It has been hard for so many of us during the holiday season that followed the horrific killings in Newtown, CT. The constant mentions in the news media, and just some quiet moments alone, have sparked a lot of tears for me and for many people I know. I have heard some say that they are tired of hearing about this. I can understand how they might feel this way, but I just don’t want everyone to quickly forget, as Americans seem to be so prone to doing.
The bell-ringing name-reciting, brief ceremony was almost too painful to bear. I have a couple of connections to this school, but don’t actually know any of the families who lost loved ones. I am praying that this horrible event will wake up Americans and that we will address the failings of our mental health system, as well as finally doing something to create needed restrictions on weapons.
I pray for these changes and, as a US citizen, I have made my opinions known about the glaring deficits in our society, and will continue to do so. However, I don’t feel too optimistic about meaningful changes in these areas being made any time soon. I hope I am wrong!
The faces of the victims and of their grieving families are still so fresh in our minds, but when something like this hasn’t had a direct impact on our own lives, it becomes more convenient, if not easy, to push aside the pain and unpleasantness after a time. People here also tend to want to believe that there is some sort of a predictable timetable for grieving and for healing. I know this, personally, because I am a survivor of a few tragedies in my own life. They were different sorts of tragedies but many people quickly forgot about us, or needed to distance from us so they didn’t have to be reminded of unpleasant events and sadness on their own days of happiness and celebration. Quite a few thought I should have been “pretty well over things” and that my kids and I should have moved on with our lives by the six- month mark after my first husband had died and our home and belongings were destroyed in a fire. They actually said that to me.
When my young nephew lost his father, my brother, people told him he was “lucky to have had his father for eleven years”. When my sister’s not-quite twenty-four year old son died suddenly and most suspected it had to do with drug use, the majority of people in her life were painfully silent and quickly pretended that all was back to normal by avoiding any discussion of her loss. This silence was extended by most to her surviving young teenaged son, who needed to talk about his feelings and about his brother to people he knew, but few wanted to listen.
Our hearts are all hurting when we think about the lives lost just a week ago, but I ask you to please not forget about the survivors. The Town of Newtown has requested that the public stop sending teddy bears and other stuffed animals. Various memorial funds and scholarships have been set up to create legacies in the names of the victims. I get that sending stuffed animals makes some folks feel a little better themselves, for a couple of brief moments.
Please remember, though, that the pain of the families who have lost loved ones will not be brief. While numerous professionals have come forward and offered services to help them, which is great, and some claim to have magic methods to make grief go away in 30 minutes or 30 days, grief is part of the human condition. If we mask it by shoving it down, or latch onto quick fixes, it will only come roaring up again in ways that we can’t predict, at times we can’t predict, and will, in the long run, cause more pain and suffering, for us and for those close to us. There are some proven tools that do help. I have experienced loss and grief intensely. I help others learn to transform their suffering into survival, and finally, into something that feels softer and sweeter and allows them to live a worthwhile life. I know, though, that the grief doesn’t entirely leave and it shapes who we are and who we become in the future.
Please find honest and meaningful ways to reach out to the survivors, if you can, and to remember that their lives have been forever changed and will not go back to the old normal. You may not know them and you may not have time or money to donate to the various funds that have been established. That’s ok, in my opinion, as long as you “pay it forward” by extending your help and compassion to others you encounter who are grieving and hurting, and as long as you don’t grow complacent again and allow yourself to believe that this kind of thing can’t and won’t happen in your quiet little town or on your street in your city.