Listen: Coping with prolonged grief over George Floyd, mass shootings and the pandemic

MPR News with Angela Davis talks with two therapists about the waves of loss many people experienced over the past two years and how people can cope with prolonged grief and trauma. The murder of George Floyd, the pandemic, and mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and a Texas school are discussed.

Bravada Garrett-Akinsanya is a psychologist who specializes in African American mental health.

Fiyyaz Karim is a lecturer in the University of Minnesota's masters programs for integrated behavioral health and addictions counseling.


2022 PMJA Award, first place in Division AA - Audience Engagement Program category


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[MUSIC PLAYING] ANGELA DAVIS: Good morning, everyone. I'm Angela Davis, and you're listening to MPR News. Today, we're going to talk about grief, prolonged grief, the kind of sorrow that many of us just can't seem to shake because bad things just keep happening. How can we heal? How can we learn to cope better? So many of us have been living with grief for a long time.

Today marks two years since George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis Police officer. And his death unleashed anger and deep sorrow. It revealed the deep wounds of racism in America and renewed calls for racial justice. And at the same time, the pandemic created chaos and ushered in loss after lost. Loved ones died from COVID-19, and people lost their jobs and their sense of security.

And now the month of May brings new collective grief, the deadly shootings of 10 people in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York targeted because they were Black. And just yesterday, news that a young man walked into an elementary school in Texas and shot and killed 19 children and two adults, including a teacher.

This hour, I'm talking with two therapists about the waves of loss many people have experienced the last two years and how we can better cope with prolonged grief and trauma. And I want to hear from you too. What has helped you cope with the losses you've experienced in the last couple of years? And what has helped you? What had what advice do you have for others who are struggling with grief?

The phone lines are open, and here are the numbers. You can call us at 651-227-6000. Again, the number is 651-227-6000 or 800-242-2828. You can also find me on Twitter. I'm @AngelaDavisMPR. Let me introduce our two guests we have with us this hour. BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya. Bravada is known as Dr. B. She's a psychologist who specializes in African-American mental health. And she's also the president and founder of Brackins Consulting and Psychological Services there in Plymouth. Good morning to you, Dr. B. Welcome back to the program.

BRAVADA GARRETT-AKINSANYA: Thank you so much, Angela. I'm glad to be here.

ANGELA DAVIS: In the studio with me, I have Fiyyaz Karim. Fiyyaz has worked as a therapist and led group discussions about grief and loss. And he's also a lecturer in the University of Minnesota's Master's Programs for Integrated Behavioral Health and Addictions Counseling. Hi, Fiyyaz. Thank you for being here.

FIYYAZ KARIM: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

ANGELA DAVIS: Dr. B., I was just telling Fiyyaz I'm literally nauseous this morning as I try to process what happened in Texas. And I think I speak for a lot of people when I say the last couple of years have been awful. Certainly not every day, but many days. Is that what you hear from people who come to you for help, Dr. B.?

BRAVADA GARRETT-AKINSANYA: Yes, I do. And a lot of it is around just triggers because the trauma doesn't get to heal when something else follows it. So it's not like we've had breaks from the trauma because it's been constant.

ANGELA DAVIS: And it can be something personal and up close or just something that happened in another state.

BRAVADA GARRETT-AKINSANYA: Yes, it can be. And I think what people understand is that when we visualize or witness someone else being harmed or hurt, the first thing that happens to us is, one, we feel helpless. We feel vulnerable. We feel unsafe. We feel like we can't protect ourselves or our children. And all of those thoughts lead to some visceral reactions of past traumas, existing fears. And it does affect one's body. We feel the pain. We feel the hurt in our body in many, many ways.

ANGELA DAVIS: So the nausea I'm speaking of, is that my body responding to what I'm feeling?

BRAVADA GARRETT-AKINSANYA: Yes, it is. And a lot of people will have headaches. They'll notice that they may feel dizzy and they can't understand why. And they may notice, just like you said, the nausea and their stomachs are feeling-- even having problems using the restroom, even walking or managing their gait.

People talk about feeling very, very dizzy at times. And I want everybody to know that one of the hardest things to deal with grief that makes it difficult to deal with grief is that it's not just emotional, it is physical. And we bear that pain in our body. Whether we use words or not, our body remembers the pain.

ANGELA DAVIS: Well, I know many folks are willing to admit that they are not OK. I'm sure most people would say-- maybe they wouldn't use this word. Maybe they wouldn't say they're dealing with grief. But grief, is that the appropriate word for what we're describing?

