The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 left a hole in Manhattan’s landscape that still remains there today. It’s as if we, as a nation, cannot move on from this loss. To most people, it seems wrong to rebuild on this site yet or to cover over this hole. Maybe we are afraid that we would forget this loss, or it would seem that it’s not important to us. Currently, a memorial where these two towers fell is under construction – after a great deal of discussion and deliberation.
I believe that symbolically, the pit that remains where the World Trade Center was before 9/11 represents what happens to each and every one of us when we lose a loved one who has died. There is a territory within our hearts and minds. This territory is made out of our relationships and experiences. Emotions are attached to each relationship and experience. This creates the contours and character of the territory within our hearts and minds.
When someone we love dies or in some other way permanently leaves our life, we are left with a gaping hole in our territory. The more significant the person, the more significant and profound that hole will be. Sometimes we are tempted to try and fill in that hole or cover it over. This only minimizes the importance of that person in our life and does not in any way get us through the pain of that loss. We have to acknowledge the hole left by the loss. This honors the influence this person had on us.
As we progress through time and life experience, the territory of our heart expands and grows. The holes left by those we have lost do not fill in, disappear or shrink. Instead, they remain part of the territory and are important landmarks on the map of our lives. As we live on and remain open to new experiences and relationships, and continue with our old relationships, these holes become relatively smaller as the territory of our heart continues to spread out in every direction. Consequently, the losses are not the things that solely define the territory of our hearts. They will continue to be felt, but so will many other emotions and experiences.
In short, the successful navigation of an important loss requires balancing honoring and acknowledging the depth and breadth of the loss with remaining open to new experiences, as well as new and old relationships. Grief must be expressed and named. It cannot be covered over. To do so is like covering a giant hole in a field with a thin layer of sticks and mud. Eventually, you will forget where that hole is and fall into it. It is better to mark this place in your life and remember it. Just like people will return to the Memorial site for the World Trade Center, we will often return to the places of loss in our lives. By doing this, we honor the people we have lost and we also honor what that loss meant to us. The thing with memorial sites though, is that we only visit them from time to time. We don’t live there.