If you don't like the way the world is, you change it. You have the obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time. -- Marian Wright Edelman
Compassion is a word overused and a call to action under-practiced, under-utilized. What it is: a deep awareness of the suffering of another, and the wish to relieve it. A feeling of distress and pity for the misfortune of another, and the desire to alleviate suffering. A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for someone struck by misfortune, and the desire to alleviate the suffering. Synonyms include but are not limited to: sympathy, sorrow, and pity.
A primary example of the search for compassion in action is known as The Charter for Compassion. It came about on November 12, 2009. “The Charter for Compassion is a cooperative effort to restore not only compassionate thinking but, more importantly, compassionate action to the center of religious, moral and political life. Compassion is the principled determination to put ourselves in the shoes of others, and lies at the heart of all religious and ethical systems.”  The Charter, it states, activates the Golden Rule around the world. The Charter petition has so far gathered nearly 100,000 signatures from many countries and many traditions. It is “a document that transcends religious, ideological, and national differences.”
The Stanford University School of Medicine also conducts significant research on compassion through its Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, CCARE.  And Harvard University and the University of California have jointly conducted research on compassion, finding that it is like yawning: it catches on. It is contagious. Acts of compassion motivate others to be compassionate. 
A massive body of current literature and many well-known international figures (e.g., Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Dalai Lama) acknowledge the primary importance of compassion. It is a growing field of study. The literature also complains about the noticeable absence of compassion in health care as practiced now. Durable compassion fatigue is noted by virtually all the health care professions. Articles, books and manuals are filled with living examples and stories of the failure of compassion. The failure leads to increased patient-caregiver suffering. When suffering is increased by our own hand, the whole health care system fails.
The causes of compassion failure are surely multiple but not arguable. Caseload overload. Lack of time scheduled for direct patient care. Ever-increasing paperwork. Increasing government oversight and health insurance regulations. Financial pressures and facility consolidation. Poor professional training in all the health care professions. Wrongful prohibition against having and expressing emotion in front of patients-families – termed “unprofessional” or “over-involved” or “counter-transference.”  Sleep deprivation. Burnout. Political discontent at the highest federal government levels, setting up worthless role models. American society’s indifference toward, and disrespect for, compassion. The general social inclination to a me-first, self-absorbed attitude toward everything of human significance – the age of narcissism.
A true story sharply illustrates the problem.
Jim was a hospice patient, married for 46 years to Rebecca. They had always been close and openly affectionate. In in-patient hospice, the couple would hold hands and reminisced. Then Jim had a “bad spell.” He was uncomfortable and agitated. Rebecca took off her sweater and shoes and climbed into bed with Jim. She slid her arms around him and nuzzled his neck. “In a matter of minutes, my embrace calmed us both. It was such a beautiful moment, I’ll never forget it.” At the next moment, one of the hospice nurses barged into the room. “The nurse, hands on her hips like some schoolmarm, face aglow with disapproval, glared at me. ‘What do you think you are doing? We can’t have this sort of thing in here. I’ll have to ask you to leave that bed immediately.’” Rebecca couldn’t speak. She was so ashamed. She untangled herself from Jim, climbed out of bed, and turned beet-red with embarrassment. “It never entered my mind that cuddling with my dying husband, soothing and comforting him, might be interpreted as something inappropriate. When the nurse finally left the room, I hung my head and wept.” 
What happened here? This was a hospice patient in a hospice facility. Richard Wagner, the author of the article describing this incident, writes that the patient’s right to privacy was violated. The patient’s wife was shamed for an act of loving care. Her grief and anguish were compounded by guilt and shame. The privacy of medical records appears to take precedence over an individual’s personal privacy.  “I also believe that when we violate the privacy rights of another it’s a form of abuse and harassment.”  Will we never learn?
This is, at very least, a failure of compassion. Looking at life from upside down. The nurse’s behavior was appalling, offensive, and unethical. It was actively harmful to the wife, and through her, to the patient. It would greatly increase the coming grief load and emotional suffering of Rebecca. Guilt and shame are often transformed as the mind attempts to cope with intense feelings. Rage against the accuser is the end product, the result. All three emotions are painful to experience and difficult to manage. These emotions form an unwelcome new layer of grief, a layer so avoidable and unnecessary. For Rebecca, the compassionate health care system had collapsed in a thoughtless instant.
Reactions to the article tended to strongly agree with the author’s opinions. Comments ranged from (1) outrage, to (2) shock that this could happen, especially in a hospice setting, to (3) potent suggestions that the offending health care worker be immediately fired. Some people remarked that this looked like behavior from the 1950’s rather than the present 21st century. Several people observed that perhaps the worker needed suspension plus retraining. One insisted that the worker was in the wrong profession. Indeed. A very good grasp of the obvious. The worker should be counseled out. This is not a hospice mind.
Doing nothing compassionate for others is the undoing of ourselves. 