BRAVADA GARRETT-AKINSANYA: I think it is. And I think if you recognize grief in its multiple forms, it can be a loss of the ideal, the loss of trust in humanity or faith in humanity. It can be a loss of feeling safe in your community. So we grieve what we think should be normal. We grieve what we think should be our neighborhood or our communities or even our world. And that is that traumatic grief continues to impact us and is complex because it links to other experiences of grief that we may have had that are unknown to others around us.

ANGELA DAVIS: Fiyyaz, I welcomed you into the studio. I said the same thing. I'm sorry, I don't feel well. And share with others what you told me about what is probably going on with me.

FIYYAZ KARIM: Yeah. I think kind of similar to what Dr. B. was mentioning, the fact that we carry grief and trauma, the weight and how we carry it in our bodies, those physical symptoms those somatic symptoms, the headaches, the susceptibility to migraines, the stomach aches, the dizziness. All of those things are a response to grief, and it's very multifaceted.

So it's not just the physical symptoms, but a lot of times, those physical symptoms are tied to just behaviors and just the lack of maybe taking care of ourselves, engaging in proper self-care. And that's going to impact those symptoms even worse because a lot of times, we're not eating properly during these times. We're not sleeping.

And you think about just the importance of quality sleep and how that's going to impact us the next day and feeling more tired, lethargic, sluggish. It's going to impact attention, concentration, how we navigate school, work, and other areas of our lives though too. And I think as Dr. B. was saying, the trauma piece complicates that grief though too, especially when we're dealing with collective losses because we have this collective grief with all--

ANGELA DAVIS: What is collective grief? Tell me what that means.

FIYYAZ KARIM: So collective grief is this kind of the more community sorts of losses and traumas. And so these are the ones that we may not necessarily be impacted directly but more of that vicarious. So hearing those stories, those narratives, and just the impact and the toll it takes on us.

ANGELA DAVIS: And everyone around you in your circle, they're sad too.

FIYYAZ KARIM: Correct. But then there's also the anticipatory grief aspect though too, the worry about the future, these secondary losses that Dr. B. alluded to, the loss of hopes and dreams, the loss of control. That's a very, very big one right now, this loss of control. And the safety concerns, the trust concerns, all of those are kind of a result of both these collective losses and anticipatory grief that we're experiencing right now.

ANGELA DAVIS: As we talk with two mental health professionals, I want to talk to our listeners too. And the question is, how have you been able to cope with the losses you've experienced the last couple of years? And what has helped you? What advice do you have for others who are struggling with grief? How are you doing right now? The phone lines are open. Call us at 651-227-6000 or you can also call 800-242-2828. Dr. B. and Fiyyaz, I want to take a phone call from a listener in Ely. We have Laura on the phone. Hi, Laura. Thank you for calling in.

FIYYAZ KARIM: Hi. Good morning.


FIYYAZ KARIM: Last night, I didn't sleep. I cried all night for those people because their lives are changed forever. We lost our son 37 years ago from a rare form of cancer. And it's something, we lost our parents both my husband and I. But that's the natural order of things. But you're not supposed to bury your children. And I would just like to say to people, be careful what you say to these parents.

I mean, people said things to us like, God took Davy because he was going to do something bad later in life, or he's in a better place. No, the best place is with your parents in life. And I just want to-- and these people don't have to go through these certain stages of grief and then it should be over. It's never over when it's a child. And my heart aches for them because their lives are changed forever.

And we've learned to live with it the best we can. People even told me I should take any pictures of my dead son out of my house or, isn't it about time you got over this? You never get over it. And I don't think people should tell you that it's time you get over it. Unless they've experienced the loss of a child, they don't know what they're talking about.

ANGELA DAVIS: Laura, I'm so sorry. I want you to hold on because I want our two guests to be able to talk with you. Laura says that she didn't sleep last night. She cried all night. As we were just talking about what's happening right now, it sort of reopens wounds for many people.

FIYYAZ KARIM: Yeah. And I'm guessing just the events that have transpired in the last couple of days or even a couple of weeks has brought up a lot of self-reflection on your own losses. So I'm sorry to hear about your loss. I think the crying aspect, though, a lot of times, that can be very cathartic though too.

It could be very liberating to use that as an outlet as well though too. But I think that's a big thing with losses. As Dr. B. says, we've constantly been in loss. And so with all these different new losses and traumas that we've been enduring, that's going to bring up old stuff though too.

ANGELA DAVIS: Dr. B., what would you say to Laura?

BRAVADA GARRETT-AKINSANYA: Well, I want to say to her you don't stop being a mother because your child is dead. And when people think you changed your relationship, they are wrong. You'll always be a mother. And I think the comforting thing I can say to you is that the place you went, the tears you shed are the other tears that only a mother can shed, a mother who has experienced what you've been through, sister.

