It has been two weeks since Donald Trump was elected as the 45th president of the United States. Like many of you, I feel like I’ve gone through the stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance) at least three or four times, and a few times over. And there is a reason so many people liken this cycle of emotions to the stages of mourning. This is a very real, very deep, and very sharp loss. This is a collective loss. A collective grief. It hits all of us in waves. So many ideals seem lost: ideals of an inclusive, accepting society; the ideal of the immigrant who can find and define him or herself in this land of opportunity; the ideal that we have control of our bodies and who and how we want to love; and the very original ideal of being able to worship the God our heart yearns toward. This loss cuts deep as it hits a raw nerve.
So many of our families awoke that Wednesday morning to the painful realization that we had to break the news to our children. Personally, I was on my way home from the airport and I realized I had to be the one to break this news to my 10 year old son; I feared how his delicate heart might take it if he heard from a friend before me. Our conversation from months ago, where I reassured him that Trump could never become president when he asked about the Muslim ban, flashed in my mind. He would know that my reassurances amounted to nothing; a tough lesson at a young age. On the phone, my voice cracked, as I realized merely saying the words that Trump was president was solidifying what I knew in my mind to be true. I had to hand the phone over to my husband, who focused on the things that matter, what truly matters in the lives of our school aged children. Like the hockey game, what made him laugh at school and catching Pokémon; and we assured our boys that these would not change, no matter who sat in the White House.
In that moment, I realized that I had to be very cognizant of my own emotions, tone, expression and overall conclusions while discussing this with or around my children. Our kids pick up on our verbal and nonverbal cues. Many parents have struggled with how to talk about this election with our children.
Before talking about processing this with our children, we have to talk about our own emotions. We must acknowledge, name and recognize feelings before we can help our children to do the same. We cannot suppress them but accept that it is normal to feel sad, anxious, angry, and confused. In a society that is constantly on the move, we tend to underestimate the power of emotions. Emotions are not all bad. However, it is when we suppress or invalidate them that we can have problems. What we are feeling is grief. Psychologists will tell you with any loss,if one pushes these feelings away, they will come out in one form or the other, be it irritability, aggression, or acting out. And skipping this grieving process sometimes only draws it out longer. There is an old psychological adage “What we resist, persists.” So while it may seem unproductive or a waste of time, taking stock of our feelings is critical. Before we can organize, build and network, we must come to terms with our pain.
Acknowledging our pain and loss serves as a motivation to change our circumstances in whatever capacity fits our talents and passion. Our grief, our singular and collective grief – serves as a springboard for action and empowerment. And this is at the crux of the evolutionary perspective of the function of depression.
Additionally, while acceptance is the last stage of grief in the classic description as set forth by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, acceptance does not mean that we accept our condition and merely sit back and observe what comes next. Acceptance does not mean complacency. Allah tells us in the Qur’an: “Verily, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves (13:11).” In my mind, acceptance means taking on the challenge; accepting the challenge and responding with mobilization, alliance building and empowering the marginalized.
By now, many of us have taken stock of our emotions and are psychologically stronger in speaking with our children. Many of us have gained strength from speaking to youth as well. Most importantly, over time, I do believe we will emerge stronger individually and as families ready to mobilize. We may do so at different times, and we should not put pressure on ourselves. We must respect each other and our different ways and rates of coping. When and if we are ready, we must pop our bubbles of comfort and complacency. We must step out of these bubbles and engage. We must write and act in our own stories to contribute to the overall American narrative. Find your passion, in and outside the community, and work together to be agents of change.
When our children accompany us in acts of service, interfaith and interethnic conversations and alliance building, they too will be part of the overall process. We can be agents of change together. We will take time to grieve, accept the challenge and then, mobilize. Together.