Compassion is such a vital component of the bereavement process and grief work. It is necessary for the bereaved in his effort to cope with grief. Connection is essential. When others reach out to the bereaved with true compassion, the mourning is eased. Loneliness becomes not quite as intolerable. The emotional turmoil is soothed. There is nothing more important in life than this gentle, caring human connection. One experienced health care worker and blogger states that compassionate connection is a paradox. This is an interesting and refreshing perspective. “The paradox of human connection [is that] our deepest moments of shared fear, pain, and loss can bring healing – and even joy.” 
Such compassionate connection is a reawakening, the beginning of a rebirth for the bereaved. It heralds a reentry into a livable everyday life. It is a promise of future reintegration. It is “a radical insistence that it is not in and by ourselves that we are able to restore the meaningfulness of life, but in the company of others.”  To receive compassion is usually to feel understood and accepted. Our lives may be permanently altered by loss and subsequent grief. Understanding and acceptance then take on even greater significance because we have entered a new stage of self. That new self needs recognition and validation through the compassionate connection with others. Compassion is also a seedling of the will to give back, to return gratefully and graciously what was given compassionately. That is what compassion does for the bereaved. It is important. We need it. It matters.
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”  Our bereaved caregivers should not be deprived. They need not be deprived. We cannot let that happen. We must teach compassion and practice it. This is our ethical obligation. This becomes our pledge to the bereaved – as well as a promise to our patients. We should work toward it with focus and intent. One step at a time, positive changes do occur. Bereaved caregivers draw comfort and strength from compassion. They grow from it. Strength and growth. Actions have consequences. Compassion changes lives. We, too, can grow and thrive from the conscientious and deliberate practice of compassion.
The giver of compassion is the gift to the bereaved. “A word of praise can give strength to someone losing the will to carry on. We never know, at the time, the ripple of consequences set in motion by the slightest act of kindness…This is the only legacy worth leaving: the trace we leave on other lives, and they on others in turn.” 
2. The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE), Stanford University, http://ccare.stanford.edu . Its teacher certification program is titled, “Compassion Cultivation Training,” or CCT.
This research, and that of Stanford University, are also reported in a Huffington Post article by Carolyn Gregoire, “If we could tap into this quality (which we can), the world would be a better place,” 29 October, 2013, www.huffingtonpist.com/2013/10/29 .
Freely exposing the wary naked soul, spinning out of control,
Putting love itself to the startling last test.
This is the job of the dying,
A primary imperative, outrageous!
As though physical ailment weren’t enough worry.
Bidding fare-well and a-dieu to relationships – Every One included,
Goodbyes to known customs and the social group,
To habitual places and plans for tomorrow's to-do's,
To all things precious and otherwise.
The task is required of everyone someday; it is immense.
Think of it! -- Everyone and Everything.
Others seem less helpful now, thinking past the dying to their own surviving.
We all live a collective co-existence, interacting voluntarily or not - social animals.
So much of life was other-oriented, person-focused,
Now forced to withdraw. A humbling, maddening endeavor, indeed.
Thoughts turn back often to review a meaningful life:
“The two most important days of your life are the day you are born And the day you find out why.”
(A joke with a profound moral dimension = penetrating insight).
The good we do for others returns to us. Give forgiveness.
Helping others also lifts the Self. Say: thank you for letting me help.
“The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up.” Give love.
Leaving the world of others a little more enriched because we lived.
And leaving loving memories will become a form of immortality; relationships don't die.
Life is fleeting and fragile. Live and love as though every day Is your last, or your mother’s last, or your child’s last. Leave no words unsaid, leave no plans unmade. ~~ Monica Williams-Murphy, MD, It's OK to Die [Thank you!]
* * *
What lies on the Other Side of death?
We don’t know. The challenge of the unknown.
Some rare reports are curiosities,
Believable, of course,
Because the reporters speak their own truth,
But extreme outliers.
“Ah, if we could only die temporarily!”
Goodbye without a known future destination is reckless,
Bold, brave, dramatic, and risky – alarming.
Adventurous courage, audacious nature.
Goodbye and go forth: these are the specified duties of the dying,
Massive. Staggering and breathtaking. Inescapable.
Traveling alone – a singles tour with no booked return – going solo,
A hobo in a strange land, without a travel buddy,
Daunting and disorienting, fascinating, mysterious and magical,
Ready to be whole and healed again - a state of love and longing -
In an elegant new space.
Preparing a Maybe? reunion with those once lost and mourned.
Hope is a thing of perennial persistence that refuses to be suppressed.
Everyone has a dream: the lost will be found.
Sunshine through raindrops, on the silken-ocean way,
Perfect temperature water by the later liquid moon light,
Foreshadows of peace and pleasure, dignity and grace.
Perhaps, after all, we do not go lone-ly; imagine
Goodbye to fond survivors, while forging a natural path to treasured others
Waiting in tranquility on the native Homecoming shore.
