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In Remembrance of Pulse

by Debo Ofsowitz

Everything was normal at 2 am, Sunday morning, June 12, 2016. Most people were sleeping quietly in their homes, others were out walking their dogs, some were waiting on their ride after a night downtown partying, and more than 300 attending Latin Night at one of their favorite hot spots were dancing and ordering their last call drinks.

And then at 2:02 am, everything became decidedly NOT normal. The Pulse tragedy killed 49 people, wounded 53, and left a community terrified, heartbroken, and deeply damaged.

Time passed. People struggled to heal, hearts struggled to unbreak, and a community struggled to show solidarity and find enlightenment. Despite some very painful and poignant reminders, things began to settle into a “new” normal. People were finally seeking the help they have needed through years of trying to deal with their feelings of guilt and remorse. It was normal for Orlando Strong, One Orlando, and Keep Dancing to become the new memes, the new hashtags. Alliances of LGBTQ+ and Latin organizations came together to serve our most marginalized communities and promote acts of love and kindness.

Remembrance and Celebration

It was a new normal that now included an annual remembrance for those lost and a celebration of the strength and love of a community, our community. They began to feel safe again. People went back to work. They went back to night clubs, and ate at restaurants, and went to movies. They joked with friends, complained about politics, spent time with their families. And the new normal felt, well normal.

In past years these remembrance events were crowds of energy, vibrating with love, and a sense of being there together for one reason and with one purpose. Standing together at Pulse on a sweaty June evening with the threat of rain and the consistent appearance of a rainbow or two always reinforces the feelings of strength and resilience in our community. Being in a crowd of others crying when names are read and bells are tolled makes it impossible to feel alone in grief.

But this year there will be no crowds. This year’s remembrance will be virtual to best follow Covid-19 regulations. While it will include the tolling of the bells and a reading of the names, human contact will be missed. No matter what, we will feel disconnected. How do we mourn and find comfort in this decidedly not normal time? We must rely on the resources that surround us to shore up our strength. We must find ways to connect with those that we are closest to.

Always Connected

I asked my friend Brandon Wolf, a Pulse survivor who lost his two best friends that night, for his thoughts on this year’s unique struggle. Brandon, who is now the Development Officer & Media Relations Manager for Equality Florida responded by saying, “To be honest, this may be one of the most challenging years yet in the journey to healing after Pulse. The country is caught in the throes of multiple crises and our usual remedies of gathering to comfort each other are not readily available. Attending this year’s Remembrance virtually is going to be tough, as I have always looked to the spirit of togetherness on June 12 to help get me through.”

Shifting to a more hopeful attitude, Brandon continues by pointing out that “we have all become masters of innovating new ways of staying connected,” and he says, “I am excited to see how we guide ourselves through seemingly endless trauma to find healing together on June 12.”

As we approach June 12, I urge you to take advantage of one of our online virtual support groups or join one of Peer Support Space’s daily Community Support calls. Grief and anger are real. They have been triggered by recent events occurring in the present and the coming days. They will be triggered again by thoughts and memories of the past. Know that there are safe spaces to share your thoughts, to cry your grief, and to feel supported by others who do know what it’s like to be in your shoes.

Remember to Reach Out

In addition to professionally guided support, don’t forget to reach out to your loved ones. Phone and video calls with the people you love is a sure way to make you feel safe and connected. Your friends want to be there for you. Give them the chance to.

And lastly, don’t forget to reach out to yourself. Take a moment every day when you wake up to find gratitude for your breath. Look in the mirror and say, “I love myself.” Do a sun salutation. Take a long meandering walk. Open a window and breathe in the smell of the rain. Whatever can inspire a bit of your happy place, do it. Get up away from the TV and the pretzels and just do this one thing.

I want to wish you a beautiful and glorious, safe, and healthy, and, above all, a happy pride month. When you feel memories tugging you into despair, reach out. Do not forget that we are here. Do not forget that we are Orlando Strong. And do not forget that You Matter.

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