Editor’s Column: Collective grief

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Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Announcements that the wolves have indeed migrated into this part of the state and that the owners of the local coal mine plan to shut it down by 2030 cast a pall over our communities last week. By Saturday I found myself struggling with something familiar and uncomfortable: grief.

I recognize it better these days, now that I’m unwillingly but intimately acquainted with the process. As a kid growing up in Glenwood I remember the day an explosion at Mid-Continent’s Dutch Creek No. 1 mine killed 15 local miners. Teachers and students at school whispered and sobbed quietly together. A year later there was grief of another kind on “Black Sunday,” when the burgeoning oil shale boom that had promised prosperity and abundance was suddenly abandoned, throwing western Colorado’s economy into a dither. And I remember the day in 1985 when the natural gas facility in Glenwood exploded, rattling the windows at the high school and killing 12 residents. Again, the community mourned, and wondered what would become of its future.

Thankfully, we haven’t had a disaster of such proportions, but there’s a similar sense of grief and sorrow, complete with anger and denial and blame-casting and bargaining and all the other so-called “stages” of grief.

Change and grief go hand in hand. Even “good” changes — like my granddaughter notifying me she lost a tooth this week — can trigger a grief response. Why? Because she’s growing up, and that’s a wonderful thing and a sad thing all at the same time. Nothing stays the same. Well, except death and taxes. And housework.

Big changes that affect entire communities can create palpable, collective grief. Remember the days and weeks after 9/11 when we grieved together as a nation? Even if you aren’t personally affected, someone you know likely is, and that impacts you in some way.

If there’s a bright spot to come out of the news that the mine’s days are numbered (something I think we all knew was coming, eventually, just like we all knew the growing wolf population in Wyoming would cross the state line and move into Colorado), it’s that we have some time to plan and prepare. We have a window of time to reinvent ourselves, and I believe we will. We will find a way not just to survive, but to thrive. But before that comes, there has to be room to grieve.

Grief is messy and painful and unpleasant, and the grief over a loss of livelihood, loss of identity, or loss of security is just as tangible emotionally as the loss of a friend or loved one. Uncertainty and anxiety and anger and frustration may mark the days ahead for many of our friends and neighbors. Emotions may run high and reactions may be sharper than normal.

As many have told me in the last 16 months of my own personal grief journey, an essential component of the grieving process is to be gentle with yourself and with others. We need to be compassionate and empathetic with one another. That’s a good rule to follow all the time, but especially in times of transition like these. So be kind to each other. Afford one another a little extra grace. That’s something we can all use, all the time.

By Niki Turner | niki@ht1885.com