And so you represent the voice of many mothers who aren't on this show, many mothers who are still grieving the loss of their babies and their children. And so I say you have to lean into it because it's never going to go away like you said. It will never-- you'll never stop being a mom. And so as I think about the grief that we're experiencing, it triggers pain in many of us.

Whether we had children or not, we had mothers. And when we talk about mothers, we-- one of the biggest things with George Floyd when he was murdered that touched us all so deeply was his crying for his mother. So I think there's a lot of significance in parenthood when you lose a child. And she's so right when she says that it's not the natural order of things.

And in fact, my husband's Nigerian, Yoruba tribe. If a parent has a child that dies, they can't bear witness to the funeral. They actually have other ways of grieving because it is so unnatural for a room full of babies to be killed in the snap of a finger by an assault weapon that's meant for war. So I just say, sister, I hear you. I hear you I know your grief is real.

And it's deep, and you can only touch that grief because you are a mother like those many, many mothers. And I think that's what her tears were about. I imagine because she knows. And so I pray that we all make it through it, that we make it through it together and we realize we don't have to grieve alone that's the only thing about it. We don't have to grieve alone.

ANGELA DAVIS: Laura, you're there in Ely. Do you have friends and community and people you can talk to and to be with you?

LAURA: Yes in a way. But most people, like a lot of our friends when David died, they avoided us. And they think that it's best not to even bring him up. But as a mother, you're never going to forget them and you like to talk about them. It's not that you're just living in the past.

It's just that person was a big part of your life. And he was such a loving child. And I spent so much time with him having chemotherapy, which he had 28 days a month, all IVs. Never complained. It's like somebody cuts a piece of your heart out of your body.

ANGELA DAVIS: And your love for him is still very much alive.


ANGELA DAVIS: Laura, thank you for calling and sharing your story.

LAURA: I appreciate giving me the time. Thank you very much.

ANGELA DAVIS: Take care of yourself. To our guests, I want to talk about this date and today. And two years ago today, George Floyd lost his life. And I know that many people will be going to George Floyd Square today to mark the anniversary of his death, his murder by a Minneapolis Police officer. So I want to talk about why visiting the site is important. Why is it important to confront something that caused so many people so much pain and so much grief? Do you want to begin that for us, Fiyyaz?

FIYYAZ KARIM: Sure. I think with anniversaries, a very big piece of how we process the grief is through mourning rituals. And when you have various losses and traumas like the murder of George Floyd, it is finding ways to pay homage, pay respect to that loss. And we've seen this through like visiting the site itself, and even just the site and the meaning making behind that site.

Because you think about just what has come up with that site, just the art and just other ways that individuals have been able to grieve and process that loss through poetry, through music, through art. And all of those things are really encapsulated in that area. And so for a lot of individuals going to that site today, it's going to be a very powerful piece to be able to just self-reflect on this day, be able to express those emotions. And it can be a sense of catharsis though too in coping with this loss.

ANGELA DAVIS: And Dr. B., your thoughts about people going to George Floyd Square today in Minneapolis to mark the anniversary of his murder?

BRAVADA GARRETT-AKINSANYA: I do think it can be cathartic. And I do believe that it gives us perspective. We go back there so that we won't forget. We go back there so that we won't forget to change, to be empowered, to share our grief with one another. We won't forget that we are a part of humanity and that we're all each other's brothers and sisters and that when one of us hurts, the rest of us hurts.

There's an African proverb that says the axe forgets what the tree remembers. And those of us who have been harmed, we remember the harm. And when we go back to that place, it lets us pay homage to the fact that we are all still in recovery and we, again, don't have to do it alone.

ANGELA DAVIS: And grief that's triggered by racist violence, is there something that is in particular that's just different about that, Dr. B., and trying to cope with that?

BRAVADA GARRETT-AKINSANYA: Yeah, it is. And I want to say that what happens when there is hate? Hate actually hurts. And it doesn't just hurt the victim, it hurts those who are the victimizers. Because you have to lose a part of your humanity to harm or kill another human being.

So part of that process of dealing with racism and racial hate and hate crimes is that it affects us so deeply and severely that they've actually done studies where they look at the brain waves of a person who has experienced severe physical assault and compared those brain waves to a person who's experienced hate crimes and discrimination.

And do you know that the brain waves look exactly the same? That when you're experiencing that kind of hate, that your brain waves resemble those who have had physical assaults. So it hurts. It hurts to be hated. It hurts.

