In 2005, I lost eight people (either through direct relationships with them or indirectly through my friends). Children, parents, people with whom I was friends, and one I worked with weekly as a parent in a co-op nursery school. I found I couldn’t make sense of some of the things I heard during the funerals I attended.
In January, 2006, I began to attend the Unitarian Universalist congregation I now call home. I’ve begun to make some sense of my reactions, even though I can’t make sense of losses on days like yesterday.
I’ve dealt with loss all my life. Some days I handle it better than others.
Are you having trouble wrapping your mind around what happened yesterday? Feeling numb? Not sure why?
Not feeling anything?
People grieve differently. They process horror differently.
In 1969, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published a book that described for the first time the five stages of grief. When I was in 7th grade, I took a class on death and dying, in part because of my mother’s long-term illness, but nothing prepared me for the reality of losing a close member of my family.
I learned a lot when I lost my dad in 2010, thanks to the hospice nurses in Colorado and the grief counselor I met with weekly near me at Hospice of the Chesapeake. I understood on an intellectual level what I was seeing, knew the signs to watch for, and knew in my heart when my dad was truly gone for good.
I knew from the descriptions I heard that my mother in law was dying, that same year, because I had already experienced the steps with my dad. And I knew when I was going to lose two more friends in October and November of 2010.
I learned more when my friend Richard Butler died at the end of that horrible year and took away Christmas for me. My greatest gift was the ability to talk with him before he died, and to be there with him and with friends the night before.
I will learn again as I watch one of my earliest friends in this area die from cancer over the next several months.
There are no words that provide as much comfort as a hug and a sharing of sorrow that comes from grief.
None of these deaths were brought about by someone else. None of them was the result of random violence, accidental association, or any other logical reason.
The deaths in Connecticut of twenty children and seven adults happened because someone took it on himself to play god, who had the means to accomplish this horrific act and who had no sense of the long-term, incomprehensible damage he would do, no thought to care about the ramifications of his act.
And more than anything else, he will never know the effect his senseless act of violence will have on our lives, on the lives of the people of Connecticut and most of all on the families of those he killed, because he killed himself, ending his mad spree of death.
As John Dickerson says in his article on Slate.com,
If you have trouble processing what happened yesterday, that might be one reason why you are numb. It’s too much to process all at once. You simply can’t do it.
There is no greater act of faith than waving goodbye to your kids on their way to school in the morning, thinking no matter how hard it was to get them to that point during the day, all the petty arguments or smiles you have with them might somehow disappear after they leave your sight.
Somehow, whether you are a parent or not, you can find a way to relate to the tragedy unfolding in Connecticut. Do what you can to come to terms with what you know, what you’re learning and what you will say to others, but take these things into consideration:
This is unimaginable. Christmas lights are already everywhere. In many of these houses, trees are likely already up, decorated and waiting for laughter and footsteps that won’t ever come on Christmas eve or Christmas morning.
There is still one day left to Hanukkah, one last, bright day when all nine candles burn brightly and then burn out.
Yesterday was the Sabbath, the day some people recognize for giving thanks for what they have, and bless their children.
Today we are left wondering what pushed the shooter over the edge. We are left to wonder whether we are still right to guarantee access to weapons that can do this damage. We wonder how we could have stopped this from happening.
But we’ve been wondering this for years.
We wondered at the tragedies in Blacksburg (Virginia Tech).* In Aurora. And in other places and at other times throughout our history. And I wonder how much longer it will take us to recognize that the question isn’t so much about access to weapons but how we treat our mentally ill and what we do to ease the pain of those who most need the help before they take it out on other people.
This isn’t about the 2nd Amendment. It’s about our attitude regarding those whose brains work differently from ours.
Give yourself time. Hug your kids. Curl up with popcorn and watch a movie. Make it something innocuous. Or play a game with them today.
And let your brain do its work.
When the time comes, give in. You’ll get there. Everyone does.
And then, start to take some action.
David Gerrold, who I follow on Facebook, Jason Alexander, an actor I’ve come to respect for any number of reasons, Jim Wright (Stonekettle Station), and others have all had things to say about senseless violence.
When you’re done reading all these things, go sign yourself up for an account on whitehouse.gov and sign this petition:
Immediately address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress.
and this one, too:
Make Mental Health a National Emergency
[note that WordPress does NOT like the links above]
And after all that, restore your faith in humanity. Because you’re still here and you can.
*edited to fix an error gracefully pointed out by a reader…