If you have ever misplaced something of importance, then you are familiar with the feeling of loss and regret. In accepting the death of a loved one this sense of loss runs even deeper, reaching to the very core of your existence. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss American psychiatrist, explained the process of grief in terms of five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally – acceptance. At first, denial of the recent death serves as a shock absorber or defense mechanism. However, the most obvious and common feeling to occur is anger, as the person moves through psychological crisis– and this will often give way to meditative thoughts on how things could have been different had other circumstances been in play. Despair and depression set in as the grieving person struggles to find meaning in the death of a loved one, and finally there is a realization of acceptance and the ability to move on. For each person, the realization of this acceptance is different, involving a path to insight that is varied and unique. Many of those reading this article would say they have experienced this path and can identify with Kübler-Ross.
The surviving family members of those that have perished in a terrorist attack are no different, but the process is much more intense and involves a psychological need for catharsis – otherwise risking the onset of post traumatic stress disorder or some other psychological scar. In short, a person can easily be enveloped in darkness without a positive reference point to pull them through. No one exemplifies this better than Suse Ellen Lowenstein, a New York artist who designed and created perhaps the most cathartic edification of grief in the modern world, especially in reference to acts of terrorism. She has been a strong proponent for a national monument dedicated to the victims of terrorism, and she has very personal reasons for doing so.
On December 21, 1988, Lowenstein’s son boarded a plane at London’s Heathrow Airport, bound for New York’s JFK International Airport and the celebration of Christmas. Not long after takeoff, a bomb detonated, raining debris on Lockerbie, Scotland and killing all 259 people onboard, as well as 11 people on the ground. An artist by trade, Lowenstein sought catharsis through sculpting, casting herself in the pose she found herself when she first heard the news that her young son had perished – in a process very similar to the counseling technique of “family sculpting.” Furthermore she sought other women who had lost loved ones in the Lockerbie bombing, casting their unique poses just has she had cast her own. Lowenstein’s description of her technique can be viewed in a video posted elsewhere on this site. As Jerry Adler of Newsweek Magazine so aptly described it, her finished work – called “Dark Elegy” – edifies kneeling women with indistinct faces in various poses, “clutching at the air or cradling their heads.” Lowenstein petitioned the U.S. Senate to make her work of labor the national monument dedicated to all victims of terrorism, but her efforts were turned away.
There is a unique point of debate when considering a monument to the victims of terrorism. As Adler also noted in 2001, for the families of the victims it is “obvious that an American citizen who was killed by terrorists was not just a casualty, but an unwitting martyr to his country.” For many average Americans, victims of terrorism are simply fatalities, similar to murder victims or those that have died in traffic accidents. In contrast, to the families that have lost family members in a senseless act of terror, they are heroes to be honored and remembered for the sacrifice of their lives. It is a sense of death – and the acceptance of death – that moves beyond normal grief and reaches into the realm of martyrdom.
Surviving family members like Lowenstein struggle to find a deeper meaning in the death of their loved one – and this is a struggle that stretches the mind and reaches inward to the very depths of existential thought concerning the meaning of life. “When terrorism strikes and it kills your son, or your husband or your wife, everyone is stripped truly to the same level. There is no skin color; there are no rich people or poor people. All people are stripped to the same level of humanity,” Lowenstein has explained. Shaken to the very core of your soul by an act of violence, what positive can you find in life to give meaning to the senseless and tragic death of someone you love so much? The answer can be found in the obvious need for peace that these deaths present to a nation and the whole world. Like Lowenstein’s sculpture, a national monument dedicated to all victims of terrorism should carry a universal appeal for peace. Shining like a guiding light in the midst of darkness, it would serve as a reminder of the senseless hate and vengeance that claimed the lives of unsuspecting victims – and a message to all peace loving people in the world that such acts have no place in society. In that sense, it should be a monument to hope – something that makes you reach deeper into your soul to find the positive in the midst of tragedy. In Lowenstein’s own words, a national monument to the victims of terrorism would not only honor those that have died, but also serve as “a universal appeal for peace and dignity for all victims of senseless hate and vengeance called terrorism – and will be a beacon for all peace loving people.”
Many thanks to Suse Lowenstein for her efforts in proofreading this article. You can visit her website by clicking this link.
You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause. If you have already signed, who else do you know that could?