The emotional pain affecting the nation after the Newtown, CT shooting is normal, but it should be dealt with appropriately.
Amid the heartbreak and sadness that has come in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, it will be a challenge for many of us to truly enjoy and celebrate this holiday season. Many residents of Newtown, CT took down their holiday decorations, saying it just didn’t feel right to celebrate in wake of this horrific event. For the families of the victims, there is little, if anything, to celebrate. After the news of their worst fears realized, there is nothing left but constant reminders of their tragic losses, in the form of wrapped presents under their Christmas trees and endless stories about the event on their televisions, radios and computers.
The emotional pain associated with this horror is hard for most of us to comprehend. Unless one has had to bury their own small child so early in life, there is only so much aside from compassion and empathy that we are able to lend. We know there are no words to ease the pain, and no amount of hugs to change the facts.
Even for us that live in other nooks of the country, the news is devastating, and likely we all hugged our own children a bit tighter that night before bed and counted our blessings. Many of us prayed that it would never happen to our families, and prayed to give those affected the strength to make it through another day.
Let’s also think about the emotional distress to the children who witnessed this horrifying event and escaped physically unharmed. The ones that watched their friends, their siblings, their teachers, and their principal, die in this unexplainable act. Many of these children will need to visit therapists, some will end up medicated, and sadly, some will suffer from PTSD for years to come. I can only imagine the feelings of the parents of the surviving children, happy their children are alive, saddened for the children who lost their lives, and heartbroken by the nightmares their babies endure in their sleep.
Also, take into account all of the families who have lost loved ones in other school shootings like Columbine, Santana, or even Virginia Tech. All of these feelings are re-hashed for many of these people, and not only are they feeling compassion and grief for the Newtown victims, the emotions from their own losses years ago are brought back to light. While the pain fades a little with time, it’s a never-ending grief process that one just needs to learn how to cope with.
Gunmen like Kip Kinkel (Thurston HS), Dylan Klebold (Columbine HS), and Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook ES), all showed a history of either mental illness, or emotional detachment. The ability of these murderers to feel no pain, show no remorse, and have a lack of conscience, all lead to many of us wondering why they were granted permission to have a firearm. The answer isn’t so easy. Many of these shooters used their own registered firearms, but many used stolen or de-branded weapons. It has led the nation into an uproar debate, arguing the pros and cons of stricter gun control, different ways of treating mental illness, and school security. Regardless of how the government sees fit to deal with the issues at hand, one thing is for sure: there is no way to guarantee it won’t happen again.
There have been ideas floating around facebook from concerned citizens suggesting mental health assessments for gun licenses, or amending our constitution to ban the possession of firearms altogether. Whether these are plausible solutions or not, we as a nation need to remember that mass shootings will happen whether gun bans exist or not. We also need to remember that mass murder and terrorist attacks can and do exist without the presence of a gun at all. Do you all remember the Uni-bomber? He took out a whole building without a gun, collapsing its workers to the ground. On 9/11, terrorists hi-jacked a plane with box-cutters, and killed thousands during one of the most brutal terrorist attacks in over 50 years. These things can and will happen again in the future, with or without guns. The problem (aside from foreign terrorists) is mental or emotional illness, and while we can and should point fingers at the mental state of the murderers, we need to also remember that our reaction can be just as devastating as the actual event itself.
The Newtown shooting has been noted as the second-worst school shooting in American history. The fact that the majority of the victims were first grade students makes it all the more heart-wrenching. So what do we, as Americans, do to move forward? We feel. We acknowledge emotion.
The most important thing to remember when dealing with the emotional pain, is to let it run its natural course. Many of us jump to action too soon, to unknowingly escape from the pain, suppressing the process of moving forward and end up more damaged in the end. It’s great to setup a charity fund in the name of a lost loved one, but healthy grieving takes time and emotions need to be felt and dealt with appropriately, and action needs to happen in due course.
Everyone grieves differently. Women tend to be more verbal and outwardly emotional, while many men have to deal with the social stigma of staying strong and not allowing emotions to be seen publicly. It can be exceptionally hard when there is no time to cry in solace, and have to remain strong for the wife. Animosity can build when maybe the wife doesn’t understand why the husband doesn’t show emotions, and won’t grieve in the same way. While letting emotions run their natural course is the best way to go, if hate or weakness become apparent, it might be best to seek help of a therapist or find a support group. It is important for family to remain strong, and live a quality life for the lost lives.