Letting go and letting grow, Grief and growth, unlikely companions,
In every grief lives a fresh seed of beauty, community, continuity and calm -
Even to the
There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy. . . . . Let us live so that when we come to die Even the undertaker will be sorry. ~~ Mark Twain
Supplemental Materials: "Distance lends enchantment to the view."
Samuel Barber: “Adagio for Strings.” It is said that the music is “full of pathos and cathartic passion, and it rarely leaves a dry eye.” It was played at the funerals of Albert Einstein and Princess Grace of Monaco. Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul, and Mary) requested that the Adagio be played at her own memorial service - imagining her afterlife. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izQsgE0L450
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: “Requiem Mass in D Minor,” K.626. He said he was composing a requiem for his own funeral. (He was imagining his dying...and beyond.) Written but unfinished in 1791; he died that year on December 5, before the Requiem could be completed. He was 35 years old. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPlhKP0nZII
“Steal Away,” written by Wallace Willis, c. 1860, an African American spiritual song, sung here by Mahalia Jackson & Nat King Cole. The song also contained hidden coded messages aimed at saving slaves’ lives as they escaped the South along the Underground Railroad. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-O5hz5KnSdc
“Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” traditional gospel song (anonymous writer) performed by Mahalia Jackson & Louis Armstrong. This song is played frequently in the dirge section of New Orleans jazz funerals. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wX-YWOr8RQ
This is a loosely woven composition on anticipatory grief, the dying patient’s psychic preparation for tremendous loss. Its focus is specific and therefore also narrow. -- Anticipatory grief is generally defined as a grief reaction that occurs before an impending loss. Much is written about the survivor’s grief, in its multiple aspects, before and especially after a loss. Currently, relatively little examines the grief feelings of the dying patient himself. It is also noteworthy that the survivor’s natural, normal, and self-protective attention to his own grief may prevent him from being fully present for the patient’s grieving. This can become a source of guilt for the survivor after the death. -- For a further summary explanation of the anticipatory grief concept, please see the website of the National Cancer Institute, here: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/advanced-cancer/caregivers/planning/bereavement-pdq#section/_21
National Museum of African American History and Culture
LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING (Song also known as "the Black American National Anthem") Lift every voice and sing Till earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of Liberty; Let our rejoicing rise, High as the list'ning skies, Let it resound loud as the rolling sea. Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us, Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us march on till victory is won. ~~ James Weldon Johnson, 1899 (lyrics) ~~ John Rosamond Johnson, 1900 (music) www.youtube.com/watch?v=ya7Bn7kPkLo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGqx4asAJqshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngFDy52eCZY
A few of those mentioned above:
Frederick Douglass, c. 1874
Louis Armstrong, 1953
Maya Angelou at Clinton inauguration, 1/20/1993
Mahalia Jackson, 1962
James Baldwin, 1969
Henry Louis Gates Jr. with Peabody Award, 2014
Preservation Hall Jazz Band, 2007
Langston Hughes, 1936
Martin Luther King Jr., 1964
Death be not proud. Out of slavery's ashes, THIS magnificent and vibrant LIFE.
Sunshine through Raindrops: Grief and Growth, An Unfinished Reflection
Rea L. Ginsberg, LCSW-C, ACSW, BCD
Sunshine through raindrops
There is always a way.
No one said it would be easy.
Grief work is transformative.
It is not a gentle gift.
It is hard, it is bitter, and it hurts.
It is powerful, cold, and frightening.
It is lonely and outrageous.
It is monster memories untamed, out of control.
It is long and longing, disruptive and disorienting.
It is ceaseless tears, vanished laughter,
Nightmares and daymares
Contending with disbelief;
Stifling the cry: Live - Don't Die;
Illusions that healing is hopeless and hope is dead.
Allow it. Hold tight others who listen and care;
They usher us back from sorrow’s stark forces.
We can rise as the wild river rises in the spring,
Returning to the tender realm of warmer living.
“In wildness is the preservation of the world.” *
From the fury and the storms come release and mending.
Discovering our life's meaning lies along this path.
Death defines life. Accept the invitation to grow.
Don’t stop there; it’s a lifetime affair; courage counts.
It is worth the effort, like sunshine through raindrops,
An unfinished reflection.
☼ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ☼
*Henry David Thoreau: "The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild, and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plow and sail for it. From the forest and wilderness come the tonics and barks which brace mankind. . . ." [Emphasis added]
This shoe is designed to anticipate performance and the needs of athletes. The self-lacing feature is called “adaptive lacing.” Athletic shoe designer Tinker Hatfield says, “The potential of adaptive lacing for the athlete is huge, as it would provide tailored-to-the-moment custom fit. It is amazing to consider a shoe that senses what the body needs in real-time. That eliminates a multitude of distractions, including mental attrition, and thus truly benefits performance…. Wouldn’t it be great if a shoe, in the future, could sense when you needed to have it tighter or looser? Could it take you even tighter than you’d normally go if it senses you really need extra snugness in a quick maneuver? That’s where we’re headed. In the future, product will come alive.” 
