When we "meet our grief bravely" – the healing begins
The board of Örninn with Allison Gilbert in the middle holding her latest book Listen, World! which came to be an 11 year long project in her life. Photo/Sent to mbl.is
“The things Örninn is doing is a game-changer for grieving children in this country,” says the journalist and author Allison Gilbert , who is the main speaker in a seminar held by the organization today at Vídalínskirkja in Garðabær, but today is the Children's Grief Awareness Day. The seminar starts at 12 o’clock and the president of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson , will launch the seminar followed by Gilbert’s presentation about working with grief. Later today at 17:30 pm there will be a moment in the church where loved ones are remembered with music.
Örninn was founded in 2018 by Heiðrún Jensdóttir and rev. Jóna Hrönn Bolladóttir for children who have lost a loved one and their families. It all started because Jensdóttir had lost her grown up son and found that there were no programs or assistance for his 10 year old daughter to get help to deal with her grief. She started doing research on grief associations and then she decided to start Örninn with Bolladóttir.
There are meetings monthly during winter and in the summer there are weekend trips with children where they get tools that help them deal with grief and the idea is to focus on hope and joy. Now there have seven groups of children gone to the countryside for a weekend and in 2021 a group started in Akureyri, serving the northern part of Iceland. Rev. Matthildur Bjarnadóttir, who is a grief councellor as well, is the manager of the work of the association.
Sought after speaker worldwide
Allison Gilbert is a known journalist in her home country, the United States, and the author of many books. Her passion is helping and supporting grieving children and she has done a lot of work in that field. She is on the advisory board of one of the most preeminent organisations to support grieving military families called TAPS, that stands for Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. It is the leading organisation assisting military families in the United States. She was also on the board of directors on the National Alliance of Children’s Grief (NACG). “I am very proud to have served on that board,” she says.
Allison Gilbert is a renowned journalist and author and a sought after speaker worldwide. Photo sent to mbl.is
Gilbert has uniquely qualified for her line of work having had personal experiences with grief and loss. “I lost both of my parents to cancer, and while I wasn’t a child, I was a very young adult. My mother died before I was married, before I had children. So I have written a lot about going forward in my life without either one of my parents being able to get to be grandparents and pass along their traditions, to pass along what means so much to them, their values. So now that I have two children, I feel that it is my job, or at least one of my jobs, to make sure that my children know all about their grandparents they never got the chance to know."
An American flag decorates the Oculus at the National September 11 Memorial as New York marks the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 terror attack at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2023 in New York. AFP/Kena Betancur
Survivor of 9/11
On the fateful day of September 11 2001 Gilbert was sent to cover the attacks on the twin towers for local NBC in New York. “When the second tower came down, I was caught in that time, running, running, running, from the falling debris and was nearly killed. I was very lucky to survive. I reported live on TV from my hospital bed, because that was my job, and I ended being one of the lucky ones who survived. I feel immense gratitude that I now understand the pain of trauma, the pain of grief and the pain of loss and can use this horrific experience to hopefully help others who are going through their own tragedies.”
In the National Memorial & Museum of the 9/11 attacks in New York Gilbert's voice leads the guests through the exhibition and she tells me she feels very honored to have been the only journalist that was asked to do that.
People need to feel supported
“The upside of my experiences is that I now can use them to help others through my writing of articles, my writing of books and through my work on the board of the National Alliance for Children’s Grief. I also will say that I work with an organisation called For Grief. This work is very important to me because it provides resources online and for many people who live in areas where they don’t have grief support in person, because it is too far to travel or access is not readily accessible. It is very important that they can get access to reliable, trusted information, on demand courses, events you can attend just by signing on to your computer makes people feel supported and not left alone. So the work For Grief is very important for places like Iceland, because not everyone can travel and not everyone can be near grief support. All of this makes me so excited to come to Iceland,” she says.
It is important to feel a part of a community where you can share the feelings you are experiencing. Photo sent to mbl.is
Fiction and facts
“I know that the people of Iceland are lovers of books. They love a good story and are big readers. I think there is a story that too often we tell ourselves, that children do not need grief support. That is what we like to call fiction, because we do know that children need grief support. That is non-fiction or a fact. We know that helping children to remember their mother, or their father or their grandparents or their sibling helps them a lot. It does three things for them. It acknowledges, validates and it promotes healing,” she says and adds that a lot of research has shown that not addressing a child’s grief has adverse consequences.
A poem that led to 11 year research
Gilbert's latest book is Listen, World! and it is the biography of Elsie Robinson who came from nothing to become the most-read woman columnist in the United States and the highest-paid woman writer in the William Randolph Hearst media empire.
What started Gilbert on this journey of finding everything about Elsie Robinson was a poem she found in her mother's belongings called Pain. Here are the last lines of the poem:
To have felt Love and Honor,
Courage and Ecstasy
Is worth – any price.
And so – since hurt is the price
Of Larger living, I will not
Hate pain, nor try to escape it.
Instead I will try to meet it
Bravely, bear it proudly:
Not as a cross, or a misfortune, but an
Opportunity, a privilege, a challenge – to the God that
gropes within me.
"Reading this poem set me on course of writing this book," she tells me and says she had to find everything she could about Elsie Robinson. It was a journey that took 11 years but was a process that was very fulfilling and the book has received critical acclaim and just recently won the Northern California Book Award.
"Story ideas for books can come from the most intimate places, the most private places and for me finding this poem that Elsie Robinson wrote that my mother had re-typed and kept all these years, was transformative for me. And Elsie Robinson wrote so beautifully about grief and loss.
Taking steps to remember is very important. It is about the difference of being passive and pro-active. If we are pro-active that is when the healing can begin. That is also why the work of Örninn is so essential and so important for the children of Iceland."