Monday, December 17, 2012

Tragedy in Connecticut

Like just about everyone, I am definitely aware of what happened Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  I was actually subbing at one of the area high schools when I found out online.  It has been weighing on my mind as I've read the still-developing reports from the various news agencies and reading the many MANY Facebook status updates and comments that have been rolling in all day.  I'm writing this more to put my thoughts in some kind of order and hope that maybe they can help anyone reading this to find a little sense to this.

Of course first, all I can feel is absolute grief, especially for the families of the students killed.  While I am not a parent, I am a teacher, plus I have two young nephews and a new niece, so I certainly know the love and concern I have for their individual well-beings.  I also empathize with the feeling of realizing that a loved one, especially a child, isn't coming home, and the absolute despair that would bring to me.  For all those affected, but especially the parents of these kids and the families of those who lost loved ones, I can offer my thoughts and prayers of comfort.  I wish there was more I could do to ease grief like that, but there isn't.  Anyone who's been through the loss of a loved one knows this; there's always that part of you missing even after you get used to their absence.  Plus, that feeling of grief lingers long after the funerals and most of the expressions of sympathy dwindle, which makes it even more difficult.  While it may be a ways off, I pray that these families and those that remain do eventually find some comfort and peace even though I know things will never be "the same".

I've also thought a lot about the gunman.  From what I've gathered so far, it was a 20 year-old who first killed his mother and then went to the school and murdered kids in 2 classrooms and several other staff members before killing himself or somehow being killed.  What possessed him to do that is beyond me.  I do not know how anyone could look at a child of any age and hurt them in anyway, let alone shoot a gun at one to kill them.  Clearly something was wrong mentally, but what, exactly, remains to be seen.  I've read some expressions from people that they feel he "got off easy" since he is already dead.  From my Latter-day Saint perspective, I can tell you he certainly did not get off easy.  I suppose to people who don't believe in any kind of afterlife it may seem so; I can understand their feelings.  But for me, my understanding of what comes after death--and that death is simply a step in our much larger existence--tells me that not only will he face consequences, but he will (or already has) had to face each and every person he has taken the life of.  He will experience the grief he has caused so many people who remain.  So no, just because we do not get to witness the consequences he will face doesn't mean he won't get them or that they're somehow more enjoyable than being in prison and getting a lethal injection at some point.  If you believe in God and believe in an afterlife, then you know that God will take care of it and in a perfectly just and fair way (a concept which we as imperfect human beings really don't understand).

The scripture that has come to my mind several times has been Mark 9:42 (which can be cross-referenced to Matthew 18:6 and Luke  17:2): "And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea."  Killing in cold blood is bad enough.  Killing an innocent child, to me, is pretty much the absolute worst act a person can commit.

I've definitely been thinking a lot of the families directly involved in this and the whole concept of help.  Those of you who follow me on Facebook have most likely seen my posts about sending cards and even a few about some other charitable endeavors that have come up around the country.  I've come to the conclusion that the vast majority of the people who are spearheading these various things and promoting them to others haven't been through any kind of traumatic event themselves to know how best to help.  I'm sure that's not 100% true, but I've definitely wondered about it and that's what it seems to me.  I certainly don't fault their charitable desire to want to help.  I question, however, the best use of our own resources and abilities to help and, more importantly, if what many people are doing is actually helping at all.  It's perfectly normal in a situation like this that we feel helpless and frustrated to want to do something.  That's why we see these candlelight vigils, ribbons, memes, and other public displays of sympathy and solidarity across the country and world.  People want to show they do care and that's perfectly normal.  Really, though, the vast majority of those kinds of things are far more to comfort ourselves than anything else.  They make the participants feel better about the world and humanity when they see people come together in such a way.  I'm not someone who gets into very public displays of sympathy (this blog post is about my max) because of my own experiences in traumatic events, but even so, I certainly am not opposed to those kinds of things, even if I don't really think they're the best ways to help.  The best things that helped me were when someone asked me what I needed rather than assuming what they thought I needed or just said things like "best wishes", "call me if you need anything", or something to that effect.  That's what I'm seeing a lot here. People have wonderful and kind intentions of wanting to help, but they're thinking more along the lines of what they think these people need as opposed to anything they may have asked for or from their own personal experience in a traumatic situation.

What's my best solution for help?  Besides thoughts and prayers, money.  Yes, money.  I know people want to give something "more personal" than money, but when you are dealing with the mental stress from trauma, having to sort through more "stuff" from people is the last thing you want to do.  Having money gives the person in need some flexibility and allows them to make the choices on how to use it to best meet their needs.  Depending on the situation, more money may be needed to replace lost items or pay for unexpected bills.  And while it could be argued that simply giving them money also creates more work for them (they have to go out and buy what they need), I'd say that argument is weak since first, you can buy just about anything online these days, and second, being able to go out and pick out stuff that person actually wants can be a nice distraction.  In some cases it may be as simple as allowing them to go out for a nice dinner or two with family; in other cases, it may be as much as replacing an entire house full of things.  Either way, you can never really go wrong with money.  In this case, funds have already been set up to help the families deal with the costs associated with medical care and funerals, as well as other needs that may arise.  The United Way of Western Connecticut set up a fund with the Newtown Savings Bank that people can donate to online or by sending a check.  I know of at least one fund set up for the family of one of the victims and I would assume there are other similar funds set up by friends and relatives of other victims' families.  Be cautious in any kind of donation process that the cause and organization is legit.  It is not a crime to ask some questions before making a decision to donate money or other resources.  Make sure it's not only legit, but also what you would consider worthwhile.  For those of you who have gone through traumatic experiences, what helped you the most?  What didn't help at all?

And don't forget the family of the shooter.  They've lost a mother and a brother in the most horrific way possible, through no fault of their own.  On top of that, they now must not only live with the loss of their own loved ones, but also with the knowledge that the actions of a loved one has led to so much grief and sorrow for others.

I have additional thoughts about the whole debate regarding guns, gun control, mental health, and the 2nd amendment, but that will take an entire blog post of its own.  Suffice it to say, I don't think additional gun control measures will really do anything to prevent something like this and when I hear people say "we need more gun control", it's empty rhetoric to me.  What exactly does that mean?  What additional measures could be added that would have any kind of positive effect?  Are you aware of the laws and regulations already in place?  "More gun control" to me is ambiguous, akin to "fair share" that we've been hearing so much in the media.  

1 comment:

Julie said...

Well said. Money can buy time. The ability for families to take time off work, help with funeral arrangements, perhaps help with family bills and college funds for other children. Yes that isn't directly related to the shooting, but haven't these families had enough sorrow? Anything to make life easier for them is a positive thing. The horror they have to go through is something they do have to go through...no blankets, stuffed animals or candlelight vigils will take away the horror and the road that they must travel. If we could take away that path for them we would. We can't.