Mind Matters — Tragedy Revisited

Remember Sandy Hook, Connecticut, where, on December 14, 2012, twenty young children and six teachers were gunned down in an elementary school? Such horror revisits us again, when, on October 1, 2017, a lone gunman, Stephen Paddock, murdered fifty-nine people and wounded more than five hundred in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Gun violence has it ripple effects. I was called to counsel a group in Boston affected by this latest tragic story. Although Las Vegas is thousands of miles away, it turns out that a co-worker in a small and cohesive company was one of its victims. The employees were in shock about the loss of their colleague and worried about the effects on their friend’s seven-year-old daughter and on her husband.

Such traumatic grief not only affects the immediate families, but also affects co-workers and friends. Trauma and grief also touches the collective consciousness of us all, especially if it unearths past losses. One woman remarked how this mass shooting brought back memories of 9/11, which happened just as she was starting college in New York. Another employee talked about having broken up with his girlfriend only days before.

The accumulation of past loss and grief can compound our response to tragic events in the present. I think of the horror of Sandy Hook, Connecticut, whenever I drive by the road sign for that community when I travel to and from Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. It would not be surprising if the parents and families of those innocent children who were killed there are not having flashbacks brought on by this most recent horror of gun violence.

If you are struggling in the aftermath of this event, consider these tips from the APA (American Psychological Association) on how to handle your feelings. For one, allow yourself to seek support from people you can talk to. Balance your intake of news. It is good to be informed with facts, but avoid getting overwhelmed by the repetition of disturbing images. Balance your viewpoint too. When bad things happen, we tend to generalize about “how bad the world is.” Instead look at all that is good. Consider the people who are helpers or consider the people you know who are kind and comforting. Consider that you too can become a helper and do something for others in your community. Or perhaps you’ll want to work on changing attitudes about guns. Remember also to accept your feelings and take care of yourself with eating well, getting exercise, and proper rest.

If you have children, you may be concerned with how they are faring. Keep the lines of communication open with your children: be a good listener, finding times when they may be open to talk, for example, riding in the car, at bedtime, or at meals.

The best thing you can do for your children is to be a good role model. Taking care of yourself makes it possible for you to take care of them. As you learn to cope with your feelings, you are modeling to your children ways for them to cope as well.

Here are some suggested websites for further reading: