WATCH: What is Grief — Casper Gathers for Community Grieving Event at Conwell Park
What is grief?
In February of 2021, an episode of Marvel's WandaVision aired and it seemingly encapsulated the collective thoughts of an entire country; a country who had been put through the ringer over the past two years. Loss, death, isolation, arguments, confusion and so much more washed over America like a dark cloud, with very little light shining through.
So, in the show, when The Scarlett Witch sat down with Vision to explain how she was feeling, it was as if she was explaining how the entire country, and maybe the world, was feeling.
"It's just like this wave washing over me, again and again," she said. "It knocks me down and when I try to stand up, it just comes for me again. And I ca-...it's just gonna drown me."
For many Americans, that's how this past year as felt. It's certainly how many people in Natrona County have felt. Because of this, Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions hosted a community-wide Grieving and Remembrance event at Conwell Park on Wednesday.
The event featured a handful of community members who spoke about their journeys the past year, including Mayor Steve Freel, Executive Director of the Natrona County Health Department Anna Kinder, Central Wyoming Hospice Grief Care Coordinator Todd von Gunten, and community member Peggy Whitaker.
Each speaker offered their own stories about the toll the last year had taken on them, personally, professionally, and more.
Mayor Freel began the event, letting the community know that its grief reverberated all the way to city hall.
"So much has already been said about all the experiences we have been through during the past year," Freel began. "The pandemic, the closures, the events in the world, but more importantly, the deaths. The one common denominator in each of these things is loss; the loss of freedom, the loss of income, the loss of education, the loss of connecting with our family and friends, the loss of being with loved ones when he or she passed, and the loss of grieving together at his or her funeral. It was a year of loss for everyone in one way or another."
He continued, saying that, "As the Mayor of the city of Casper, I witnessed many different aspects of the pain. People were going through the different situations and choices. People were forced to endure. I know the past year has given me greater insight and understanding for the microcosms that make up the fabric of our community."
One of those people who was forced to endure was Peggy Whitaker. Whitaker lost her husband to COVID-19 on November 7, 2020.
"We lost a great man in the Casper community," Whitaker said of her husband. "Not only was John my best friend and an amazing husband; he was a dedicated father to our children. John was also a friend to many in this community. He always found good in people and tried to focus on the positive. He always made us laugh. That's for sure. When I was asked to speak about healing, it took me by surprise healing. And I thought, how can I talk about healing while going through this tremendous grief?"
But healing comes in surprising ways. And sometimes, one of the best ways to heal is to offering healing to others.
"Grief is a funny thing," Whitaker stated. "It makes you feel like you're the only person in the world that could be feeling this way. 'Nobody else would understand because I'm the only person in the world that this has happened to.' This couldn't be further from the truth. Yes, I've had friends over the years that have lost spouses, siblings, parents, partners, friends and, worst of all, children, my heart always went out to them. But until now, I never understood the depth of what they were going through.
"Out of nowhere, it feels like a punch in the gut that takes your breath away. But I will say that in my case, once your breath returns and the uncontrollable tears subside, I can also find and feel a sense of calm and strength. And, in all likelihood, the healing is doing its job. I feel John's loving voice saying, 'You've got this, Margie.'"
She does. The entire community does, though Whitaker did say different philosophies have served to divide Casper a little bit.
"We have this wonderful community in Casper," she said. "The word unity is in community and, unfortunately, I think we've lost some of our unity over this past year of hardship. I hope we can once again find the Casper Unity and grow in the healing process. The Buddha teaches that all humans are alike and their desire for happiness and love. This is true in our attempt to find balance peace and happiness. I believe that it's better to feel pain than to feel nothing at all."
"To me, it means you love deeply," she concluded.
That love can show itself in a variety of ways. For Anna Kinder, Director of the Natrona County Health Department, it was a stranger offering a bottle of water.
"March 9, 2020 was the date that changed the function of the health department and my leadership," Kinder stated. "A note of point was that I was hired to be the Director of the Natrona County Health Department in July of 2019. So not even a year into my position, I was just beginning to find my way. I used to think how busy I was every day early on.
"There were meetings at the Emergency Operations Center. After we learned about COVID and all of its many forms, [those meetings were] put into place with fire, police, public health, leadership, and key partners. I can remember going to one of the first meetings, very wide-eyed, dehydrated, pretty much terrified. And yes, admittedly overwhelmed. My backpack was undone, my computer was hanging out and a firefighter recognized my distress. He took my backpack, sat me in a chair and gave me a bottle of water. It was at that time I knew we were all in this together."
And, really, that was the point of this community grieving event. It was a place to come together and cry, scream, swear, and, most importantly, grieve. It was a place for the community to let out a collective breath and know, for certain, that they were not alone.
Sometimes, life can feel like an overwhelming tide, ready to overtake us at a moment's notice. So knowing that we're not alone in the surf, knowing that there's a hand we can reach out and grasp when the tide gets too high - for some people, that's everything.
That's how The Scarlett Witch felt when she opened up to Vision.
"It's just gonna drown me," she said.
"No, no it won't," Vision replied.
"How do you know?" she asked him.
"Well, because it can't all be sorrow, can it?" he asked. "I've always been alone, so I don't feel the lack. It's all I've ever known. I've never experienced loss, because I've never had a loved one to lose.
"But what is grief, if not love persevering?"