Humanity Washed Ashore: What To Do With Your Grief by Chandler Rennison

I had heard about the photo of the three year old Syrian child, washed ashore trying to reach an island in Greece. The child, Aylan Kurdi, along with his 5-year old brother, Galip, his mother, and several more people, lost their lives in the waters.

I had heard about the photo, and yet, I was so very frightened to look at the photo. I’ve been of the opinion that there are certain pains one shouldn’t see- needn’t see. I wrote my husband this morning, after hearing someone speak today about the photo. The man on the radio shared that he has two sons of his own, and he said that he was struck by the photo of Aylan because of seeing the child’s sneakers and red shirt. Because as parents, we pick clothes to wrap our children in everyday. I know that this morning I struggled to button the back of my own daughter’s shirt, a shirt her father had lovingly chosen the evening before, ensuring the pants and shirt did NOT match (as we like to do in our household). The mother to Aylan had chosen his red shirt as the shirt her son would wear as they were to make a journey to a new life. And did she spend time tying his shoes, knowing the danger to cross waters? Knowing the dangers if they stayed?

We do whatever it is we can do for our children. In this world. We all have different experiences of what that is, and yet, the primal need to protect our child and provide the best is universal, and extends to all creatures.

I looked at the photo today. And I sat and I cried. I cried a messy cry, but I am certain I chose to do so at work, because I knew I could cry in the confines on my office, but that I wasn’t allowed to go too deep or too dark. I had a meeting to hold. And I would not be able to offer help to my patients if they looked at me with swollen eyes and hiccups. However, when I cry, I look like I’ve cried for hours afterwards. I wear my heart on my sleeve emotionally and physically.

Vulnerability, the badge of courage.

And I cry now. Because what do you do with that pain? With the knowledge that a life was so bad, that the life itself was risked in hopes of escaping one’s country. Knowing a mother took her two children on that journey, and the painful deliberation she must have crossed many times before she boarded her great loves into that boat. Knowing that the love the mother had for Aylan is just as the love I have for my own child. I don’t have an answer. I know this is not the first child’s life lost to war, and I know it will happen again.  I know that like all things in life, we humans evolve and we regress. If the sun must set and rise, if all creatures must be born and must die- that we as humans must evolve and regress.

As a mother, I don’t know how to be constructive in this grief that many are feeling at the sight of Aylan. Realizing that yes: this is a real. As a mother, I hurt in a way that is primal and frightening to see a child wash ashore. Because to see Aylan, is to see my own child.

And so I have to love. We have to love. We have to love so wildly and so unapolegetically our hearts and veins and lungs all meld into one beating drum of solidarity. Of abandon. We have to be compassionate to those seeking refuge. To those who cut us off in traffic. To our husbands when they don’t get it. To ourselves. Our bright beautiful selves who feel too much and don’t know what to do with it.

I don’t know if you have looked at the photo, heard about it, but I hope you will join me in donating to helping support those refugees, those beautifully human mothers, daughters, uncles…those children without a home.


(I found a few websites that you can donate to, that will buy items and kits for refugees, but also a website that helps fund rescue boats that are dedicated to helping those in the dangerous waters, lands, journeys.)


Chandler Rennison
Chandler is married to her beautiful friend, Ben, and is the mother to the most ethereal spitfire of a daughter, Evelyn. They, along with 3 varying sized dogs, live in Charleston, South Carolina where they live loudly and with color. Previously an classical actress in New York City, dabbling in Shakespeare and Chekhov,  she is currently a psychologist in Charleston County School District, working primarily with children and adolescents. Her next move may be to own a farm, where the pig to carrot feel at home.
Photo by Stephen Archer used with creative commons license.
193