Editor's Note Regarding This Special Edition

This special edition of The Mourning News is inspired by the recent and overdue attention to long-term issues of racial injustice for Black people. In this edition, the intersection of loss, grief, and racism is explored regarding the experiences of Black people in the US. Every linked article was written by a Black author, and the opening essay was reviewed by and revised with feedback from Black colleagues. Grief and health are whole-body and whole-person experiences influenced by our individual and corporate histories, our identities, and how we are treated by others. It is our hope that this edition of The Mourning News will be in the spirit of both support and challenge and will be useful in considering the diversity of factors that impact experiences of loss and grief. 


The Gravity of Black Grief

Let’s be clear right up front. For so many things in the grief and loss world, I just don’t get it.

  • I have never been pregnant, felt the movement of arms and legs inside of me, and then felt the terrifying absence of movement.
  • I have never had to tell my children that their mother is dead.
  • Never have I had military personnel on my doorstep asking to come in to deliver bad news.
  • I have never felt the horror and loss of sexual assault.
  • I have not experienced the loss of family or friends when I 'came out.'
  • A physician has never told me that my death is in a matter of months.

I do get some things. I walked with my mom to the end of her cancer journey. I was there when the breathing tube was taken out of my father and he breathed no more. I rocked our baby, only as big as my hand, until his heart stopped beating. I saw the news report with the body bag of a family member being carried from the river. Watched too many children die.

I get things that happened to me. But really, that’s about it. I try to understand other things. Listen and watch and learn. Start with how I would feel in another person’s situation and move to how I would feel if I was that person—with their history, personality, and perspective—in that situation. I can get closer, but I’m not that person. I don’t know what it’s like to be them and how this experience is for them. I get glimpses and hints, and sometimes if I listen hard with head and heart, I get closer. Nevertheless, there will always be a gap despite all efforts to the contrary, and it’s best that I recognize that. In the end and in important ways, I just don’t fully get it.

There’s another whole category of loss and grief that I just don’t get. The grief of a Black person in America. And fellow white person, neither do you.

I look more like the officer with the knee on George Floyd’s neck than I look like George Floyd. I look more like the father and son who stalked and killed Ahmaud Arbery than I look like Ahmaud. And Breonna Taylor looks more like someone else’s daughter than she does my own. Does that mean I’m not distressed, that I’m not angry and heartbroken, that I don’t think something has to change? No, it doesn’t mean that. But it does mean that whatever I feel about these tragic deaths is just the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” compared to Black mothers and fathers, Black sons and daughters, Black sisters and brothers. They can see and feel themselves more clearly under the knee, running from the pickup, and in one’s own bed than I can see and feel. And to these names there are dozens of others in the news in recent years and hundreds, thousands more stories of mistreatment, abuse, and death that I will never know or feel. I haven’t experienced these historic and present traumas, and I haven’t been exposed to the daily threats and fears, skepticisms, microaggressions, and indignities of being Black in America. Clearly, obviously, I don’t get it. How could I?

But fellow white people, just because it’s impossible to “get” the experience of being anything but white, we are not off the hook. When we don’t get it, we need to listen to those who do. Who is the expert of a loss and its grief? The grieving person, of course. Whose expertise is needed for what is appropriate support and prevention of more loss and suffering? The people who have experienced and continue to experience losses. Not interested in preventing more loss and suffering? Then it’s a shock that you have read this far and there is little else to offer you. But most of us—all colors, varieties, and shapes of us—never want to see again what has been represented in the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. No more “I can’t breathe.” No more it’s not safe to walk or run in the neighborhood. No more death breaking down the door. All tragically and ridiculously related to the darkness of one’s skin.

Grief support people, there is a whole world of grief and loss in the experiences of Black people. For many, if not most, of us, we do not get it. A major reason we don’t come closer to getting it is because we haven’t tried hard enough. For too long there have been blinders on our eyes, cotton in our ears, gates around our hearts. It’s taken a long time and too many deaths, but more of us are saying, “It’s got to change, and it’s got to change now.” And that delayed awakening is a heartbreaking and welcome thing.

I don’t fully get it. We white people don’t fully get it. But increasingly, we get it enough. Enough to say, “Enough.” Enough to say, “Black Grief Matters.” “Black Life Matters.” Enough to make a difference starting today.

Greg Adams2019.jpg

Greg Adams, LCSW, ACSW, FT
Program Coordinator
Center for Good Mourning
[email protected]

Other Voices 

“We feel the pain and loss of Black life as if it were our very own blood that had been brutalized—because it easily could have been.”

"This familial language is metaphorical, of course—I know that the pain I felt seeing Castile killed doesn’t compare to what his loved ones felt. But it’s the best metaphor Black people have to express the grief that unites us." Continue Reading...


In the Spotlight

To better understand the grief from racial injustice for Black people in America, it helps to have a better understanding of some of the related “hot-button” issues like rioting, white privilege, use of the n-word, Black-on-Black violence vs. white-on-Black violence, and Black Lives Matter. Emmanuel Acho effectively breaks down these issues in a video called Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. Watch Now


Particularly for Parents

“When one of us loses a child, all of us feel that hurt; vicarious trauma is an integral aspect of Black motherhood… As Black mothers, grief is embedded in our being.

As Black mothers, we are living in an especially troublesome time — sandwiched between the current public health threat of COVID-19 and the longtime reality of police brutality.” Learn More

Living All the Way

As a Black woman, I am overwhelmed by wearing the hats of cultural mediator and trainee. We are forced to balance providing clinical care while witnessing the discrimination of our patients and ourselves.

Medicine has yet to actively become anti-racist...It is time to start naming racism, and not race, as a risk factor for disease. Read More

For Your Library

Dear Martin by Nic Stone. Ember, 2017. 

Dear Martin feels too true. Like a story that happened last week, and last year, and the year before that. In her debut juvenile novel, Nic Stone captures the intersection of race, police brutality, and identity for Black adolescents in a remarkably compelling and accessible fashion. And it’s not a story that only Black adolescents need to hear.

Justyce McAllister is one of the few students of color at an exclusive private high school. He excels in the classroom but struggles to find a comfortable place in his social world and within himself. While struggling to keep his drunken ex-girlfriend from driving herself home, he is arrested by the police who see perceive him as a criminal taking advantage of the situation. This harrowing experience sets off a series of events which sends Justyce reeling. In an effort to make sense of his life and relationships and find a positive way forward, he reads the works of Martin Luther King and journals in the form of letters to King.

Inspired, sadly, by true accounts of unarmed Black teens being shot by police, Nic Stone avoids simple explanations and shallow characters. In doing so, Stone’s story rings true. These events could have happened, and in many ways, they have happened. There are conflicts, there are racial stereotypes, and there are deadly consequences. There is also space for hope and healing.

Dear Martin addresses some of the same issues as are addressed so well in the excellent The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas. Many of us need these stories to better understand the hurt, loss, and grief which are unavoidable parts of the experience of growing up Black in America, both yesterday and today. And those who live and understand these issues need to see and hear their stories told. Nic Stone’s well-told story is a needed opportunity for all of us.

Taking Questions: "Whose grief? Our grief."

The pain of grief can be so raw that when confronted with it there is the temptation to turn and walk away. Saeed Jones writes about what he sees and feels as grief at this moment and about the history of Black people in America. In his telling, he quotes his white neighbors yelling an obscene chant regarding George Floyd, so please be forewarned. The obscenity of the words, however, pales in the light of the obscenity of George Floyd’s death and the grief of it all.


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