So what is the best way to heal? I don’t know how. I’m lost.
So many people are asking this question as they struggle to make it through their first holiday without their bright-eyed bundle of joy. While it is best to seek professional help for dealing with tragedy of this magnitude, here are a few tips to help keep your head on straight:
1.) Remember it’s not your fault. Remember, that the fault lies with the shooter, not with you or anybody else. There was no way to know that this event was going to take place, and there was nothing you could have done to prevent it. While we can all understand your pain, remember that you did not lack in ability to keep your children safe. It was a freak incident that could have happened anywhere, and sadly, it happened at that school. Until blaming fault on yourself is relieved, you will never heal properly. Also, yes, you are a victim, but try to switch yourself out of that mindset. Victims blame-shift and never learn to be strong when dealing with these types of things. Move yourself into a new way of thinking.
2.) Learn to talk about it. Talk to others who care, and who you care for. Discuss your feelings. Talk about the good times, and try your best to not focus on the bad. You already know it happened, and while you won’t forget it, celebrating life is more important that driving yourself crazy over death. Use kind words. If a conversation becomes negative, walk away. There is no sense working yourself up during such a stressful time. Sometimes, it may appear someone is being hurtful, while they are just trying to help. Try to keep an open mind to people with good intentions, as they may have some insight how to deal with your grief, and the best ways to move on. Some people will be insensitive, and there is no way to stop that. Don’t allow them to hurt you further. Also, give plenty of hugs, and allow embrace. When other children are still in your care, make sure you have plenty of time to talk to them about what is going on, and encourage them to remember the good times as well. Not allowing yourself to spend too much time alone will also help you to stay in a good mindset.
3.) Refrain from watching the news or reading the paper. For a while, the stories will be everywhere. It will be hard to move forward with the constant attention on your pain, and the daily reminder of how much it hurts. You likely have pictures and videos to remember your loved ones in a positive light, better than the negative or misinformed coverage on TV, in the paper, or on the internet. While stories like these are designed to help, even these may still be posted too soon for you to be able to handle. In due time, the stories will taper off, but the memorials in your community will stay strong and likely be more helpful for you.
4.) Politely decline pesky reporters. Even though some of them are pestering and rude, remember they have a job to do. Politely tell them that you do not want to talk, and it is too soon. If you feel up for it, let them know of a later date that you would be willing to talk or hand over pictures. The world is curious of the lives of these children and educators, and are just as horrified as you are. While it seems that they want to hurt you by asking questions you just can’t find the strength to talk about, they just want to give answers to people outside your community that want to know more about your child, your family, and how they can help. You aren’t required to do anything at all, but remember that awareness is going to help many other worried parents around the country. Also, you could designate another person to deal with media requests for you. Many people will want to donate money to funds named for your loved one, send you condolence cards, or just show you compassion.
5.) Maintain structure. While it will be hard to keep your normal schedule in the coming weeks, the best way to heal is to live your life. Keep going to work. Go grocery shopping like usual. Visit with family. Don’t allow yourself to be a hermit, or to dismiss other important factors of life. It will be really hard to move forward and stay healthy without maintaining structure. This is even more important if you have other children to look after. Don’t allow the loss of one child to impact the emotional health of your others. Try your hardest to push through each day with strength and compassion for their feelings, and maintain as much normalcy as possible.
6.) When you are ready, raise awareness. There is no way to prevent such atrocities by passing laws or tightening restrictions, but one way we can help is to educate Americans on mental illness, and how to treat emotional aspects of survivors. As mentioned earlier, many surviving students will likely see therapists, become medicated, or suffer from numerous emotional disorders for years to come.
When dealing with children with emotional or behavioral disorders that have not necessarily been subjected to a school shooting, helping to treat these disorders correctly and patiently can help to prevent other emotional problems later in life. Also, remember that many, but not all, mental or emotional disorders require serious intervention or medication. Those that exhibit violence or threats should be brought to a professional, and should be on a closely monitored follow-up schedule. Nipping these issues in the bud early, as well as responsible parenting at home, can help to minimize events like these, in which an emotionally unstable young man stole his mother’s guns to hunt her down at work, and killed her along with 25 others including 6 year old children. Not to say that all mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders will end up like this, but many times there are warning signs present for years before an explosion mounts. The best thing you can do for your once-so-loving child is to help prevent more incidents from happening again.