While Nike prepares for its athletes, we have other, additional thoughts. For many individuals with disabilities, the future is coming alive Now. Lacing and tying shoes are major challenges for people with a variety of handicaps. Even those with moderate-to-advanced dementia could well benefit from this kind of shoe that simply (or not so simply!) laces/ties itself. Think of people with finger, hand, wrist, elbow, arm, or shoulder restrictions. Think of those who, for various reasons, cannot bend far enough to reach their feet. Think also of some with mental illnesses.
We know that Nike, Inc. is a large, prosperous retailer, a company with vast international reach. It is the world’s largest footwear seller. It displays fine research, product innovation, futuristic plans and futures orders, and attractive growth opportunities. Its distinctive name and “swoosh” logo are recognized and admired worldwide. It is strongly favored by the financial investments community. It sports a hefty market capitalization of $107.60 billion. It is number 106 on the Fortune 500 list of companies for year 2015. 
We know that Nike’s products are often on the rather expensive side, in part because of the famous brand name. Some people in need of these particular shoes might also need cost relief. So we have to wonder if this big, rich, revered company might be willing to discount various items (like the self-lacing shoes) – sometimes and with good, proven reasons, of course. These would be discounts for certain people with special footwear needs and documented, means-tested insufficient income to purchase Nike self-lacing shoes. Big companies do know how to meet their socially ethical obligations.
Or perhaps we could entice the health insurance industry to explore the possibility of covering all, or part of, the cost of the shoes, provided that the shoes are declared a medical necessity. In this case, we would probably first need a physician’s prescription for the shoes.
We fully expect that possession of these necessary shoes will contribute to the needy individual’s sense of psychological wellbeing. We also know that psychological wellbeing is a vital factor in promoting good physical health. Better mental health can lessen the risk of diseases and promote longevity. And this, in turn, would reduce the longer-term cost of medical care.  Cost of care is always a priority consideration in our funding-conscious society.
The self-lacing shoe is like a dream come true. Certain groups of people stand to benefit hugely, far beyond athletics.  What a gift of independence and self-confidence, first cousins of self-respect and personal dignity, forerunners of Hope! 
…shoes are the most important. Good shoes take you good places. -- Seo Min Hyun
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, People will forget what you did, But people will never forget how you made them feel. -- Maya Angelou
We are often asked, “How can you do that?” How can you stand to do that work? Such a dreary subject. Grim but supposedly necessary. Don’t you get depressed with all the talk of dying? Facing death and its consequences every day must be the prime route to burnout. Are mental disorders prevalent among grief counselors? Aren’t you afraid all the talk of dying will make you a little crazy? Don’t you find it frightening, talking about death and dying all the time? Don’t you want some joy in your life? Do something else, anything that doesn’t relate to death.
What were they thinking? Grief counselors seem to have a mournful reputation.
Let’s re-view. Look below the surface. Our society does not like pain in general. We do not appreciate it. We do not want confrontations with it. We have a national aversion to it. We are busy developing a pill or procedure for every manner of pain, physical and psychic. If it hurts, then by definition it is bad and requires fixing. We are determined to find a surefire anti-aging formula that will also extend our lives forever. Cryogenics? Yes. It shows promise. Really intriguing, actually very exciting, but it is not yet ready for wide use. It could be a future plan. Think forward to pain-free existence. But when?
In our society, death is a painful subject for the patient and for the family. It is an unacceptable outcome of care, health care. We don’t like it. We are inclined to do everything possible to avoid it, even when the alternatives bring far worse health and increased suffering to the patient. Overall, we still prefer to avoid and deny death in our national and personal conversations. Let’s change the subject and be happy. After all, in our American tradition we are entitled to happiness – plus life and liberty. In our attitude, we presume to live forever. It is just easier that way. Finding the easiest way is our American goal. No pain, no awkward planning, no scary discussions, no sad thoughts about loss. We like to live in a wish-fulfillment bubble, a place where death does not happen. Not to ourselves, not to those we love. No talk of tears and fears and sorrow.
The only trouble is that a pain-free life is impossible. For all our pushback and passionate hopefulness, the search is in vain. Pain is inevitable in every human life. Like it or not, wish against it or not, there it is. Pain waits patiently and outlasts our resistance. It is a fundamental fact of life. Death is also a fact of life, a fact until further notice. Significant loss occurs in every life. Death occurs to every life. Death hurts. It causes grief. There is yet no pill to make it go away. Maybe there should not be such a pill. Enter: the supportive grief counselor.
