The Importance of Remembering Victims of Tragedies
Tragic events can be difficult to think about, but remembering the victims is an important path toward healing.
Although we live in a world full of beauty, it is a world that gives us much pain, too. Throughout history, and even in present times, tragic events have occurred that cause very personal grief and very public mourning. While it can be painful to remember victims of tragedies, we mustn’t turn away from this pain. Instead, we should embrace it both privately and in public.
Formal days of remembrance, such as Holocaust Remembrance Day, are observed in communities across the world. They often involve speakers, panel discussions with historians, and reading names and telling stories about victims. This last part is crucial because remembering victims of tragedies is one of the best ways to promote healing. In many ways, these celebrations of lives lost too soon can also be inspirational to those of us left behind. Below, we will discuss four reasons why remembrance activities are essential.
Opportunities for Storytelling
When it comes to grief, every person will have a unique experience. However, an important element of healing for most people rests on the ability to tell their story of loss. Having people listen and acknowledge your pain and suffering can truly help you begin to make sense of your experience. Telling your story is freeing in that it provides a release of emotion and because it means the storyteller doesn’t have to hide their true feelings.
As you may have personally experienced, how you grieve depends on quite a bit on the social and cultural contexts you live within. If you’re dealing with loss, yet you are surrounded by people who refuse to acknowledge it or are unwilling to discuss it, you may find yourself feeling an additional layer of trauma.
On the other hand, when you can tell your story – and find that people around you are willing to listen and acknowledge your pain and suffering – you can more easily lean into the emotions you need to work through on your journey toward healing. Sharing your story can also help you connect with others who are learning to live with loss.
Public Opportunities to Bond
Have you ever lost someone you were very close to, and you worked to keep that person’s memory alive? Maybe you took up a new tradition in their honor or chose a physical act of remembrance such as getting a meaningful tattoo. Behaviors like this are common and healthy, and researchers refer to them as activities that develop “continuing bonds.” While many of these bonds develop in private, public remembrance opportunities can help sustain them.
Public bonds can reinforce the continuing private bonds we already develop naturally. These public bonds can arise through films, books, museum exhibits, permanent memorials, or speakers. In this way, community opportunities for remembering victims of tragedies allow all mourners to deepen the connections they feel to those they have lost and to others sharing their grief.
Even though grief can feel highly personal, many people find comfort in joining a community that is in mourning, too. Knowing that others understand even a bit of the loss you are navigating can be a breath of fresh air for someone who has felt alone in sadness, anger, confusion, or other feelings associated with grief.
Storytelling offers wonderful benefits for individuals mourning tragedies, especially for survivors and families of the victims. However, storytelling is also a powerful tool to help the world understand the toll of a mass tragedy. This is important for those hurting in the present and for preserving the stories to teach future generations, too.
Going back to the example of the Holocaust, visitors to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., are given an ID card that describes one individual who lived – or died – in Europe during the Holocaust. Further into the museum, they will see a vast array of portraits of victims and survivors. Names, life details, and photographs are a poignant way to drive home the full impact and devastation of this tragedy. Often, this storytelling is more impactful than sharing numbers. While the numbers remain essential, it’s the individual stories that become the building blocks of history. They help us better understand the full impact of an event like the Holocaust on society.
Remembering victims of tragedies and sharing their personal stories is also known to inspire healing movements for other tragic events. For example, a visit to Germany led Bryan Stevenson to found the Equal Justice Initiative. After seeing constant reminders of the German people’s commitment never to allow another tragedy like the Holocaust to occur, he realized the importance of telling stories of racial injustice in the United States. When one conversation on remembrance is already taking place publicly, it can become easier to begin remembering victims of other tragedies, too. This allows for greater awareness and healing, but it opens the door to actions that could prevent future tragedies, too.
Final Thoughts on the Importance of Remembering Victims of Tragedies
Grief is a constant struggle and one that will never simply go away. It can be tempting to protect yourself by turning away from the past, but this will not lead you on the road to healing. Conversations about people we have lost can be excruciating, especially if they died tragically. Healing does not come from ignoring what happened and turning away from stories of trauma. Instead, healing can truly begin when we accept the devastating events and talk openly about those who were lost.
If you have lost someone through a tragic event, know that storytelling can offer you personal healing. It is also an excellent opportunity to form public continuing bonds, provide historical context and meaning to the event that occurred, and inspire positive action for the future.