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After Trump's win, Philly tries to cope through stages of grief -- but "acceptance is not an option"

Shissler Rec Center in Fishtown with chalk windows, symbolizing the co-opting of swastikas for the concept “Let in the Light.”
Shissler Rec Center in Fishtown with chalk windows, symbolizing the co-opting of swastikas for the concept “Let in the Light.”Read morePhoto by Beth Huxta

For many of the more than a million people in greater Philadelphia who backed Hillary Clinton for president, the language of political campaigns is inadequate to describe what they've experienced since the election returns came in.

Instead, they're turning to the language of mourning.

"I lost both my parents by the time I was 23. I know what real debilitating grief feels like, and that is what this is," said Justine Haemmerli, 32, of South Philadelphia.

"I felt like my grandmother died all over again," said Steve Dolph, 34, of Mount Airy. "There was the same effect: nausea, disbelief, a sense of emptiness, devastation."

Yosef Goldman, 38, a rabbi at Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel in Center City, put it in Jewish terms, naturally: "Many people are experiencing this as something of a shiva. But when everyone is sitting shiva, who brings the food? How do we find comfort when we're all feeling at such a loss?"

Now, in a city where Clinton beat Donald Trump by a 5-1 margin, thousands of people are still fumbling for ways to cope.

Their responses have been personal and professional, political and practical.

Some have called in sick from work. Some have signed up for self-defense classes and joined boxing gyms. There has been stress-eating, and drinking. There has been crying in supermarkets and gym locker rooms and at preschool drop-offs.

People have avoided the news, or obsessed over it. People have been unfriended, online and in person; at least one local family called off Thanksgiving with Republican relatives. Some have considered purchasing weapons, and some are making contingency plans to leave the country.

Others have been galvanized to run for local office, or to make charitable contributions or volunteer for nonprofits supporting women, immigrants, and civil rights. They've begun wearing safety pins, a sign of solidarity. They've been protesting in the street (often for the first time in their lives), drawing up pamphlets, calling elected officials, and gathering in Facebook groups like Pantsuit Nation, which has spawned chapters around the country.

For Amy Ignatow, 39, of Mount Airy, it was all of the above.

A children's book author and illustrator, she spent last weekend at a children's literature festival in Lititz, Pa. There was lots of crying. "Two authors broke down during their sessions, in front of children," Ignatow said. "It's very hard to feel like we failed them."

She took part in an online campaign (hashtag: #KidLitSafetyPin) by drawing characters from her series The Popularity Papers wearing pins.

But she's also taking defensive action.

"I'm going to go get passports for the kids, just in case," she said. "My grandparents didn't get out of the Netherlands in time during the Holocaust. They were forced to go into hiding for three years and to give up their firstborn as a foundling to a Christian family. I don't think it's likely that I'll suffer the same fate, but I will not be caught unawares."

Another descendant of Holocaust victims, Rachel Ezekiel-Fishbein, 52, a communications consultant from Cheltenham, began paperwork to apply for German citizenship.

She has taken other steps: She found a gold-tone safety-pin necklace in a local shop and is looking into ordering them in bulk, to sell and raise money for causes related to civil liberties. She has been peppering her days with random acts of kindness.

"I'll stay here and fight," she said. But if her family is in danger, she'll put them first.

Heather Cohen, 35, of Mount Airy, was so distressed by the election  she took a leave from her job and hasn't been to work since. She spent last Wednesday morning writing poetry, and then made pamphlets to distribute at a protest (her first ever) at Thomas Paine Plaza -- which, she notes, is named for the nation's premier pamphleteer.

"The First Amendment, I think, is at risk of being judicially reinterpreted," she said. "If people don't speak out now, they might not have a chance."

For survivors of sexual assault, the last week has been especially harrowing.

A 29-year-old woman from Havertown who didn't want to be named said she suffered a panic attack watching the election results.

"I began reliving a sexual assault that happened to me more than 11 years ago. ... I went to a therapist who diagnosed me with PTSD," she said. "It became real for me that a sexual predator is the next leader of the free world. ... So suddenly, I'm 18 [again], under the crushing grip of my rapist."

Jessica Lennick, 32, of West Philadelphia, had a similar perspective.

"I had this moment in the voting booth that I was thinking I was finally going to be a person. I was finally going to have equal rights," she said. Instead, "it was this awful confirmation of: My rapist has been elected president. That's what America thinks of how I've been treated."

Many described cycling through the stages of grief, from denial (the electors could still choose Hillary), to bargaining (President Obama could somehow install a Supreme Court justice, at least), to depression, and anger.

Megan Monforte, 39, of Doylestown, experienced all of that. But, like many others, she's determined that the final stage will not be acceptance.

"Instead of acceptance, it's got to be resistance," she said. "Acceptance is not an option."

That resistance is taking a range of forms.

Monforte has been wearing a safety pin and looking into how she can get involved in local politics and voter education. Lennick and Ignatow spent Monday calling elected officials, urging them to denounce Stephen Bannon as Trump's top strategist.

Brian Kane 16, of Center City, is working to bring the Anti-Defamation League program "No Place for Hate" to his school. (Kane, who is Jewish, is the rare teenage boy who concedes that the election result brought him to tears: "I was scared for my family and friends. I didn't know what was going to happen, and I still don't know," he said.)

People have found comfort in unlikely places.

For Beth Moore, it was a tattoo parlor. The Graduate Hospital resident had scrapped her plan to get a Hillary tattoo for the inauguration. But after several days of despair, Moore, 47, decided to get it anyway. It's a flower containing the initials "HRC" and the suffragist slogan, "Deeds Not Words."

For Beth Huxta, 32, it was a playground.

She had heard about a swastika on a bench in Fishtown's Shissler Playground. A friend suggested, "Let's 'Orange-is-the-New-Black' it and turn it into a window." So, Huxta and her family set out with a bucket of chalk, and others arrived to join them, covering the pavement with windows. They posted photos with the hashtag #LetTheLightIn2016.

"I did want to make a statement, to create something positive in the place of something very negative: A window provides a ray of light in the dark," Huxta said. "It was also very cathartic to hash out all those windows, to direct my energy and frustrations into a public art project."

Steve Dolph, a Penn graduate student, is planning workshops around health-care and immigrants rights and plans to volunteer with groups like Juntos.

It feels good to take action, he said. But none of it, he said, is soothing his fears.

"This election made visible the world around us in a way that previous elections hadn't: the things people believe and the violence people will tolerate," he said. He has family members with open immigration cases. He worries they could be targeted -- and that he, a son of immigrants, would be next.

Still, others see glimmers of hope.

Haemmerli turned her anxious energy toward building a website called Make It Right PHL, meant to connect people to significant volunteer opportunities.

"My husband is a person of color, we have an interracial child, and I find myself devastated for them. But I find great solace in seeing that more organizations are signing up on the website," she said. "I'm seeing people waking up and thinking about how to transform their grief into meaningful action. In a time of really very little comfort, I do find that comforting."