Losing Notre Dame, But Not Our Hope

Like so many millions of people, I watched in horror as the Notre Dame Cathedral burned. Tears ran down my face as I sat on a plane and helplessly watched the news coverage. I have a particular love for the church and for France. My love for the country started when I was 14 years old and decided to do a six week exchange student program in Nantes and Pornic. I lived with a family for the summer, getting a bit better at the language and falling in love with French culture.

Many of you see pictures that I post frequently from Paris. In 2017, Jim and I bought an apartment in Paris with the plan of spending a good part of our lives there after our children leave for college. Notre Dame is about a 10 minute walk from our place. I have visited the Cathedral more times than I can count. One of my favorite things to do in Paris is to wander into Notre Dame on a Sunday during services and sit listening to the music. The acoustics inside make the music sound haunting and beautiful.

The whole world lost a treasure, temporarily, yesterday. It will be 10-15 years before people will be able to walk around the Cathedral again, if we are lucky. Given that this is the week of Easter, passover and other religious celebrations marking renewal, it is especially hard to lose something like Notre Dame.

Notre Dame has been around since the 12th century. It witnessed destruction during the French revolution, the coronation of Napoleon as Emperor of France and was one the sites of the celebration of the liberation of France after WWII. More than 12 million people visit Notre Dame every year. Watching it burn was as emotional for many as would be loss of the pyramids, the Taj Mahal, or the Colosseum. Many people in France spent the entire night crying and grief stricken.

As a psychologist, I treat people dealing with grief on a regular basis. The loss of a historic structure is clearly different, but some tools will apply. Here are a few thoughts about loss and what to do with the feelings surrounding grief over a world treasure like Notre Dame.

  1. Focus on how positive it is that in such a divisive time, we have an event that brings us together. This loss transcends country, religion, age, and politics. People of all different backgrounds have come together to mourn the loss of this beautiful structure.
  2. Don’t let the sadness become generalized negativity. This is one event. It is tragic but oftentimes people let an event like this spiral into general negativity. Instead of “The world lost a treasure,” some go to “The world is falling apart.” Do not generalize the tragedy. Stay focused on this specific loss.
  3. Do something with your grief. Maybe it is minor grief so you post something or donate a bit of money towards the restoration. If your grief is bigger and your relationship with Notre Dame is more significant, be creative in how you can help out. Have a bake sale to raise money, or write to someone in the country saying how sorry you are for their loss. The main point is to act in a way that is proactive and positive.
  4. Relish the spirit of community and power in acting together. The world is capable of so much good, especially when tragedy strikes on this level. Taking this in, instead of all the horrible events in the world, is empowering. Always make the choice to feel empowered over victimized.

This Cathedral will be restored. Over 600 million Euros have already been donated. I am looking forward to all the ways that architects, restoration experts, and craftsmen will work as quickly as possible to recreate this amazing and iconic building. I am grateful to know there is so much talent and creativity in the world.

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