Looking at Tragedy using the 7 Stages

I should probably start by saying that very few things in life make me cry.  I’m not emotionless, but I read once that I should view my “tears as precious commodities not to be wasted on things unworthy of them.” So while, in a weak moment, I may shed a single tear (quickly to be wiped away before Joe notices) over a particularly profound episode of Grey’s Anatomy, I do not cry-cry (weep? sob? make the ugly cry face?) over very much. Ever.  I think this is important for a couple of reasons.  First, in the words of the aforementioned book assigned to me by my favorite professor, public crying “chips away at my command presence,” meaning I lose the control a teacher (mother? control freak?) needs when I allow myself to seem weak regularly.  Second, I think crying is one of those things in life where if you do it too much, it loses its impact.  If I cried every time my feelings hurt, my tears would no longer make any impression when the big things happen. There’s also this little part of me that is obsessed with keeping my behavior in check (but that is an entirely different part of the DSM-IV).   I know crying is an exclusively human thing and some are more comfortable with it than others.  And this is not a post about crying.  But I felt I should start by establishing how rare my tears are.   And, without further wordiness, I cried yesterday. A lot. Watching the news.  So this Connecticut school shooting and our human reaction to it is definitely worth taking a blog entry (or several) to look at.

I am admittedly selectively compassionate.  It is a flaw in my character, and I realize that.  But yesterday’s events hit me in two very sensitive aspects of my life:  the teacher part and the mommy part.  (It affected the Christian part and the free-spirit-hippie part too, but I want to discuss those later.)  Teaching is so much a part of me that I take very personally anything that relates to education.  My own children, appropriately, are my world before and after school.  So I think this tragedy got me twice as hard.  I cannot begin to imagine how I would feel losing even one student or coworker, much less 26.  Similarly, the devastation of losing a son or a daughter is unspeakable.  When bad things happen to children, it gets to people, even people like me who are hard to get to.

Then came people’s responses. The ones I observed ranged from heartbroken to absurd to disgusting.  And you’d better believe I wanted to respond.  But I didn’t.  Here’s why:  As humans, we all feel deeply when things like this happen, and I think people’s responses can be looked at as falling into one of the 7 Stages of Grief.  No, we are not experiencing this grief on a the level of experiencing a personal loss, but we’re sad, so the connection can be made.

  1. Shock and Denial:  We couldn’t believe what happened.  I told my teacher-friend immediately upon reading the headline.  This is when you read or watch whatever you can get your hands on trying to make sense of it.  My journalism kids and I discussed this stage as a “creepy curiosity,” but it’s really just a desire to understand why something like this would happen.
  2. Pain and Guilt:  These are feelings of chaos and fear.  That jittery feeling when you imagine how you’d feel if you’d been there and the admittance that tragedy can happen anywhere to anyone.  Then you feel guilty for the curiosity in step 1.  These are the real lives of real people.   We think how silly it is to assume that our personal circumstances wouldn’t allow such an event.
  3. Anger:  From my observances, this is when people are so quick to see the shooter as a monster rather than a mentally ill person who needed help.  This is when we blame guns, the lack of prayer in schools, the police’s response times.  We are mad and want to point fingers.  The majority of responses I’ve heard have been from people in this stage. (It took some pretty serious reflection for me to realize it’s okay for them to feel this way.)
  4. Depression, Reflection, and Loneliness:  I consider myself to always be in the reflection stage; however, it takes some people longer to see the bigger picture.  People in this stage are the ones who are focusing on the magnitude of the tragedy rather than all the details.  The ones saying to turn off the news and talk to your kids. Those praying quietly rather than taking part in discussion and debate.
  5. The Upward Turn:  This is where the heavy heart feels lighter.  The tragedy isn’t all over the TV, and people have begun to talk about other things.  We aren’t constantly thinking and dreaming about it.  Life is moving on.
  6. Reconstruction and Working Through:  Here is where we begin trying to fix things.  In this specific situation, this may involve reasonable discussions of gun laws, school security, red flags indicating people are capable of such violence.  Whatever it takes, people will be healed enough to discuss how to prevent such sadness from occurring again.
  7. Acceptance and Hope:    People see the event for what it is: a bad event.  America isn’t a bad place, and we do not have bad lives.  We are able to focus on the good….because there is always, ALWAYS good.

When tempted to snap at someone’s assessment of the shooting, consider what stage they’re in. Listen acceptingly, knowing that they may be in a different stage, so they’re speaking from a different state of mind than you may be.  As a public, we are sad.  And there is much discussion to be had and many lessons to be learned.  But let’s not use this as fodder for arguing with each other.  Sometimes, for us to see that there’s good in the world, we have to make the good ourselves.  Accept whatever stage those around you may be in, and use such tragedies as a reason to show someone some kindness.

For me, I was brought out of the grief cloud by the precious innocence of my kids.  As I hugged them a little longer last night, smelled their hair, kissed their soft little cheeks, I gave them a speech about my love for them, my desire to keep them safe, the important place they have in the lives of so many, the sadness so many would feel if anything ever happened to them.  What did they say back to me?  Talan’s response was, “What do we have to eat?”  Tessa’s was, “Would I die if someone hugged me too hard?”  Much needed laughter from the mouths of my greatest blessings.  Sometimes the good in life makes itself evident at the most needed times.  Find some good today.

 

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