Grief is a beast like no other. It is unpredictable, unwieldy and unwanted. We often do not know how to deal with it, whether it is our own or someone else’s.
For many of us, we want to move past the feelings that are uncomfortable. It feels like it would be easier to function if we could put them aside. There is just too much to do to be able to give in to emotion. There is not enough time to sit with feelings. There is not enough support for us to properly work through our thoughts and feelings about what we are going through.
We come up with unhealthy ways of coping, not because we do not want to feel better, but because we need to feel better immediately. The pace and demands of our lives demand it. We have become so accustomed to functioning this way that we encourage others to do it, and criticise them when there is a crack in the veneer and we see that they are human.
However noble our intentions, we sometimes pressure people to suppress emotions, ignore feelings and push themselves “past” whatever has happened or is happening to them. Grief, however, does not forget us. It does not give up and walk away when we turn our backs to it. It stays there, knowing we can see it from the corner of our eyes, and feel it watching and waiting for us to turn to it.
Hurricane Dorian has thrown us all for a loop and we are all trying to keep it together. Some of us have had one good cry, some of us have had a few, and others have been struggling to keep it together.
I am working closely with people in non-governmental organisations and various other types of institutions and we are all saying the same thing. We are telling each other to take breaks. We are talking about the benefits of rest. We say it is important to hydrate, eat well and do something other than work. I am not sure we are all taking the advice we are liberally sharing. I want to believe that we can. The situation we are in, however, seems to depend that we put everything we have into filling the gaps that exist so the people in need of assistance do not fall through them. It is a difficult balance — caring for self, and caring for others. We are figuring it out as we go, and we all wish we were doing it better, but we are doing the best we can in this moment.
How people care
I am seeing the generosity and care of people on a daily basis as I spend my days collecting donations and directing them to where they are most needed. I have had the pleasure of interacting with people I have known for a long time, complete strangers and people in between. They have shown up to donate, sort, pack, lift, deliver, clean, make connections, provide lunch and check on other people.
It has been incredible to witness the teamwork we are able to pull off when we are motivated and willing to move together rather than nurturing a competitive environment. There are certainly people who are after a prize, even if it a self-congratulatory pat on the back, but what I am seeing on a daily basis is our motto — forward, upward, onward, together.
On the weekend, a woman came to the donation centre at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas with her son to donate a large bag of stuffed toys. She received a message that there were many children in shelters and stuffed toys, Lego, colouring books and crayons would be great for them. She encouraged her son to give many of his stuffed toys. All of the volunteers present were kind to him, telling him how wonderful it was that he was helping the children from Grand Bahama and Abaco. When we opened the bag, it was obvious the mother had just washed the toys as they smelled delightful. Everyone in the room was amazed by the extra care she took to ensure the toys were not only in good condition, but completely clean and had a comforting smell.
Similarly, a young woman made a large donation of clothing. As we sorted, folded and packed the clothing, we realized she had also taken the time to wash everything. Many times when we give, the clothes come directly from our closets or out of our drawers. We may not think to wash them again because they are already clean. Smell, however, is powerful. There is nothing like laundry fresh from the dryer or clothesline. It smells like home, comfort, and safety. Being able to add those sentiments to the gift of clothing for people who are away from home and have suffered great loss is an extra step. It is not an act born of sympathy. It becomes an act of love.
The Weapon of Hope
The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas welcomed Angelika Wallace-Whitfield to the space on the weekend to sell Hope is a Weapon merchandise with all of the proceeds going toward hurricane relief. I know Angelika personally, and I am constantly in awe of her work and the way she uses it with both curiosity and intention.
The way Bahamians have bought into the Hope is a Weapon message and brand is both evidence of where we are now and how attuned Angelika — along with many other young artists — is to social issues, our responses, and what we currently need. It is a bold statement. It is more than rhetoric, pushing us to go beyond the abstract concept of hope, turning it into an action that can transform a situation or, if we let it, transform us.
The merchandise sold on the weekend bore the tagline “Bahamas Strong” alongside “Hope is a Weapon” — activating the brand to propel us into sustainable action that makes us worthy of the sentiment of indomitable spirit and strength.
Within the first few hours of each day, the Hope is a Weapon pop-up shop was sold out. People came to get the shirts because the two messages resonate. They combine the two elements we need to keep us going at this time — the impetus to act rather than wait or look to anyone else for what we have in ourselves, and the dogged belief that we have everything we need, and need only put it to good use.
There is much to criticise today. Nothing about our response to this disaster has been perfect. There is significant work to be done, from acknowledging that climate change is real and taking disaster risk management seriously to development of a plan for evacuations and ensuring that the whole person is cared for, and not just the physical needs.
If we are as strong as we say we are, we will focus on what demands our urgent attention. We will meet the needs of the people. If we learn to weaponise hope, we will make all the necessary things happen. We will donate, we will speak to each other with kindness, we will exercise patience, we will ask the right questions, and we will contribute to the answers. We will show that The Bahamas, through its people, is strong.