Survivors need interpersonal help and healing. Usually, friends and family do the job. The path is painful and also lonely at times. Sometimes, a professional counselor is just the right remedy. He is prepared to be a companion for a time, along the way to reconstructed balance and equilibrium. Along the way to adjustment. He is equipped to hear the hurt and lighten the load. In a hurry-up, get-over-it society, the grief counselor is a safe harbor in the mourning storm. His focus is not time. It is not a predetermined schedule. It is not a deadline for completion. His focus is connection, understanding, and support. It is helping the survivor to feel comforted because someone who knows grief is actively listening. The center of his attention is less advice and more the not-so-simple act of being with the survivor, to facilitate self-rediscovery and restore dignity.
Psychologist J. William Worden writes, “When unanticipated or incongruous events such as the death of a loved one occur, a person needs to redefine the self and relearn ways to engage with the world without the deceased. The person cannot return to a pre-loss level of functioning but learns how to develop a meaningful life without the deceased loved one.…Death can challenge one’s assumptions about the world (spiritual adjustments) and one’s personal identity (internal adjustments).”1
The power to heal psychic wounds is rare and precious. Few people have this skill. It is needed. It is a service. It becomes a moral obligation for those who have that power. To have it is to take pleasure in exercising it. To have it and withhold it is unethical. It is contrary to conscience. It defies accepted standards of professional behavior. It is also unhealthy because there is nothing more important in life than human connection. To assist the progress of connection provides further integrity and growth to the facilitator. The grief counselor is rewarded in greater wholeness, in life lessons studied, learned, and integrated. Death is not an enemy. It is a creative disrupter. It is one of our most profound and valuable teachers. It is life-affirming. It is our gateway to meaningful and vigorous life.
Emergency physician Monica Williams-Murphy comments similarly, from a slightly different perspective: “What human would rob another of the most touching and beautiful moments of life?.…Death…allows us to cherish both life and time more fully.”2
Dreary? Depressing? What were they thinking…?
1. J. William Worden, PhD, “Introduction,” Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, fourth edition, New York: Springer Publishing Company, 2009.
The moment we cease to hold each other, The moment we break faith with one another, The sea engulfs us and the light goes out. -- James Baldwin
My town is on fire. Spreading now to Washington D.C., New York City, Minneapolis, Philadelphia. No wonder. This is not just a Baltimore problem. This is a USA problem. This is a worldwide problem.
Long ago, I worked in those inflamed communities. I worked there for a year, 1966-67. When Dr. King was murdered in 1968 (he was 39 years old then), we set up a phone bank at the School of Social Work and tried to bring families and friends back together. The rioting was so ferocious and disorienting that people got lost in it! Urban agony and “the fierce urgency of now.”
One of my assignments focused on a cluster of public welfare individual homes. Society named it “the projects.” The community was isolated, far from view by most Baltimoreans. Clearly planned residential segregation. Out of sight and mostly out of mind - invisible, inaudible, and denied - as local government designed and desired. Despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964, racial segregation was entirely alive and very active. The homes were built next to long-haul railroad tracks that ran flat on the ground. There were no barriers to protect the residents from stepping onto the tracks and into train traffic. No fence, no bars or walls, no inclines or gates, no barricade against bloody disaster. WHY.
In the beginning, when I walked the streets in those impoverished neighborhoods, I was somewhat apprehensive. Much had been said about crime and substance abuse, alcoholism. But soon I noticed that the residents had embraced my presence. Wherever I walked, people watched me from their windows to see that I was safe. They nodded and gave a brief wave as I passed by, as if to say, “Don’t worry. We’ve got your back.” So, after a short time of acquaintance, my tension eased, and I could give full concentration to my job.
We called it “a voice for the voiceless.” I tried to find more money and work and child care for families. I found medical care for some. I wanted to turn a blind eye to fathers who lived with their families because the "Aid to Families with Dependent Children" (AFDC) law never made sense to me. (Families could not receive welfare funds if the father lived in the home! What self-evident nonsense! Does it really take a genius to see the obvious?) Here was an offensive and cruel paradox. First we passed a law that only broken families could receive financial aid. Many caring fathers - those who couldn’t find jobs or sufficient pay - left home in order to qualify their families for this assistance. Then came the “news” that broken families were a serious national socioeconomic problem, perhaps even requiring Federal government intervention for remediation.
I grew devoted to the people and committed to the job of righting wrongs. At the same time, I noticed that those outside the welfare communities disrespected the social workers who worked inside them. Society viewed the public welfare social worker and her low-income clients with almost equal contempt. So open was societal scorn. All of us, workers and clients, were vilified as incompetent loafers – or worse. It was a further confirmation of intractable, unmanageable discrimination. I don’t know why I was surprised by this, but I was…and this is still true, and I am still appalled and dismayed. The conscience of our country is put to shame. Is there indeed nothing new under the sun, I sometimes wonder…?
We can change what people do and what they say, but we cannot always or easily change how they feel. (We know it is possible, though.)
