Mental Health = Community Health: Surviving Grief Together


“Only your good deeds will be left behind when you are gone,” said Dwight Richards, Cantor at the Stella Maris Church this week.  What was the occasion?  It was the Thanksgiving Service of one of our neighbours.

Imagine his three children, a daughter and two sons, rising to give a tribute to their father in song.  On introduction, his daughter said, “We are going to sing a song for you that our dad always sang to us, ‘3 Little Birds’.”  And, dad’s 3 little birds began to sing.  There was no misunderstanding of dad’s message to them when they sang the lines:

Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true
Saying’, (this is my message to you)

Singing’ don’t worry ’bout a thing
‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright
(Bob Marley).

As they ended and began to leave the stage, the youngest son reached for the microphone.  Raising his hand, he said, “Thank you very much.”


He said, thank you in anticipation of the future.  Now that their father is gone, they are depending on the community that supported their father, to support them and their mother.  They are depending on the love of those who loved him to love them in their grief as well as in their growth.

Grief is hardest on the loved ones who are left behind to mourn their loved one’s passing.  According to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, there are five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  Every stage must be experienced, and every emotion expressed.  It is only in our communities that this happens best.

The family of First Lady Barbara “The Enforcer” Bush, knows this well.  Her commitment to her husband and her children was unrivalled by all the good that she did in the community.  Her grand-daughter’s open letter reveals to us how careful she was to teach them respect for all, and especially for each other.  A simple event could easily become a teaching lesson.  For example, when they were children, she (Jenna) and Barbara (her twin) abused their privileged visit to the White House by ordering peanut butter sandwiches from the kitchen.  As they awaited their room service, they were shocked to see “Ganny” coming through the door, chastising them for abusing such a privilege, and informing them that it was not a hotel (  They didn’t have to be told twice.

Jenna Bush Hager’s letter, reveals “The Enforcer,” the one who “wrote the rules,” as a woman of purpose, grace, and wisdom.  She placed emphasis on what was important, and wasted no time worrying about the rest.  No wonder she is celebrated in 70 years of marriage to her husband, George H.W., their 6 children (1 deceased), 14 grand children and 7 great grand children (Stephanie Dube Dwilson, 2018).  The family grieved in the community of faith in Houston, Texas where she was remembered fondly today.

The healing has begun as the scriptures, the hymns, and the tributes all gave honour to the woman who enforced the rules with love.  Her greatest love of family she gave the world again as a new great grandchild (number 8) was born just 2 days after her death (ABC, 2018).  pexels-photo-733881.jpeg“The Enforcer” just could not leave without a parting reminder to “Cherish your human connections – your relationships with friends and family” (Barbara Bush).

This love for family is a reminder to all of us that mental health is inextricably tied to community health.

We were reminded of this again yesterday, as all American students under 20 years old, actively marked the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting (NewsHour Productions, 1996-2018).  School walk-outs, service visits to Colorado, visits to Governor’s offices around the country, and other events marked the tragedy.

Why is it important for them to do this?  It is their way of grieving in community with all those who have survived going to school over the last 19 years.   This is a generation that has never known a sense of absolute safety when they went to school.  The students have watched successive school shootings in horror.  But now, since the Stoneman Douglas (William Brangham, 2018) shooting in February 2018, they have decided that its time to unite to heal.  In their unity they are finding strength.

Listen! The world changes every day.  People grieve every day. 

Therefore, mental health must find ways of expression in the midst of community.  Only as the community reaches out to hold each other does the relief from sorrow slowly come.  Only as the community searches for answers will the solutions be found and implemented.  Only when the community adds resources and works with renewed commitment, will the new normal emerge.

Today, may we grieve not in absolute despair, but rather with the knowledge that those who share our grief will continue to show up in our lives.  Trust that they will show up at religious services, at our homes, and where we work.

Know without a doubt that your community will stand strong because you are knitted into the landscape of the people! 

You are not alone.  Mental health = community health.  Let those close by assure you as you face the difficult days that lie ahead.

If you are interested in more offerings that can stimulate discussion, pass on a family legacy, or reshape culture, check out other offerings at

Remember, Dear Little Brother, … is around the bend.  The brief delay is only due to cultural expansions.



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