Douglas High School grief recovery will be more complicated than you can imagine.
Seventeen killed at Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida. Fifteen wounded. Seventeen grieving families. Seventeen funerals. Hundreds of mourners. Anger and outrage abound. A city, county, state and nation in grief.
A voice is heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping
Rachel is weeping for her children;
She refuses to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more.
Jeremiah 31: 15
In this verse from scripture, we can hear the pain of a mother, like a universal lament that transcends culture, ethnicity, social class, gender and echoes through the ages. The loss of a child alters forever the identity and life meaning of parents.
I believe it is outrageous for news reporters to hold a microphone in front of a traumatized student who just escaped death and ask, “What did you experience in the school?” “What are you feeling right now?” And yet I got sucked into listening to those interviews of children describing the worst fears of their lives. What they initially expressed are normal grief responses: Shock and disbelief. Anger. Blame. Demands for justice.
By the following day, the shock and anger had changed to blame and demands for justice.
First came the blaming…
Blame the shooter. Blame the parents (in this case he had no parents)
Blame students who knew of the shooter’s erratic behavior and didn’t say something.
Blame the merchant who sold the AR-15 to the shooter.
Blame the legislators (those who get A+ ratings from gun lobbyists) who permitted the merchant to legally sell an assault rifle to a shooter with mental health issues.
Blame the lobbyists who bought off the legislators to block legislation that might have prevented the sale to the shooter.
Blame the FBI for failing to follow up on credible tips on the shooter.
A sheriff was quoted as saying, “At the end of the day, make no mistake about this, America, the only person to blame for this incident is the killer himself.” Really? In America, the only person to blame is the shooter? So…why does this only happen in America? Nice try sheriff. There is plenty of blame and complicity to be shared at many levels.
And America got an earful from angry students at a rally on Saturday. The students demanded that laws be changed. They begged for voters to make legislators accountable to the people and not to lobbyists. They called out the politicians who always say, “It’s not the gun, it’s the bad guy.” They called the excuses from Tallahassee and Washington, “BS.”
Having said all of this about shock, disbelief, anger and blame, grief educators will point out that these are manifestation of normal grief. However, what happened in Parkland does not resemble normal grief. A student who hid in a closet while hearing gunshots and screams of terror as other students were being gunned down, and who then was escorted out of the building passing bodies of murdered students, while being told not to look, but unable to not peek at the carnage, is a teen who has suffered a trauma. A student who was wounded and later hospitalized, who witnessed fellow students being shot, has suffered a trauma. Parents who rushed to the school, desperate to find their child alive, but had to wait what felt like an eternity to hear the names of the victims, and to finally learn that their child was among the dead, is a parent who has suffered a trauma. This is not normal grief. We call this “Complicated Mourning due to violence.” If normal grief sucks the joy out of life, complicated grief breaks and shatters lives to the core of their being.
This blog is being written to support people like you who have experienced a loss and are offering comfort and support to the bereaved in your community. You may be a facilitator of a grief support group, or you may visit residents of Senior Living Communities to hear their stories, or you may be a good neighbor who patiently listens to the widow next door. All these ways of comfort and support are of value. The intent of this blog is to support all of you who have taken our training, to provide some occasional insights and updates.
Today, I simply want to point out, as a reminder to you, that as we listen to the emotions of grief poured out, we listen without judgment and without trying to shut down the verbal expressions of grief, but to recognize what are the normal grief reactions. And the second point is this: those students, teachers and parents who suffered traumatic losses will have their lives altered long term. We should know when to refer someone to a professional therapist when we identify traumatic loss. Let’s continue to provide support and comfort where we can, and recognize when we are over our heads in the quagmire of complicated mourning due to violence.
Thanks for reading.
Your comments are welcome.
God bless you for your patience, love and outrageous acts of compassion.