Racism is a thing of misery on every side! It is mind-bending. We can hardly imagine it if we haven’t experienced it. I used to dream of ending the poverty and anguish I saw there, the profound societal disrespect that seeped deeply into the souls of my low-income clients. Those inner souls would scream, “I’m a person, too!” It was a poignant protest against the unendurable: annihilation of the Self. They hated the wider world that so totally despised and rejected them, and they hated themselves especially. Rage turned inward – there is often no other place to safely direct so much intense feeling…until its periodic explosion in riots…during which the rioters also trash, burn and otherwise violate their own neighborhoods.
Self-loathing. It is a learned reflection. It mirrors society’s disposition: disposable sub-human. It is a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad disease. It says life is cheap, and any behavior eventually becomes OK because “my life doesn’t matter.” Baldwin wrote that “the most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.” In other words, we were - and still are - effectively “radicalizing” whole groups of our own citizens, right here inside the USA. Some kids talked about “if I grow up,” not “when I grow up.” They were afraid of dying young, by senseless violence not of their own invention. The boys would join gangs to make themselves strong against society’s hate and an early death. The girls often had babies so that something precious and beautiful, of their own making, actually belonged only to themselves.
In his 1951 poem, “Harlem,” Langston Hughes warned the country this way:
What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore-- And then run? Does it stink Like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over-- Like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags Like a heavy load. Or does it explode?
Racism is toxic. Its consequences are poison to the racist himself, the injured, their communities, and the entire nation. Sometimes I was overwhelmed by what I saw. I always imagined myself in others’ place. It was a suffocating, paralyzing and helpless feeling, desperation, with no visible and assured escape hatch. I dreamed of ending that anguish. That was 50 years ago. I am still dreaming...
Baltimore is on fire, but this is not only a Baltimore problem. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, PhD sociologist and a U.S. Dept. of Labor assistant secretary at the time, knew it 50 years ago and wrote about it in what became known as the Moynihan Report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” 1965. The next year, it was required reading in our social science classes. He reported on socioeconomic issues for black Americans, issues of discrimination, social inequality, and limited opportunity. He argued in favor of government intervention for improvement: job programs, vocational training, educational programs and more. I am not sure 50 years have changed us very much in this requisite regard. We might need a contemporary, dedicated Moynihan to move our mountain of moral misdeeds. Or maybe we already have one such mover in our midst: our president – community organizer, lawyer, orator and author, biracial, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, experienced politician, man of influence and high connections – in his post-term years. We don’t know that yet.
I wish my dream would come true before I die, but wishing doesn't make it so. Neither does walking the streets. The one-by-one approach alone will never end the problems. They are too big and too complicated. A one-track answer won’t work. Much must be done. Laws should be a large part of the response, sensible national/Federal legislation. Positive government action. Over time, laws can change feelings, too. We know that because we have seen it. Maybe the new Attorney General of the U.S. can help... Maybe someday soon, Congress will return to functional sanity… Maybe the Supreme Court can help, if the justices are open-minded… Maybe we should revisit the Moynihan Report and commit ourselves to further exploring his suggestions. Education is most certainly one useful answer for good growth and change… Maybe a double dose of ongoing self-examination and compassionate whole-life partnerships would help us all. If that doesn’t work, increase the dose… Maybe all of this and then some… It could happen.
My dream may be deferred, but it is unbroken. Hope never stopped at all. Hope. A powerful force. Only with hope can we sustain the motivation to forge ahead. I found it in the most unlikely places – on the side streets of Baltimore. It was a lifetime gift donation from all my clients who refused to give up.
One of the most inspiring creations of any society is the person who has nothing to give but kindness, care for others, and hope.
There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights….One day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” -- Martin Luther King, Jr., May 28, 1963, On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial In Washington, D.C.
You must be the change you want to see in the world. -- Mahatma Gandhi
Tags: riots, racism, poverty, self-hate, change, legislation, education, partnership, hope * * * Rea Ginsberg is a retired director of social work services, hospice coordinator, and adjunct professor of clinical social work.
The Holocaust: Bereavement Takes a Different Course
The Red Velvet Album
Rea L. Ginsberg, LCSW-C, ACSW, BCD
Jewish history has all too often been written in tears… I am fascinated by people and groups with the capacity to recover, Who, having suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Are not defeated by them but fight back, Strengthened and renewed. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, PhD, From: To Heal a Fractured World
In some situations, the whole idea of complete recovery from bereavement makes no sense. Bereavement can be fully expected to last a lifetime. That must never be considered a mental disorder. Among the most obvious of these situations is Holocaust survivorship.
Very few Holocaust survivors are still living. The last prisoners of the European concentration camps were freed in 1945. Their suffering before release is virtually unimaginable and incomprehensible to the vast majority of us. We have absolutely no mental yardstick with which to measure such suffering. Imagination completely fails. We cannot do it. The children of survivors are perhaps the only ones who come slightly close to a true understanding. They sense the meaning of the emotional horror of the experience and the problems of survivorship.
