Loss of Love

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings swirling around right now, as I’m writing this a day after the shooting in a Florida high school. If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know I usually have a lot to say about such things. Right now, I don’t want to get into the political issues. All I can say is that I believe we are all part of the problem, but I also know we can each be a part of the solution. One way is to recognize that we are each a part of the human family. Those kids and adults who were killed, and the others who were injured and traumatized, and their families and surrounding community all need the rest of us to step up.  (I don’t mean send “thoughts and prayers” with no follow-up, but really sending loving thoughts is absolutely OK).  It’s just not enough.

Choosing sides and continuing the argument about what to do or whether we can do anything is going to happen as it always does. Whether or not anything comes from it this time remains to be seen. As I write this, we have very little information about the shooter, other than he has lost both parents, has had a love for guns and has talked about being “a professional school shooter.” Because of what I do every day, I know there is much more to it.

Events like this are so overwhelming we can feel helpless and hopeless. But, while I allow myself to feel the pain, I also take the opportunity to look for the helpers. Paralyzing events like this always bring out the helpers. BE a helper. Look for ways you can make a difference, no matter how small.  That might mean sending a donation of a few dollars to an organization that is providing services of some kind for the victims or maybe there is an account set up for donations for  survivors (I haven’t seen this yet); perhaps just send a card to the school to express your love and support. Hug your own kids and talk to them about this tragedy. Answer their questions to the best of your ability and what is appropriate for their age.  This is a thin line. We obviously don’t want to scare them too much, but they need to know these things happen and that there are things that can be done to protect themselves. If you’re not aware of what your own local schools and first responders are doing to prepare in case of the worst case scenario, find out;, then set up a plan with your family on how to connect in case of an emergency. As difficult as this is to consider, when/if it happens, it can provide a lot of relief.

Maybe all you can do is to just be a little kinder to the person next to you on the bus, or at work.  We never know if that person could be the one who feels so alone that they are considering going out and shooting a bunch of people because, in some warped way, they think that might help them feel better or get back at someone who harmed them. In a lot of ways, we’ve become a society of isolated individuals.  That’s not who we are at the core. We are connected to each other in a very deep way, even though we look, act and think differently.

I don’t want us to block these events out and become callous to them. We need to feel the pain and horror of them or nothing will change.  But because we are so aware of so many such events, we can become traumatized by them just by watching on social media or the nightly news. We’re all grieving at some level. We may not personally know any of the victims, but most of us have lost loved ones and understand the depth at which our grief can go. Just as we keep the memories of our own loved ones alive because they were a part of our lives; so can we remain connected to the victims of this most recent shooting, and make their lives mean something – because they were a part of the fabric of our society.

Attacks such as this bring trauma, which complicates the grief, and takes longer to address in our minds because they literally change the wiring in our brain. The best thing we can do is to talk openly about it as much as possible and seek help when we recognize it’s affecting our ability to carry on with life as we’ve known it. Because each time these shootings happen, those of us who witness from afar can be re-traumatized in our own grief, I’m re-posting this updated version of a blog I’ve shared before:

The loss of a loved one is possibly the most painful experience any of us will ever have. Recuperating from such a loss is a long, difficult journey. In fact, we’re never the same. We’re not supposed to be. One of the purposes of grief is for those of us remaining to re-examine who we are and where we are in life’s journey.

We develop an identity around a relationship that is separate from our own personal identity. We become comfortable with how we see ourselves within that context and it gives us a sense of “being” that wouldn’t be there without the other(s). (This is different from feeling l like we “need” another person in our lives to feel whole. That’s a blog for another time). I’m talking about the connection between two or more people that bonds us – as a couple, a family, a group of friends/co-workers/Americans or human beings. That bond becomes an entity separate from the individuals involved.

This identity gives us a kind of strength – a frame of reference for how our life is going to play out. When a part of that entity is taken away, it literally rocks our world, and initially, we don’t know how to proceed.

Many people (not all) find that, as they go through the bereavement process, it can be helpful, to maintain that connection with the deceased. In grief literature (yes, there is such a thing), this is called Continuing Bonds (CB). In fact, studies have found that continuing a connection to the deceased provides comfort and support in coping with the loss and adjustment, and it’s even seen as a “normal” part of the process.

As I said earlier, grief never ends. It’s not something we “go through;” it’s something that becomes a part of us. It’s forever. However, we often find that as we work through our grief and make room for it in our lives, it becomes a more peaceful and positive presence. Warm memories and a connection with our loved ones eventually replace the painful, panicky feelings that once represented the loss.

We don’t detach from our loved ones, or leave them behind in some way; we carry their energy with us throughout our lives. Our relationship didn’t die when they left their physical body, but it grows and matures; and we relate to them through an ever-changing lens as we evolve and mature.

When the bereaved can embrace this concept, it can help us feel a little less misunderstood and a little less crazy. So holding on to items that belonged to them, doing things we used to do together, or visiting places where we feel close to them can all enhance the continuing bonds, and can actually help us cope with our grief.

When I think of this process of coming into a new sense of identity within a loving relationship, I remember watching one of my granddaughter’s favorite movies with her – The Velveteen Rabbit. Shortly after we watched the movie, I came across this passage in the book DARING GREATLY by Brene Brown. She quotes the toys in the original book – it’s a beautiful reminder of how good it feels when we know we’re loved:

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Those of us who have experienced grief know all too well the pain that comes along with losing someone we care for deeply. The temptation is often to close off our hearts so we don’t have to experience this pain again. But that’s where the growth is – in the love, in the pain and in the continuing bond.

If we don’t allow ourselves to completely experience each relationship, we are not fully alive. As difficult as it is when the loss comes, it eventually makes the love that much more precious.

If we extend this out to a broader perspective, it’s time for our citizens to experience a deeper relationship with each other, and for our country to grow through this pain and form a continuing bond that can carry us on to a safer and more emotionally stable existence.