ANGELA DAVIS: One of the reasons I wanted to have this conversation is I saw an article, I think, in a medical journal, Fiyyaz, about a new diagnosis called prolonged grief disorder. And I understand it affects a small percentage of people, but define that for us. What is prolonged grief disorder?

FIYYAZ KARIM: Sure. So prolonged grief disorder is a newer addition to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, the DSM, which clinicians practitioners will use for diagnosing individuals with mental health disorders. This is not something that is new though to the field. This is something that's been talked about for the last 10 plus years. But it was only last month that it was finally added to the manual.

And it really looks at just how we react to death and losses and just more of that chronic kind of impact. And so the symptoms that we've talked about throughout the show, the physical symptoms, the emotional, the behavioral symptoms, those actions, where it impacts someone to the capacity where it impairs their functioning in one or more different areas. And so there's a very specific time frame.

But again, as you mentioned, it's going to really only be applicable to a very small percentage. And I've read some of the studies and research that says that it might be like 4% of individuals would actually meet the criteria for this. Because the symptoms have to be going on consistently for a year for adults to meet this diagnosis of prolonged grief.

ANGELA DAVIS: I'm happy to hear that there is new research into grief because there are all kinds of grief as we will talk you know about today. But some people are feeling emotionally numb. Like just numb, like I don't have anything left to give. Is that a sign of grief?

FIYYAZ KARIM: Yes, that's a very common sign of grief, just this feeling of shock, numbness, maybe even lack of affect or emotion. That's a very, very typical reaction, especially immediately following a loss, but even coming up to anniversaries. And it may not even be the day of. It could be even a couple of days leading up to. That's where we see this uptick or surge of emotions coming back up, though too.

ANGELA DAVIS: Let's take another phone call as we talk about grief and prolonged grief. And I want to know what is helping people cope with the losses that we have all experienced in the last couple of years. I'm talking with two therapists, and the phone line is open. Call us at 651-227-6000. Again, 651-227-6000 or 800-242-2828. In Minneapolis, Robert's on the phone. Hi, Robert. Thank you for calling in. What did you want to tell us?

ROBERT: Good morning, and good morning to all. I was just remembering my childhood abuse. There was sexual abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse. And I think that's the trauma that that's probably the most impactful throughout my life, including my current age, 61 years old. But as events happen through my life, the September 11 attacks and then living right here in Minneapolis with the George Floyd murder and then the following riots.

But I'm also somebody who is now abstinent from substance abuse for several decades. And in the work that I've done for that, I've developed really, really strong bonds with fellows that are also recovering from substance abuse. Many, many of us also have child abuse histories that we're recovering from together.

And I am just so, so fortunate and blessed to have all of that history of recovery and connection with other human beings and developing this really strong community to be facing life as it happens. As I age, the death of my brother, the death of my mother, I was able to experience those with what I would call real healthy grief and recovery from that and real appreciation for who they were. Anyway--

ANGELA DAVIS: And Robert, community, did that help you, like having a community and being able to just talk about it to confront it and talk about it? Did that help you a lot, do you think?

ROBERT: I think my very life depends on my community and those bonds. Certainly, my sanity and my ability to stay away from harmful substances on a day-to-day basis. Yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: Thank you for calling in, Robert. Dr. B. Robert's talking about sitting with the grief, confronting the grief, and turning to people and talking about it.

BRAVADA GARRETT-AKINSANYA: Yeah. And I think that's a core way that we make it through the grief. And you heard me a couple of times say, we're not suffering alone. It's something very powerful about that sense of community. It's something very powerful about our connection with one another. It's that same connection of seeing each other as part of our community that makes us sad.

That's why we can see someone and vicariously experience trauma because it seems like they're someone we know or they remind us of someone we know and love. And we connect with them on a very human level. So that same connection that makes us feel grief very deeply is the same one that helps us heal. And so that's why I keep emphasizing how powerful community is. They demonstrate to us that we'll live through it.

They hold our hands. They cry with us. They believe our truth and bear witness with us as we see pain around us and as we walk through it together. So I think that as we're talking today about what helps us get through this kind of prolonged grief circumstances and the trauma and the trauma anniversaries is knowing that we're not alone in that space. We're not alone with our pain. And there are those who love us and will hold us and take us through it.

ANGELA DAVIS: I'm just thinking of something that one of our mutual friends, a therapist and social worker, book author Resmaa Menakem often says, Dr. B. He says check on your strong friends. Reach out and check on your friends, but particularly your strong friends. And I've been thinking about and trying to do that, just checking in with people. And I appreciate it when people do that to me. All right.


ANGELA DAVIS: I'm sorry. Go ahead.