Fern Schumer Chapman, the daughter of a survivor, said it this way in her book, Motherland: Beyond the Holocaust: A Mother-Daughter Journey to Reclaim the Past: “The past is a presence between us. In all my mother does and says, the past continually discloses itself in the smallest ways. She sees it directly; I see its shadow. Still, it pulses in my fingertips, feeds on my consciousness. It is a backdrop for each act, each drama of our lives. I have absorbed a sense of what she has suffered, what she has lost, even what her mother endured and handed down. It is my emotional gene map.”
We have a habit of using certain old adages to comfort and humor others. We often use these sayings to dismiss from our own minds what otherwise makes us fearful and uncomfortable. One adage says God never gives us more than we can handle. Another says that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. In the case of the Holocaust survivors, so false. So weirdly irrelevant. So insulting. So empty. So absent in understanding of the Holocaust experience. Would we say that to someone who has survived starvation and certain annihilation in a Nazi death camp? The answer resounds with No. Then, too, why do we say it to each other? Life lessons; applied ethics. The wretched Holocaust is still our teacher, so many years after. From the survivors, another exercise in living.
It must be noted that the survivors had been surrounded by death in the extermination camps. It was not just one death but massive deaths. Most survivors lost many family members, not only one or two. They lost many friends and neighbors, not just one or two. The camp inmates bore witness to many deaths every day, not just on one or two days. The deaths occurred primarily by premeditated, deliberate and vicious murder, not by disease or natural causes. Murder routinely took place after extreme torture. Intense humiliation before death was standard practice. Des Pres wrote that human dignity was treated with cynical contempt. The value of life had been reduced to zero. There was no escape except the grave. In many instances, physical survival was an accident of time and place, not an act of strong determination to live. It was a Holocaust, a great devastation, a systematic mass slaughter. That was genocide. That is the background of survivorship. That is monstrous, shockingly hideous.
This is a different kind of loss and a different course of bereavement. This is not ‘good death.’ It is brute force and mass killing. This is not fear. It is terror. It is panic. This is not anger. It is outrage and despair. This is not guilt. It is inner conviction of crimes committed or omitted. Judgment has been passed by the jury of the inner self. The verdict is pronounced. The finding is guilty on all counts. The question is not: is the verdict right? The question is: to what extent is that verdict right? No punishment fits the magnitude of the crimes. The sentence is lifetime-plus-time atonement. These thoughts form a survivor mindset.
In most instances, talking does not help. Only in groups with other survivors does discussion seem to bring some heartfelt relief. After all, in extreme situations, only experience knows experience. The rest of us remain mere outsiders peering in. Imagining carries us to the outer edge. The Holocaust was located very far beyond that point. All of us have an intuitive understanding of personal tragedy. We find comfort most of all in others whose experiences match our own. We find it also in those who have lived lovingly beside us as we suffered. Survival is a collective art. We need other people.
In notable instances, writing also helps to soothe. As an example, Dr. Elie Wiesel long ago became one of the most prominent survivor authors. From his book, Night:
"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in the camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my Faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never."
He had vowed that, if he survived, he would devote the remainder of his life to telling the story of the Holocaust. It was his moral duty to tell it, he said. If the world knew the facts, another holocaust might be prevented. As the old Santayana adage goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Wiesel has turned his torture and lifetime of bereavement into one of the world’s most treasured and admired literary art forms. A thing of beauty. In so doing, he eases his pain. He brings us news not only of man’s evil but of his goodness as well. He is successfully saving himself and memorializing his dead family and others as he guides the rest of us. His writing is his public monument to the 6 million and so very many more.
Once again he found meaning in life and regained the will to live. Eventually, he was even able to say, “I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I’ve been closer to Him for that reason.” As we read his works, we fervently wish him to be right: no more war and injustice! Horror transformed into beauty and the embodiment of moral righteousness. That is quite an achievement of chronic bereavement. It is not a disorder. It is a rare and wondrous gift. The Nobel committee recognized and honored this life of achievement with an award for Peace in 1986.
An elderly lady of my acquaintance lived with her family in Eastern Europe during the War. As the German army advanced, she sent her only child, a teenage son, to live in hiding and safety in the countryside. Her son was discovered by the German army, tortured, and then shot before her eyes. All the remainder of her family died in the concentration camps. She herself became a subject of the infamous Nazi medical experiments. She was never able to talk about her son and her experiences without dissolving into tears of guilt and despair. The wound never healed, nor could that be expected.
Late in her life, she was hospitalized. Due to a medication error, she became delusional. One auditory hallucination brought her to a state of panic. We found her behind the door of her room, frightened and shaking. Over the intercom, this hearing-impaired lady had clearly heard the voice and commands of the Gestapo. They were taking a lineup of concentration camp inmates to the “showers” (gas chambers). She saw a camp guard pass her door. She beckoned us to quickly hide with her behind the door. The Holocaust trauma survived and burned in her vivid memory. Through her vision, we could sense the smoke and feel the flames. That was 50 years after liberation. She had seen the face of evil. Like Dr. Wiesel, she would never forget. Why would she? Why should she? How could she? Who would?
