Finding Community and Growth Amidst Grieving

On this episode of Care Work exploring grief, Alida is joined by Dr. Sunitha Chandy, a clinical psychologist and the founder of Artesian Collaborative, an organization that offers mental health services that transform both individual lives and communities. 

Sunitha shares her insights on the interplay between community and grief and the importance of accepting both the inherent difficulty and the cathartic potential of the grieving process.

Recognizing the role of community in grieving

Sunitha defines grief as the collection of emotions and experiences we have with any loss, which puts into perspective the sheer number of situations a person might be grieving at any given time. For such a ubiquitous human experience, grief is often shuttered away in the Western world.

Sunitha points out that we’re used to thinking explicitly about individual grief and the deeply private ways that we mourn losses, and yet there is an inherently communal aspect to many of the processes that help us process our grief and heal. 

This underrecognized community layer came into focus for many during the pandemic lockdowns. The shared grief people all over the world felt suddenly couldn’t be eased in the external ways we take for granted. We were grieving so much—the loss of loved ones, from COVID or any other circumstance, as well as the less tangible loss of our way of life—but funerals, intimate in-person conversations, and even temporary distractions outside of the home were closed to us. 

Being in grief without succumbing to despair

Part of Sunitha’s therapy practice considers how we exist with our grief—whatever its cause, both in private and with others—without being completely overwhelmed by it. One result of our Western society’s preoccupation with “putting on a brave face” is that we feel shame or self-judgment in the moments when it hurts too much, we can’t stop crying, or we’re struggling to move forward.

To feel pain is to be human, though, and one blessing of our modern age is the influx of people writing and speaking openly about their own pain and how they process their grief. This sharing is validating even beyond showing us it is okay to cry. From the myriad stories—because there are as many ways to grieve as there are people grieving—we are also taught that grief doesn’t have to erase our ability to feel joy or connect, that we can continue to honor, remember, and hold space for what we have lost, even while we continue to live and grow.

The necessity of holding space

In her work with social justice groups, Sunitha guides people through learning to hold space for the grief of others. Part of having room to provide this care is avoiding the pitfall of comparative grief. While Sunitha disagrees with the adage “pain is pain,” each experience is unique, and no pain is the same, she notes that the grief of one person never negates or supersedes the grief of another. Everyone who is grieving deserves and requires care in order to heal, and with this gradual, ongoing healing eventually comes the capacity to extend that care to someone else in pain.

When a third party is mediating between two different groups carrying grief and trauma, as often happens in conversations around social injustice, it is vital to learn how to hold that space and sit with the tension within it, even when the mediator cannot share directly in the experience or emotion of the others. As Dylan Marron said, empathy is not an endorsement. We neither need to distinctly understand nor agree with the feelings of a person or group to offer a safe space for them to grieve, mourn, and grow.

Listen in on this expansive conversation as Sunitha and Alida discuss the reasons and impacts of our Western fear of public grieving and how to approach our grief with curiosity that can ultimately guide our healing process and enable us to help others through theirs.

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