BRAVADA GARRETT-AKINSANYA: I was going to say because the strong friends, they are not only there for you, but they also need you to be there for them. And we don't want to leave them alone in the pain that they share with us. And so, yes, my brother Resmaa says that all the time that we need to check on our strong friends. And we also have to check on ourselves.

ANGELA DAVIS: Right. And Fiyyaz, Robert our caller, he basically he's talking about not being alone with pain. What can you add to that?

FIYYAZ KARIM: Yeah. And I think that's a very important piece because we know just grief is very isolating. And just the reliance on community, social support, that's a very, very key piece. It's a significant buffer in navigating the grief process, navigating these mental health concerns, addictions.

Not only just for the sense of feeling like I'm not alone, but the fact that being in this healthy community helps to empower one another. It instills hope. And it also provides accountability, though, too in navigating things like sobriety. That's an important piece in making sure that we're continuing to stay sober, for example, like the caller mentioned though too.

ANGELA DAVIS: As we talk about prolonged grief, I want to hear from you too. And I'm just asking, what has helped you cope with the losses you've experienced in the last couple of years? What advice do you have for others who are struggling right now with grief? The phone lines are open.

I want you to call us at 651-227-6000 or 800-242-2828. You can also tweet me @AngelaDavisMPR. We've got more listeners on the line. And I want you to hold on because we're going to take your phone calls. But first, I want to check in with Phil Picardi to get an update on what we are hearing now in the news. Hi, Phil.

PHIL PICARDI: Hi, Angela. Not much is known about the motive of an 18-year-old gunman who shot and killed 19 children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school yesterday. The gunman shot the kids in a classroom and then barricaded himself before he was shot and killed by responding officers. All of the victims were in the same fourth grade classroom at Robb Elementary School. A civic center in Uvalde, Texas is where families have gathered with loved ones and community members. Volunteers have brought Bibles and therapy dogs.

The Texas massacre adds to the state's grim recent history of mass shootings. More than 85 people have been killed in five mass shootings in Texas since 2017. The victims have included worshippers at a church, shoppers at a Walmart, and drivers on a highway. There is a call for stricter gun laws in the state, but some argue the state has only gotten more relaxed when it comes to gun laws. Others are calling for beefed up security at elementary schools.

In closely watched Republican Georgia primary elections yesterday, Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger won their primaries. Former President Donald Trump endorsed opponents of the two men. Trump-endorsed Senate candidate Herschel Walker did win his primary, and controversial Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene shrugged off her challengers.

The head of the Food and Drug Administration addresses a baby formula shortage today in Congress. FDA commissioner Robert Califf appears before House lawmakers. He will tell them a COVID-19 outbreak at Abbott's formula plant led to delayed inspection of that plant. A whistleblower there alleged serious violations at the baby formula plant last October.

And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the World Economic Forum today. He said Russia must pull back to its pre-war positions as a first step before diplomatic talks. More news ahead on MPR News. The time now is 9:37.


ANGELA DAVIS: I'm Angela Davis, and I want to let you know that coming up next at 10:00 AM, you can listen to a special program called Texas Standard. It's produced by our Public Radio colleagues around the state of Texas. Today, they'll share the latest news and reaction to yesterday's school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Again, that is at 10:00 o'clock right after this show. Then at noon, be sure to check out Minnesota Now by Cathy Wurzer. And tomorrow morning at 9:00, I'll be talking about breastfeeding.

The baby formula shortage has put many parents in dire situations. And breastfeeding isn't the easy answer for many people. Not as easy as many people may think. Tomorrow at 9:00, I'm talking about the racial and class disparities and who breastfeeds and efforts to close that gap. Miss any of our conversations? Check them out on the podcast. Just search for MPR News with Angela Davis wherever you get your podcasts.

SPEAKER 1: Wellness Wednesdays programming is supported by UCare. New to Medicare? You can talk with a Medicare decomplicator for help finding a plan that fits your needs. Learn more at

SPEAKER 2: Support for mental health reporting comes from Saint Mary's University, offering an MA in counseling and psychological services. Gain a solid understanding of human behavior to help others. More at

ANGELA DAVIS: Back now to our conversation about prolonged grief and how to cope. My guest today include Dr. B, BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya, who's a psychologist here in the Twin Cities who specializes in African-American mental health. We also have with us Fiyyaz Karim who has worked as a therapist and led group discussions about grief and loss. He now teaches at the University of Minnesota.

