Our nation was once again knocked to its collective knees recently with the horrifying events that took place on Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. When a single gunman, who first killed his own mother, forced his way into the school and fatally shot 20 first-grade students and six school staff, and then himself, life changed — not just for that quiet, little community, but for communities across the country.
With what has become almost commonplace in our culture with disturbed gunmen shooting innocent victims from Tuscan, Ariz., and Oakland, Calif., to Aurora, Colo., and Portland, Ore., our nation stood shocked and more than a little fearful as we watched the gruesome story unfold.
Our hearts cried out in sympathy for the parents whose children lay dead and for their grandparents, siblings and friends. That day they each began the unique journey we call grief and will have much painful and confusing work to do to heal their broken hearts.
I suspect it’s obvious to those of us who have known loss that the devastating circumstances surrounding these deaths complicate the grief these families will experience. Sudden death is traumatic in its own right. But murder loss is an entirely different level of grief.
I’ve been long known to spread the notion that one who experiences loss grieves in his or her own distinct way. Each unique personality, relationship, past experience of death and belief system guides us individually on the journey toward healing. Each loss manifests as another layer of grief on our perspective of the meaning of life and death.
So how does the killing of these innocent children and adults affect how we see the world? How does it change our perspective?
It’s natural and very human to mourn the loss of these children and adults whom we’ve not met. Though the loss is seen through our own personal life lens many of us can empathize with the community members who grieve this terrible loss.
My sister who has lost a son grieves deeply for the parents of those dear children. She understands a little of their pain. A friend whose sister was murdered in her youth laments alongside the siblings of those who were killed.
Another friend admitted to past judgment of the perpetrators of these crimes and their families until recently when her own friend was in need of emotional support after her daughter committed a crime. Her heart breaks for the families of these gunmen in her newfound compassion. Each of these women finds compassion in their hearts and perhaps newly discovered wisdom that rises from their own pain and grief experience.
These tragedies can bring old wounds of loss to the surface to be faced once again for many of us. The layers of grief may be peeled back one by one to expose the pain we once felt due to our own loss. So it is paramount now that we honor our grief, both personally and collectively, with time for silent thought and prayer, sharing our feelings with others and perhaps cleansing tears, which opens the possibility of hope and healing to us.
I believe in these devastating situations that it’s not only the loss of innocent lives and the resurfacing of our past wounds that stirs our souls. We grieve collectively for, at least momentary, the loss of our belief in the goodness of humanity, our hope of safety for ourselves and our children, and our trust in our very way of life — a frightening proposition.
But with renewed hope and amazement, as we continued to watch the Newtown tragedy unfold, we were privileged to witness the loving, compassionate response of a shaken, yet united, community as they embraced their grief — and a nation who stood along side them in their disbelief.
Wherever we reside, as we hold the victims of these immense crimes in our hearts and ask “why?” we can find consolation in solidarity — with an entire nation that grieves.
My hope now is that, collectively, we rise up out of the ashes of yet another great tragic loss of life and become a better and more compassionate people.
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