute in Florida reminds us, getting over it may be a nice thought, but a much more realistic, sustainable goal is resilience. You may never bounce back to who you used to be, simply because these experiences shape us significantly — we’re simply not the same that we were before this kind of trauma.
“Grief doesn’t need to be sought — it finds you — but the process of resilience takes effort,” Kumar says of the journey. “By following these eight guidelines, you can become an active participant in your grief journey, empowered to transform the ups and downs of your pain and suffering into a healthier, more meaningful life.”
1. Take Space.
Take whatever space you need in order to process these feelings of loss and grief. It may not work with the timeline of others, but it is necessary for you to feel these feelings before you can go on.
While you are taking space, spend a bit of time meditating. Meditation looks different to a lot of folks, but 20 to 30 minutes of daily mindfulness practice actually alters how your brain processes stress!
When you are ready, try these free guided meditations available in English and Spanish, courtesy of the University of California, Los Angeles.
2. Healing Is Not Linear — Prepare for Ups and Downs.
Just because you have started to feel better, it does not mean that you are “OK.” Some days are all right and you feel like you’re ready to work or be social. The next day, you may not be able to get out of bed.
It’s OK to have these mixed emotions. You’re not regressing if you find things reminding you of lost loved ones. Songs, smells, fictional characters, an item of clothing, a food — they all can spark memories of people that have been with us.
You’ll figure out your triggers over time and know what you can and cannot avoid. Ups and downs will happen, though, so don’t beat yourself up over it.
3. Get (or Stay) Organized.
Depression can lead us down a long, sad, black hole of bills piling up around and things that just don’t get done.
Stay on top of your bills. Set reminders in your phone or write them down on paper calendars. Pay them ahead of time when you can and if you have the money — though we rarely have the luxury, especially if the one you are grieving contributed to your household income.
Along with that loss, belongings may need to be sorted and rooms cleaned out. Don’t let it sit for months — or worse, years. It may seem to be comforting to be surrounded by those pieces, but do not let your life revolve around them, and don’t be afraid to ask for help sorting and creating a system for managing these needs.
4. Be Mindful of What you Put In Your Body.
This goes for a lot of things, be it food, sex or other hedonistic exploits. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of comfort foods, and if that’s what you need to do to avoid sleeping with someone who mistreats you, drink a whole bottle of whiskey, down a handful of pills, or smoke a carton of cigarettes, you do you.
Get yourself out of the house to try a new restaurant with a healthy menu or invite folks over for dinner since it can be hard to cook for one person. There’s also Meal Train if you need help feeding yourself and your family for a bit. There’s no shame in asking for help, especially if you’ve got people counting on you like little ones.
If you can’t manage to eat a balanced diet and need to chill out in a safety net of mac and cheese or cheap pizza, try to get a few multivitamins in there.
5. Get Out of The House.
It’s easy to just build your Fortress of Solitude in a bundle of pillows, blankets and junk food — and sometimes you just need to do that for a little while.
The key is to keep that time to a minimum and make sure that you are getting out of the house — even if it is just a matter of taking a shower, putting on some clothes and sitting outside in the sunshine.
If you are able to, walking and exercise is great to help clear your mind and get your endorphins going. You don’t have to do this for weight loss or anything — just for you, and just for the sake of movement and changing your head space. Take a swim and immerse yourself in water. Float for a bit. Meditate while you float. Take this time outside or in the water to practice mindfulness and meditation.
You don’t have to be religious or even spiritual in order to have rituals. Lighting a candle — perhaps their favorite color or scent — and remembering loved ones counts. Go out and sit in nature and tell the person you’re missing what is going on in your life and how you are feeling. Let them know how much you miss them. There’s a great deal of power in simply speaking these words and hearing yourself admit to feelings that you may not have shared with anyone else.
If you need solidarity, find a spot of worship. You don’t have to be a religious person to absorb the love, hope and empathy that is paramount in these spaces. Unitarian Universalist and Quaker churches are some of the most welcoming spaces you can find yourself in a time of need and in search of warmth and community. Conversely, if you just need to be around people but do not want to talk, slip into the back pew during service and slip out before it’s over.
You are not alone, especially those of us who have been affected either directly or peripherally from Oakland’s Ghost Ship fire. You are loved, you are seen and you are heard.
If you need to be with people, reach out. We’re here and we want to hold space for you and our collective grief.
For those of you who are grieving over the loss of loved ones outside of this tragedy, bereavement groups exist. When I lost my father, I found myself making new friends who had experienced similar loss. Today, 14 years later, some of those friendships are still some of the strongest in my life. Bonding over trauma can be tremendously heavy. Make sure you eventually allow for new love and new experiences in your life, as well as conversations surrounding loss.
It’s OK if you take time off from romance and, if you are not already in a relationship, encouraged. Give yourself time to grieve and time to seek professional help with a skilled therapist.
8. Set Goals.
It isn’t easy, but sometimes you simply must give yourself a goal or a deadline regarding grieving. When I lost my father, I left my job in order to grieve at home with my mother. I gave myself a deadline to return to the working world.
Give yourself daily, weekly and monthly goals. Checklists certainly help in organizing the minutiae of such and will give you the satisfaction of crossing off thing as you accomplish them.
Remember: there is community out there that is there for you. Wear Your Voice is part of that, and we care about your wellness and hope to help you find the community and care that you need by providing articles like this. There are people in your corner, rooting for you.
Give yourself the time and space that you need right now. When you are ready, you have to be an active part in your process of resilience.