And we're taking your phone calls. I want to know what has helped you cope with the losses that you have experienced across your life, especially in the last couple of years. How are you dealing with your grief? And who has helped you? What advice do you have for others who are struggling today? Call us at 651-227-6000. Tweet me @AngelaDavisMPR. In Edina, I want to take a phone call from Megan. Megan, thank you for waiting. And what did you want to share with everyone?

MEGAN: Thank you, Angela, for having this conversation today. I'm sorry.

ANGELA DAVIS: It's all right.

MEGAN: I'm struggling.

ANGELA DAVIS: It's all right.

MEGAN: 30 years ago on May 4th I lost my younger brother to a self-inflicted gunshot wound. And I'm the one that found him. I was 14. I would just-- I struggle with being retraumatized with every gun incident, and I don't want to be selfish in what happened yesterday. This is not about me. But just your guess, how do I process this? Or like I tried to avoid any news because seeing imagery is really bad for me. And I made the mistake of turning on the news last night, and they were showing-- I'm sorry to be graphic-- they were showing--


MEGAN: --a blood stain on the sidewalk.

ANGELA DAVIS: Megan, it's OK. And you don't have to say another word. But I do want you to stay on the line because I want to make sure our guests do have an opportunity to talk with you. I'm so sorry for everything that you've been through and what you're feeling right now. And Dr. B., we've been talking about what we're seeing right now, how it's just triggering and just reopening these wounds.

BRAVADA GARRETT-AKINSANYA: Yeah. And I'm also very sad to hear that you're holding that burden so deeply. And so I think sometimes, we think that the years should make the grief fall away. But when it's that kind of a traumatic exposure, that kind of a traumatic grief, you really need to talk to a therapist. You really need to have a circle of friends.

You really need to have all the help you can physically and emotionally get because that is not a normal grief that you're experiencing, my sister. It's not normal. And so that's why it's lasted as it is. You're not going to ever stop loving and grieving your brother. But it won't be so real and it won't be so tender as you explore other ways of dealing with it.

Frankly, one of the biggest things I believe about grief is that when you connect it with your body that you begin to release it. That's one thing. The other thing I believe is that grief requires ritual. And maybe that's because of the African heritage I come from, but many, many rituals help us to make meaning of what we've experienced and endured. And as we make meaning, we often get what we call post-traumatic growth.

So after we experience trauma and work through it with help, we can actually turn it in a way that we can use it to go beyond what we ever imagined. We can take that anger, that pain, and that rage, and we can reform it into a space where we can heal. And not only us. We can take people with us in that journey of healing. So that's the gift I have for you today is knowing that, one, you're not alone. You don't have to continue to carry it alone.

That as long as you feel it is real and it's raw, you need to seek support. And you deserve it. You have the right to be well. Every single person has a right to be well and a right not to have to hold that albatross of pain because it slows you down. And it gets you stuck. And you deserve to be beyond this. And that's the gift I give you today. I don't know what else to say except you have to get help with it. It's not yours alone. People love you.

ANGELA DAVIS: Hey, guys. We were talking about news coverage and setting boundaries, right? Trying to take care of ourselves so that we can function. And what would you want people to know about trying to protect their mental health and setting boundaries?

FIYYAZ KARIM: Yeah. I think it's important, especially because these sorts of events can retraumatize and serve as a trigger. We want to develop some healthy boundaries around it because just hearing those news stories will bring up some of these old narratives and reflections that people have.

And I think it's just-- we want to keep up-to-date with the coverage and the news, but we want to do it in healthy doses though too. I think maybe setting some parameters like I'm only going to look at social media for a certain amount of time per day or I'm only going to listen in to the news for a certain amount of time each day though too because I think that's a huge piece.

But I would echo what Dr. B. said about the support. And this trauma, this grief is a very, very unique one because of the trauma. And I think getting the help and what Dr. B. mentioned about just the focus on our bodies. There's a lot of therapies that can really assist with that, whether it's like sensory motor or EMDR, for example, that can really address both the trauma and the grief.

And I think the rituals is another important piece because a lot of times we think about rituals, and usually, we think about rituals and doing them around like holidays or anniversaries. But we also want to have prepared and create rituals when these triggers may come up unexpected as in like the last couple of days though too.

ANGELA DAVIS: And Dr. B, as a journalist, it's part of my job to keep up to date on new developments. But I've deliberately tried to avoid seeing any photos, any video, any images. I can't handle it. And so what would you say to folks who are struggling with trying to know what's going on, but really knowing that they can't handle all the details or, again, the pictures? Like I just I don't want to see that right now. I can't deal with that.

