Grief in the aftermath

Pastoral counseling is part of my daily routine. It often occurs in the context of casual conversations before and after meetings, a person dropping into my office, or someone I meet in my daily routines. I am used to listening to problems, challenges, grief, and other events in the lives of the people who are in my care. I am often the first on the scene to provide crisis counseling for issues ranging from accidents and illnesses to suicide and the victims of crime. I studied psychological counseling in graduate school and interned at the Wholistic Health Care Center, so I have a counseling background, but I make it clear that I do not engage in psychological counseling or intensive marriage counseling or other forms of formal counseling. I keep a good list of people to whom I can refer when I discover that a person needs counseling that reaches beyond my limited skills. Meaningful boundaries are essential to the practice of ministry and I am careful to be attentive to those boundaries.

Having said that, I’ve been doing a lot of counseling over the past couple of days. Interestingly, that counseling has been about equally divided between members of the church I serve and members of the community with whom I work on volunteer boards and other community projects. The rush this week is definitely grief counseling. There are people who are grieving the election of Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States. As I listen, which is the greatest part of counseling, what I am hearing is less an expression of personal dislike of the president elect, though there is a bit of that, and more a sense of the loss of community. These are thoughtful and insightful people who believed that the vision for our country was one of inclusion, where the talents and contributions of all were honored and respected. They believed that this was a country where a parent could tell their daughter that it was possible to grow up and become president of our country. They believed that ours was a nation that welcomed immigrants and integrated them into our common life. They believed that it is wrong for men to abuse women and that victims deserve a voice. They believed that racism and sexism and homophobia and Islamaphobia are wrong. And it seems to them that their dreams are no longer possible now that we have a president who so directly embodies the things that they find to be morally objectionable.

They are dismayed that what they see as moral imperatives have been dismissed by others as political correctness. They had looked forward to celebrating the nation’s first woman president and woke to what they see as the triumph of sexism.

What seems to be most common among those whose grief I have witnessed is despair over the attitude of their neighbors. One employee of Black Hills Works, an agency that provides services to people with disabilities in our community, said, “How can my fellow employees vote for a bully - for someone who publicly mocks those with disabilities?” The grief was that now after the election, this person no longer trusts those who voted for the president elect.

The grief I have heard is grief over the loss of a sense that our nation is a nation of moral decency. One person asked me, “How could we elect a president who doesn’t believe in paying his bills, who doesn’t pay his taxes and who won’t own up when caught in a direct lie?”

I have also paid enough attention to social media to know that those who favored the election of President Trump are responding to the grief of their fellow citizens with a wall of denial - denying that he ever expressed racism, denying that his running mate is the author of homophobic laws, claiming that trash talk of women is acceptable in locker rooms.

Perhaps saddest was the person who spoke to me about his wife’s health problems. She is facing a very serious and life threatening brain tumor. She will need surgery within the next couple of weeks and years of follow-up therapy. Their family was uninsured until the Affordable Health Care Act made it possible for them to obtain health insurance. Now he fears that the likely repeal of that act will leave them without insurance facing bills that will certainly exceed their ability to pay. He was close to tears not because of his fears about the future, but because of the inability of his peers in his workplace to understand his disappointment. “They just don’t care! They just don’t get it!” he declared.

I am enough of a student of the Bible and have read enough of the wisdom of Walter Brueggemann to know that our faith is deeply steeped in a tradition of prophetic reality as the answer to ideologies; prophetic grief as the response to denial; and prophetic hope as the alternative to despair. Ideologies lead to denial and denial leads to despair. Read the stories of the fall of Jerusalem or the destruction of the second temple. Read the words of the prophets.

I don’t know the political opinions of those who read my blog, but I certainly hope that there are, among my readers people of different political opinions. To be specific I hope that there are those who voted for Trump and those who voted for Hillary and those who voted for someone else. I suspect that there are readers who didn’t vote in this election. I don’t want to surround myself only with those who agree with me. I am grateful to live in a community with a wide variety of political opinions.

So I assume that there are readers who are celebrating the victory of president-elect Trump. I hope that they will have some compassion and understanding for those who are grieving. However, if they do not, we need to find the moral courage to treat them with love and respect. Jesus has taught us to not be afraid and, as the first letter to John teaches, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

May we become perfected in love in the days and years that are to come.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!