Devastation at Newtown: Change Begins with Grieving

The loss of a young life is so devastating. We pour such work and love into parenting. Then, to have the gifts that that child held for the future vanish is heart wrenching. The only word I can think of to describe the death of a child by a senseless act of violence is “obscene” – something that should not be seen.

And yet it happened. It is in our awareness. While avoiding excessive trauma exposure regarding the murder of the children and adults at Newtown, it is also important to acknowledge the grief, pain & horror. It is a national tragedy that we live in a culture where we have both inadequate gun control & mental health care delivery that results in daily loss of life and frequent mass murders. As a culture, we have an opportunity to truly grieve the obscene loss of life at Newtown, & through grieving begin to transform. For, without doing the work of grieving the losses, without doing the work of resolving the trauma, Healing & Transformation cannot happen.

I am concerned that we are so focused on problem solving in response to the murder of the children that we don’t do the grieving. Resolutions to do something can trick the brain in thinking the problem is solved. The preoccupation with the horror can result in emotional numbing or be a distraction from deeper reflection. And the intent to change can serve the process of denial, averting attention from the distress caused by the losses. Focusing on resolution at the end of the grieving process is more likely to result in the kind of behaviors that result in real and lasting changes.

In other words, we may inadvertently undermine the intentions we have of effecting change. As difficult as it is to honestly acknowledge the pain, horror, anxiety, and sadness – without the awareness of the emotional distress, the psyche is not sufficiently informed to effect meaningful behavioral change. Without deep soul searching, this terrible event will fade into history with other terrible events, another media event until the next terrible, and often preventable, event happens. Moreover, we “forget” these events happen daily. The number of homicides in 2009 in the U.S. by firearms was 11,493. The number of suicides by firearms totaled 18,735. Countries with stricter gun laws have a fraction of the deaths by firearms. In half of all domestic violence cases, the abuser was depressed.

We can do better. And paradoxically, it starts with grieving.

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