BRAVADA GARRETT-AKINSANYA: Yeah. I understand that. And I think just like my brother was saying, taking it in doses. Knowing that you may want to know what's going on around you, a lot of times you do better by reading a paper than you do by looking at a TV show. And if you are aware of how grief feels when you have it-- if you are aware in your body of what that trauma feels like, like you were saying earlier when we started the show about feeling nausea, that's a sign for you that this is getting to be too much.

And all of us have signs if we just stop and listen to our bodies. Some people begin to sweat, their palms get sweaty, their heart beats a little faster than normal. I talked about the dizziness. People often feel like they can't sleep and they toss and turn or they oversleep. So all of the things that you see changing in your normal way of being, those are clues that your body is telling you, I've had too much of this or that.

And I think if you just listen to your body, the natural healing process will take place. Because I've learned as a therapist that-- an old woman told me, she said, Dr. B., you can't teach a wound to heal. You only need to create an environment for that healing to take place. The wound will know how to heal.

So creating that environment for yourself, for all of ourselves whether that be with friends and family, whether it be long walks or prayer or whatever we do, multiple things we do to create that environment where healing can take place, that's what I would recommend. Because the doses, when you get too much of anything. It can be triggering. And even if it's very soft and very raw, even a little bit can trigger you. So just knowing yourself and really listening to your body, I think, is the first step to going through it in a way that can be safer.

ANGELA DAVIS: As we talk more about coping, ways to cope, and what you can do to feel better to get through a tough time, Fiyyaz, I know that you've had people write goodbye letters. Talk to me about the type of grief where you think writing a goodbye letter would be helpful.

FIYYAZ KARIM: Well, I think it just goes back to a technique and a strategy that's oftentimes used with both grief and trauma and just the power of writing. Because a lot of times we think about when we grieve, there's this assumption that it should be expressed more emotionally. And that can be very cathartic as we've talked about. For many people, it can be very helpful.

But there's a lot of power. And for some, it is just getting it on paper, whether it's journaling or blogging or goodbye letters. So with certain losses, especially when the individual feels like there's unsaid things or maybe they're feeling like they want a sense of, quote, unquote, "closure," it's writing a goodbye letter.

And I have found that very powerful and helpful for not only losses of loved ones due to death and dying, but it could be writing a goodbye letter to an old relationship like due to a breakup or a divorce. It could be due to a job loss or like a layoff. So I think there's a lot of power in writing, and that can be an outlet and it can be very cathartic though too.

ANGELA DAVIS: Let's talk more about the losses that we saw during the pandemic. I mean, we've talked about death. But a lot of folks lost a lifestyle. They lost a job. They lost financial security. They lost a relationship with someone they loved. There was a breakup. There was a divorce, all kinds of different losses. Milestones. There wasn't the graduation. There wasn't the reunion. There wasn't the Christmas dinner or whatever celebration. And maybe a loss of identity. What does that kind of loss and grief look like? And what do you do about that?

FIYYAZ KARIM: And I think that's the big piece with some of these collective griefs is all the secondary losses and the accumulation of these secondary losses-- the loss of freedom, the loss of social connections, the loss of structure and routine, individuals having to pivot for work and school, the loss of milestones. And then just the overall the loss of hopes and dreams and as a result of that though too.

And very different aspects of identity has also been impacted because of these impacts on routine and structure that has impacted who we are in terms of our work, our profession, or other areas of our life as a partner, as a child. And so those different roles are also important to recognize how much of an impact it's had.

Because I think the big one that I see is ones like around identity. And I think that's where doing some self reflection and looking at who am I now, what does this new identity look like for me? And that's going to continue to evolve and change as we navigate going forward.

ANGELA DAVIS: So I'm hearing you say recognize it. And is there a power in just recognizing it and calling it something like giving it a name, naming it?

FIYYAZ KARIM: Yeah, I think naming it as grief, naming it as trauma these things that we've talked about. Because I think a lot of times, we don't name it as grieving these secondary losses or even the pandemic. I've worked with a lot of individuals where they may not even recognize or name it as grief. And I think that's a huge piece.

And being able to navigate how we cope with these various losses and seeking out the help. We've talked a lot about the importance of seeking out help. Especially with these identity-related losses associated with the pandemic, I think that's where relying on that community, relying on that social support, or relying on help whether it's like individual therapy, support groups--

ANGELA DAVIS: Trained mental health professionals.

FIYYAZ KARIM: Yes, exactly.

ANGELA DAVIS: I want to take another phone call as we talk about grief, coping with grief, and getting through it. The number is 651-227-6000. In Saint Paul, Andrea is on the line. Or is it Andrea?

ANDREA: It's Andrea. Thank you for asking.

ANGELA DAVIS: Andrea. I always have to ask. All right. What did you want to share with us?

ANDREA: Well, first of all, I wanted to say thank you for your time, and thank you for having this segment. It is a great way to know that you're not on an island alone. Unfortunately, back in 2020, I lost my mother unexpectedly to a heart attack. And at the same time, the world was kind of up in arms so it was a total shock to the system.

In that time, what I found for me, that worked was, as simple as it is complicated, be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to grieve. Allow yourself to be not OK. And don't rush the process. And when people reach out to you, accept that help. It's a way of showing-- they're showing you love, and this is something that you can't go through alone.

And I also found that picking up hobbies that you may have enjoyed in the past when that person was around really helps also. And I think also what helps as well is just understanding that this is your new normal and adapting to that. And just like I said, being kind to yourself.

ANGELA DAVIS: Thank you for sharing that. I love that advice, Andrea. Dr. B., I've heard in the last two years, a lot of the phrase, it's OK not to be OK. What happens when we end up pretending things are OK when they are not?

BRAVADA GARRETT-AKINSANYA: Yeah. It's not fair. It's not fair to ourselves. It's not fair to those around us. And that's why I keep saying we have a right to be authentically well. We have a right to walk through our world with whatever feelings we have holding them, experiencing them.

And I wanted to just touch on the fact that sometimes, as much as I love to have people journal and write songs and poetry, sometimes it takes just beating a drum. Sometimes it takes just humming. Sometimes you don't have the words for that pain. And it's OK not to have the words for the pain. Just recognize that it's there and sit with it. And so all these different ways of dealing with grief are all legitimate as long as it works for you.

And making sure that you do care for yourself in a way that you're nurturing that inner child, the one that is still waiting for the world to be good, waiting for the world to be right. That part of us that still holds that even a modicum of hope, that part of that keeps us going, we have to listen to that because that's the one that says, it's OK not to be OK.

It's OK to still play. It's OK to cry. It's OK to be angry. That part of us is our core being. And I love what the guest said about what she said about doing things that you used to do whether it was art or going bowling or whatever it is. Finding and clinging and holding onto yourself. That's important. And that's a really critical part of the healing process.

ANGELA DAVIS: I mentioned calling and checking on friends or even just spending time with self-reflection. And I want to ask you, Dr. B. and Fiyyaz, can you give me some words, some language? Like what is the conversation I need to be having with myself? What is the conversation? What are some phrases to share with people I care about and I just want to let them know that I do care about them? Any suggestions, Dr. B.?

BRAVADA GARRETT-AKINSANYA: You're a woman of many words. [LAUGHS]

ANGELA DAVIS: I got a lot of words. I want the right words, though.

BRAVADA GARRETT-AKINSANYA: So I think the words are, I love you, I care about you, I'm there for you like you're there for me. Just talking from your spirit, that deep space that says, I see you. I hear you. I'm with you. I love you. I need you. I appreciate you.

And just as simple as that is, it's so powerful when you are personally hurting and when other people feel like they're being hated or harmed or broken down, those words are very powerful. Simply go to your spirit and your heart and let it speak. Let it speak. Believe in that part that's greater than anything. We can't name it easily. We can't control it easily. But when we love, we love big and we show it. That's how we do it.

ANGELA DAVIS: Fiyyaz, you have some words? What would you--

FIYYAZ KARIM: No, I was actually thinking the opposite. I mean, I think the words are great. I think sometimes, though, we get so wound up with the words and trying to figure out the right things to say and how to comfort that person. But I know for a lot of individuals grieving where they don't necessarily want the words. They just want someone to sit and be there with them, just providing that space just to be there and just the power of silence though too.

And so sometimes it isn't about the words. For some, the words are very important. And so I think it really depends on the individual. But for some, they just want to just-- kind of you to sit there and maybe to validate and making sure-- letting them know that it's OK. Like hey, you know what? You're grieving. Like you're not going to be on your A-game today. That's OK.

ANGELA DAVIS: We're going to sit here with this grief, and we're going to move forward. Unfortunately, our time is up. But I want to thank our guests. I want to thank our listeners who shared their advice and shared their pain. And I'm thinking about, and I'm happy we're having these conversations.

Our guests today, Fiyyaz Karim who's worked as a therapist and led group discussions about grief and loss, teaches at the University of Minnesota. And Dr. B., BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya, a psychologist who specializes in African-American mental health. Thank you Dr. B. Thank you, Fiyyaz. Take care of yourselves today. This conversation was produced by Maya Backstrom.

SPEAKER 3: Programming is supported by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux community, a sovereign tribal nation in Scott County now hiring. Learn more about the tribe at and at its public exhibit in Shakopee.

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