Tuesday, December 18, 2012

In the Wake of Another Tragedy

It is four days after the massacre in Newtown at Sandy Hook Elementary School and it does appear right now that people are talking. About the necessity of eliminating semi-automatic assault weapons from our already full arsenal of gun in this country. Dianne Feinstein insists that she will have a bill before the Senate when it convenes for the next session . About the pathetic lack of diagnostics and treatment and treatment follow- ups for people suffering from mental illness and mental disorders. If there is a way to screen for sight and hearing through out our children's school years, surely some bright child psychologist can come up with a simple screening tool for mental stability and depression.

And they are talking about parents. Parents of the children slaughtered and parents of youth who clearly have a significant issue regarding their stability in the face of public, social convention. I have heard the statistic twenty percent, one in five kids in America needs mental health evaluation and treatment. I believe that all these parents are essentially in the same spot. How do they keep their hearts beating when their baby is dead or their child has an obvious mental condition? The pain may appear quite different but it is actually very similarly raw, just for different circumstances.

The guilt that parents feel during the grieving process is centered around the mistakes they made, the words unsaid and deeds not done. They suffer from the misconception that they actually have a great deal of control over their children's behavior, whereabouts, thoughts and outcomes. We truly have so little control over our own lives, how can we have the misguided notion that we have control over anyone else's? Our children are their own persons. They have vastly different experiences, feelings, knowledge and expertise from each other and from us, their parents. They begin to separate  from us very early in life and the abyss only gets wider.

What can we contribute to these parents with children who do not outlive them? What can we do for these parents who carry the burden of knowing that their child is not "right"? We can be present. We can be physically available to ignore our own discomfort and listen to their stories and respond to their pain. "I know how you must feel" is a lie, unless you've been there. But, "what do you need to hear?" is an invitation for sharing. Some people take awhile to get to the point where they are ready, but everyone with a trauma to bear or a secret to keep must have a safe outlet for their darkest demons to dwell and their most horrific daymares to be brought into the light.

I just ask a grieving person to tell me about the object of their grief. That allows them the space to respond according to their level of acceptance, need and ability at that time. Often, "how do you feel?" is too open- ended to exact any meaningful discussion. Remember that empathy is not sympathy. If you do not have a similar experience to relate to theirs, then you sympathize. You may even say, "I have no idea how you feel or what to say to you" and  much of the time that is enough to initiate some sort of dialogue

We need to remember as a people and a nation that it is what makes us similar, not different that sets our awareness apart from other cultures. We are an inclusive, tolerant and non-judgemental populace, or at least we claim or strive to be. There are beautiful human lessons to be learned and practiced in our country today. Some people of faith expect that this is what God truly intends for us. To use our free will to bring sense from the senseless and compassion from pain. To evolve into a people responsible to and for each other who can then be a beacon for the rest of this weary world. We don't need martyrs. We need human beings to stand up and participate in the realities of living. Helping us make heroic choices that will further our community, nation and world.

God bless all the little children, their parents and the planet that spins out of our control.