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Rhythm Of Healing: Grieving And Reflecting On The Last Year
By Hayley Sanchez, CPR News
For many, the last year has been incredibly hard. The pandemic brought death, loss and isolation with it. It’s also been a year of severe financial hardship. Some Coloradans confronted racial bias and hate, more than once. And as the pandemic itself closed in on a full year, the state mourned its worst mass shooting in nearly a decade.
These events have left some people searching for new ways to grieve and to start to heal. In that spirit, Rev. Amanda Henderson collaborated with CPR News to pair a poem she wrote about hope with photos we've taken and stories we’ve reported about people from different backgrounds and life experiences and how they’re healing from this overwhelming year.
The poem is also posted in full at the end of this page.
Henry Frey of Littleton works the pick-up service at a Denver King Soopers. After the shooting at a King Soopers in Boulder, he considered calling in sick for the rest of the week.
“These aren’t just some random people. These are people I may have talked with sometime. I may have gone to the same training,” Frey said. “These are people who just like me, they were just going to complete their shift, get some pay so they could, I don't know, pay their rent or pay their grocery bill.”
The last year has not been easy as a frontline worker, he said. The continual fear of exposure to the coronavirus while at work and then infecting his parents, who are high-risk, has been exhausting.
“This pandemic has brought out some of the best parts in people, but it's also definitely brought a lot of the worst parts of people,” he said.
Frey’s been coping with the stress by working out more and playing video games with friends online. After reading Rev. Henderson’s poem, he said he hopes people will heal after the shooting in Boulder, grow stronger and be delivered from fear.
“I hope that this doesn't end up tearing the community apart because fear has a way of doing that to people,” he said. “People will heal somehow, eventually. This won’t last forever.”
Managing the changes COVID has forced on her workplace and providing students with the support they need has been a challenge this year, said Boyung Lee, senior vice president of Academic Affairs at Iliff School of Theology. Moving through the world as a Korean American woman has been even scarier.
“I don't feel safe to be outside by myself,” Lee said.
Last May, while out for a late afternoon walk alone in her neighborhood, a man in a truck waving a dirty and ripped American flag drove up to her and started to yell anti-Chinese racial slurs. She tried to avoid him but he kept following until she ran between two homes and hid in someone’s backyard.
“I have experienced a lot of subtle microaggressions all the time, in my entire life in the United States, but nothing like that,” she said. “It has not been easy for my both spiritual health and mental health and physical health.”
Now she only goes for walks or hikes if she’s accompanied by a friend or colleague. It’s her strong network of friends, especially, she said, other Asian American feminists, that have helped her through the year. She also prays and finds peace through stretching and meditation. Cooking Doenjang Jjigae and Siraegi Jjim, two traditional Korean dishes, has also helped her cope.
“When I need my mom's hug, I tend to make very slowly simmered green vegetables with a very soft meat with a spoonful of bean paste.”
After reading Henderson’s poem, Lee wants people to remain open to their community — to check in with one another and come together, even if it’s remotely. And to build solidarity with people of other backgrounds and beliefs.
“We can never build our own community’s justice at the cost of somebody else's,” she said. “I hope people see the humanity of every person.”
Josue Rubio, the pastor of Vida Nueva Christian Center in Edwards, sees himself as a source of positivity and guidance for his community. His congregation is made up primarily of Spanish speakers who work either in construction or service jobs at Vail Ski Resort.
Health restrictions and closures dried up much of that work, leaving people struggling even more than before. Rubio said people live day by day, trying to make ends meet for their families.
Some in his congregation have loved ones that live in other countries that they haven’t been able to see since the pandemic began.
“They leave behind the culture, the families, and they feel isolated,” Rubio said. “Parents, relatives pass away in Mexico or Central America or South America — this creates very, very tough and difficult times... Imagine, people who their parents pass away and they cannot go for the funeral.”
At the height of pandemic closures, Rubio brought the church’s phone home so he could provide 24/7 support to congregants. Now that restrictions are loosening, he’s happy to see people returning to the reopened church. He said spending time with others, seeing more people in person has helped him.
People in Rubio’s circle also felt a sense of relief after the 2020 Presidential election. The Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies and racist rhetoric toward people who are Latino and Hispanic troubled people in these communities for four years. Although President Biden has said he wants immigration reform, many doubt any actual change will come.
After reading Henderson’s poem, Rubio wants people to see all the opportunities they have.
“Every day we have a new mercy, new opportunity, new hope,” he said. “We have more expectations to be better. And after all this pandemic runs away, hopefully, we can be a better person, better community, better country.”
Each day has presented new challenges and more unknowns. But when fifth-grade teacher Jennifer Budden talks with her students about the strain they’re all under, it’s easier to process.
Students at Runyon Elementary School in Littleton have gone back and forth between in-person and remote learning several times this school year. It hasn’t been easy for the students, or Budden.
Frequent check-ins with students and their parents have helped. For Budden, talking to her colleagues, family and friends has helped them process together. She has also been spending more time outside in nature.
“I'm taking it day by day,” she said. “Some days you're sad, some days you're angry… I'm a research junkie, so I'm always researching why things happen and why it could happen. I think that helps me a little bit to understand.”
She wants more people to have access to mental health resources, especially her students, who have access to counseling through the school. After reading Henderson’s poem, Budden hopes people give each other more space to make mistakes.
“Kindness is the number one thing and being compassionate to one another because we don't know what everyone's going through,” Budden said. “Everyone has a different story.”
