1 June 2020

Over my career, I have sat in spaces with many people in moments of grief. From counseling to housing, these professional experiences have often kept me proximate to pain felt from grief and loss. In these moments people are living through their hardest of moments, yearning for any release they could find from the pain resting within their bodies. It is guttural and the most human and basic of needs.

Once when on call I accompanied a coroner to tell a student that his brother had completed suicide. Upon hearing this tragic news, the young man in his pain and grief, acted out physically. He broke nearly everything in the room; the furniture, his roommates items, and his own personal belongings. In addition, he punched his hand through a plate glass mirror. The room was in shambles, with glass, blood and broken items everywhere. The housing staff stood by, unsure what to do in response to the violence this student had just displayed. After giving him a few moments to himself, I went in quietly and stood with him, offering my love and support. As his shoulders dropped and the sobs escaped, I carefully wrapped him in my arms and held him while he grieved. We rocked back and forth together in his release of grief, and then carefully I picked the remaining shards of glass from his hand.

We often talk about the “stages” of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. In my experience these emotions are not simply feeling felt within one stage; instead they are felt fluidly, working in tandem with one another to create an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and rage. We write songs and poetry to this effect. We demonstrate. We riot. We go to war. These emotions are often so big that we must show the whole world the pain felt inside. White people keep asking “why” demonstrations now. I believe that this is not only the culmination of the loss of George Floyd; it is also a lifetime of grief, hurt and oppression being expressed and lived every single day by people of color. It is simple of us to see rioting through a lens of violence. It is harder for us to view it through a lens of understanding.

When people of color plead with us and say “I can’t breathe,” I think about the deep meaning of these words and how they represent a lifetime of pain, grief and oppression. People of color are in so many ways alone in this fight, they have been so all of their lives and no surprise they are now as well. They are grieving. They are hurting. They don’t have anything left but to show the pain within their hearts, bodies and souls. Like the young man and the story I shared above, now is the time that WE work to understand, and to be proximate to the pain WE as white people have caused. “I can’t breathe.” Hear those words. Really hear them.

“Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” — Dylan Thomas

Laura L. Arroyo
ACPA Governing Board, Midlevel Member-at-Large

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