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A Shot Rings Out - Coping with Grief from Mass Shootings

In the wake of the tragic shooting at the Virginia TV station just a few days ago, we are forced to consider that there is now a pattern of violent attacks that happen in this country. Every day, I am a bit fearful of seeing a new one pop up on my news alerts and feeling that gut punch of heartache.

Of course, attacks within families have always been shocking - Susan Smith and Andrea Yates, who murdered their own children, committed horrifying crimes that struck our national consciousness. But that violence was directed within their own families (although completely misdirected at innocent children, of course).

Now there is a pattern of shootings directed at strangers and employers and most shockingly, at children. Starting with Columbine, there are now too many to mention - Aurora, Virginia Tech, Charleston, Sandy Hook.... where does it end? And how do we manage?

Even with all that I have experienced, I have never gone through this particular kind of loss. I have friends and clients who have experienced murder within their families, and I do know someone whose nephew died at Sandy Hook. But that is different than when it affects you personally. So I would never say that I know how those reporters felt, nor their fiancé(e)s and families. But my heart goes out to all of goodness, what a thing to have witnessed.

I called the newsroom to see if I could be of service to them, and what I noticed immediately was that everyone I spoke to was in complete shock - of course - trying desperately to be professional and do their jobs after no more than 30 hours had passed since this senseless event. I was so touched to watch those brave anchorpeople go on the air the next morning (covered here) and try to keep it together. Their moment of silence - their prayers - the weatherman who could barely keep from sobbing. Their grief was on public display, completely palpable.

So how to move forward and cope in these initial days? They had a psychiatrist on to tell them how to manage, but he was only on for two minutes, and he was absolutely correct to tell folks to remember to eat, sleep and take a break from the media coverage. Here is what I would add to that:

  • Understand that you are in shock. This means that your mind is shut down to protect itself. Your memory and your focus will be way off, and that is normal. This may last for several days, so it is important to write notes, set reminders and enlist others to help you remember vital things, such as where the keys are and whether you have taken your cholesterol medication.

  • You may have emotional outbursts - sobbing, laughter, anger. Please give yourself permission to feel and express these, rather than bottling them up.

  • Your sense of time will also get wonky. Everything will seem slower for a while. That's also normal. You are not going crazy - you are heartbroken.

  • Because of that sense of time being sideways, you will need to shift your expectation for yourself. You may be told to take things "one day at a time" - but a day can feel like forever. You really only have to manage one MINUTE at a time. That's all. One minute, one choice, one breath at a time.

  • Breath - yes - take a deep breath - you will get through this.

One other thing that I always add - Loss Changes You. This experience will change you. And you need to be very gentle with yourself as you discover what your world now looks like. You will need courage and support and time.

I tend to do short blog posts, because grievers often cannot take in huge amounts of information, so I will stop here. But please, search my blog for other posts, let me know if my book might be helpful and seek me out personally, if your life has been touched by such a tragedy.

Again, keep breathing. Just get through right now. You are not alone.

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