What has it been like working in health care for the last year? For Kelly Milliman, a nurse at Children’s Hospital in Denver, it’s hard to describe. Workers like herself weren’t dealing with beds at capacity since the coronavirus didn’t affect children the same way it does adults. Because of that, some staff members have shuffled around to different departments to help with other shortages, which created a sense of unease.
“Feelings of ‘Is this ever going to end?’’' Milliman said. “Feelings of alienation even that the other nurses in our community were experiencing at the adult hospitals. In a sense, we felt hopeless.”
Early on in the pandemic, Milliman felt like people grew apart and away from the idea that communities should take care of one another. As vaccines rolled out, though, she’s felt a new sense of hope. It’s a renewal that has only gone so far. She still feels a sense of defeat when it comes to gun violence and a lack of mental health resources.
“It's just the same old story again and again. And when I hear people say, ‘We're sending our thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims,’ I just want to scream out loud. That just rings hollow,” Milliman said.
“But then again, I see the community pulling together. I see people pouring in to help those family members of the victims in Boulder and that does bring comfort knowing that we haven’t given up on that.”
The resiliency she’s seen in herself, her friends and family, and in the community, given the amount of stress and fatigue people are under, has inspired her, too.
Self-care has become more precious to her now than before. She likes to get outside and go for walks with her husband and friends. It gives her time to make personal connections but also a way to appreciate the beauty of Colorado.
Chocolate has also helped, Milliman added.
“We’re all in this together,” she said after reading Henderson’s poem. “When it's all said and done, we are all Americans and we all live on planet Earth. As a human race, I hope we can all find some common ground.”
Newly-elected House District 41 Rep. Iman Jodeh has used the pandemic to refocus and re-imagine what life looks like for herself. People are looking to spend more time with family and less on staying late at work, she said. As a Muslim and a person of color, she said those communities have experienced the pandemic differently than others.
Because of “generational trauma that already exists in our health care systems, in our education systems, in society in general, the compounded stress of this past year because of COVID, has really exacerbated an epidemic that has only started to reveal itself in its ugliest forms,” Jodeh said.
She sees the obligation she and other government officials are under to make sure people are heard, whether it’s through policy or just listening. Although people like herself are elected to help lead people through difficult times, they’re also experiencing the pandemic and all the trauma that has come with it, just like their constituents.
Jodeh appreciates the ways in which she’s grown as a person through the pandemic. Instead of spending late nights at work, it's more important for her to step away to spend time with people she loves. After reading Henderson’s poem, she hopes others move forward in a positive way.
“When I think about words like generosity and determination, and really understanding that, in this work, we are in fact, the stewards of justice,” Jodeh said. “I want to make sure that being a steward of justice translates into policy that ultimately affects all Coloradans in the best way possible.”
Amy Brown, like others, has had to pivot in ways she never anticipated or wanted. She is a co-founder of Black Lives Matter 5280.
“The past year has been horrible. The past year has been horrible for BLM 5280, which is indicative of how it has been for Black people and our larger community,” Brown said.
Black people have disproportionately been affected by the coronavirus pandemic with higher infection and death rates. They’ve also been fighting for racial justice while bearing the trauma of witnessing more violent deaths of other Black men and women at the hands of police. That movement — and last year’s presidential election — laid bare how racially divided much of the country remains.
Brown’s community has survived by finding new ways to connect. They created a space on their Instagram called the Rage and Resilience Hour. It gave people a chance to spend time with one another, learn new tools, be affirmed in their anger and find time for reflection.
Watching Verzuz battles together online also helped. The online series started last March during the pandemic as a virtual battle between artists that streamed on Instagram Live.
“The Brandy and Monica one was an epic night for the women at 5280,” Brown said with a laugh as she remembered them watching the battle altogether virtually through Instagram. “Finding new avenues and platforms to be together, to laugh, cry, scream, just be human.”
Brown said she continues to ask herself “why” and what the purpose of her work is in times of strife. Each time she comes back to her daughter.
After reading Henderson’s poem, she wants people to know that for historically marginalized communities, relying on one another is the one thing that has gotten people through difficult times in the past, and is getting them through now.
“I hope that we can remind ourselves and each other that we are our source of connection, the importance that our community plays in sustaining ourselves and each other.”
Written By Rev. Amanda Henderson
Deliver us from hate and division, violence, and suffering. It has been a long hard year. Working on the front lines to keep our communities fed…risking our health and the health of our families... and now feeling the lingering fear that binds us to pain and trauma. Deliver us.
Open us and let us share the vulnerability that we can no longer hide. In our suffering we are softened. Our hearts and minds are open. Ways of the past no longer serve us. Open our imaginations so we might be receptive to each other. So we might hear each other- and see each other. Open us.
Fill us with resilience and strength. Empty after a year of struggle, worn out and drained. Fill us back up with the energy of spring sunshine, mountains, and fresh grass. Fill us with the sounds of laughter and the flavors of good food. Fill us.
Teach us new ways in these always changing days. Give us patience and an open mind to learn what we need to learn to thrive, regardless. Teach us to meet each other where we are with kindness and compassion, curiosity and innovation, teach us.
Keep us connected to one another. With all that divides, bind us together. If we have learned nothing this year, we have learned that we are all connected. What impacts one, impacts all. Keep us.
Send us to do the work of common good. Let us serve one another with generosity and determination. We are here, ready to be the hands and feet of justice and healing. Send us.
Bring us always closer to the source of life and connection. When times are tough, remind us that we are not alone. When we feel at our end, call us back to our communities who hold us up, and get us through. Bring us.