They Will be Changed—But Will We?
By Pat Schwiebert, R.N.
28 people have been killed by violence—most of them children. Our comfort zone has been breached. We could more easily have resigned ourselves to reports of murder if the victims had all been adults, but not so much now when so many killed were little ones.
So now we have to recognize and deal with the immense pain of grief that grips the parents, grandparents, friends and acquaintances of these children whose lives have been taken, not to mention also the survivors of the adults who were murdered at the same time.
Will we have the endurance to stand with them—not just when the news is still on the front page, but for days and weeks and, yes, months and years to come? Can we stand to see and feel so much pain?
I have sat with the Parents of Murdered Children for over 30 years. Some of their children were even younger than these children. Most of their friends have a hard time being around these parents—too much pain, too much anger, too many reminders that something is wrong.
I wrote the book Tear Soup for a number of reasons. First, to let bereaved persons know they weren’t going crazy, that their feelings were real, natural and commonly experienced by others who have endured such a loss. But I also wrote Tear Soup because I wanted other people to discover what it is like to live in the skin of a grieving person. I wanted family and friends to pick up this book and get a quick education on the realities of grief. I wanted them to be able to be better, more compassionate friends by knowing what to expect from their hurting friends.
I have sat in too many support group meetings listening as grieving persons lamented how their friends had so quickly forgotten that they are grieving. One month seems to be the grace period a grieving person is given to shape up and get on with life—even if it was a little one who died. But most grieving persons need much more time than that.
The story of loss unfolding in Connecticut is an invitation for all of us to think deeply about, and to learn more about grief and how to support each other through our grief.
In our contemporary society we tend to treat grief like an illness and there are 3 things we do when we see something as a pathology. Even if we know grief is a natural response to loss, we still tend to treat it as something that needs to be cured. So we do these things:
1) We medicate the “problem,” because we are uncomfortable with the tears of the bereaved person. We don’t like to see people hurting. And those that are hurting may welcome being numbed, if we encourage it.
2) We try to “cure” grief as quickly as possible. We want to fix people and get them back to where they were before.
3) We stay as far away from it as possible from grief so we don’t catch it. If we get close enough and are truly present to a bereaved person we will have to admit that it could be my child or my grandchild that was killed. But we don’t want to believe that could happen to us.
I wish I had more hope that this terrible event in Connecticut would be the turning point for us. Is the death of 20 little children at one time and in one place enough to get our attention? So far the fact that at least that many children are murdered every month in different places across these United States has not moved many of us to action.
Last week two people were gunned down in a shopping mall in my own city. It could have been worse. The horror of that event lasted scarcely more than a day in our national consciousness before it was replaced by Connecticut’s horror. And we know another tragedy of similar kind could happen any day.
If a vote were taken this week to change how our society deals with guns, or helping parents get the support they need for their mentally challenged children, it might pass. But if that vote isn’t taken until a month or two from now will our selfish, independent thinking be back in operation so that we can easily talk ourselves out of doing anything significant?
I know life goes on. But it will be a different life for these families. It will be awhile before they even want a life. They will be changed. Will we?