She managed to make her peace with life by giving to others. It was her own personal Kindness Project. It brought her purposeful life. It commemorated her dead. She was an expert, avid needle point artist. She was passionate about her skill. Everyone in her surroundings received, with great pleasure, something she had created. She lived to be well over 90. Her bereavement remained raw, but it never brought her down. She was never defeated. She found meaning and healing in her life by giving the fruits of her talent. Her son lived once more in her generosity. Bereavement’s achievement.
Given the depth and breadth of the trauma, it seems an act of heroism just to return to so-called normal life. From Dr. Wiesel again: “I survived the Holocaust and went on to love beautiful girls, to talk, to write, to have toast and tea and to live my life – that is what is abnormal.” The feeling tone is obvious. After such trauma, a life of normal routines seems at first crazy, surreal, disorienting. It seems almost disrespectful of the dead. At best, the reentry is a struggle. It happens nevertheless. At the center of the healing are other people. Connection is the core principle. Hope can be given only by others. Also in Jewish folk wisdom, a Yiddish proverb states: even in Paradise, it is not good to be alone.
Needed: people of warmth and compassion. A shared knowledge that the Holocaust situation was evil and extreme. A firm flow of support and reassurance that guilt for past and guilt of survivorship are misplaced. A conviction from others that the survivor has always been worthy of dignity and respect. Acknowledgement that bereavement is forever and is sane. An understanding that the dead are kept alive inside the grief. Therefore grief is necessary and has a purpose. There is no incentive to finish grieving. On the contrary, there is every incentive to urge grief to remain fresh. Needed: people for whom death is no stranger. People willing to lift the veil of fear and find the beauty and resilience of the human spirit.
So much is said about the devastation of World War II, fascism, and Nazi Germany. Atrocity and abject misery seem to be an endless source of fascination. The reasons are many but the fact remains. Much less is said about reintegration. It is the human will and ability to rise above past contempt. The survivor had to regain entry into a sensible, open society and sane living. Lost through radical suffering. Found, as Des Pres tells us, through social interaction and keeping dignity and moral sense active.
Those of us who did not experience the full horror of the Holocaust will never fully understand its emotional power. But we can help those who did. Never become discouraged by the scale of the problem. Just keep inching forward. This bereavement is a victory for connection, the value of relationships. Accepting, respecting, and appreciating are fundamental qualities of relationship. Attentive listening is also basic. For the survivor, learning to trust again is demanding. It takes great mental effort to accomplish. We can help to point the way, again and again. Repetition is part of the answer. Telling the Holocaust story is that part of the answer. Dr. Wiesel: “I decided to devote my life to telling the story because I felt that, having survived, I owe something to the dead, and anyone who does not remember betrays them again.” To forget the Holocaust, he said, would be to kill twice. Bearing witness gives voice to the dead. That voice is indispensable. Silence speaks.
Connection is a gift we can freely give. It does not require full understanding. It requires only empathy, honesty, and compassion. Maybe a little altruism as well. Each connection provides links to the wider community and further connections and friendship. The support system expands this way. Self-respect and dignity are reinforced this way. Life finds meaning again this way. Life is reaffirmed this way. Once more an achievement of bereavement. Survivors fight back, strengthened and renewed.
Our task is to make music with what remains. Yitzhak Perlman, violinist
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: The last of the human freedoms – To choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, To choose one’s own way. Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Viktor E. Frankl, MD, PhD, Psychiatrist, Author, Holocaust survivor
Anne Elizabeth Applebaum, Gulag: A History Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem Bruno Bettelheim, Surviving & Other Essays Bruno Bettelheim, The Informed Heart: Autonomy in a Mass Age Fern Schumer Chapman, Motherland: Beyond the Holocaust: A Mother-Daughter Journey to Reclaim the Past Terrence Des Pres, The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps Helen Epstein, Children of the Holocaust: Conversations with Sons and Daughters of Survivors Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl Viktor Frankel, Man’s Search for Meaning Bernard Goldstein, Five Years in the Warsaw Ghetto John Hersey, Hiroshima Lucette Matalon Lagnado and Sheila Cohn Dekel, Children of the Flames Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz Robert Jay Lifton, Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima Konrad Lorenz, On Aggression Daniel A. Mendelsohn, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million Emmanuel Ringelblum, Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility Andre Schwarz-Bart, The Last of the Just Varlam Shalamov, Kolyma Tales Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Jean Francois-Steiner, Treblinka The Black Book: The Nazi Crime and the Jewish people (out of print) Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts, Voyage of the Damned Leon Uris, Exodus Elie Wiesel, Night Elie Wiesel, A Beggar in Jerusalem Elie Wiesel, One Generation After Elie Wiesel, The Oath
“You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted, but mostly they're darked. But mostly they're darked. A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin! Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?” ― Theodor S. Geisel