Understanding and surviving tragedy and loss

  • Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The unthinkable happens. Senseless violence in Aurora, Colo. - heart-wrenching stories all over the news. It's a daily occurrence in other places in the world. Can you imagine living like that? How blessed we are to live here. Such mass attacks are still rare in our country. But the risk remains - a tragically disturbed person can instantly change hundreds of lives forever. How do we prevent such an event? How to we explain it to our children? How do people recover from this? I have received many great questions and comments since the shots rang out. I wish I could share them all.
Dear Liz,
My children, aged 7 and 10, saw the news of the tragedy at the movie theatre in Colorado. I quickly changed the channel, but they were filled with questions. On top of that, now they are afraid to go to the movies, which has been a great respite from the summer heat. We tried to explain that a person with illness in his brain can make horrible choices that hurt people - and that it is very rare. They wanted to know all about the victims and all about the shooter. How do we best handle this?
-Confused, concerned
Dear "Confused, concerned,"
How fitting, because I think most of us feel that way. Your wording of explanation was excellent. You did the right thing to limit the children's, (and your own, for that matter), exposure to the on-going news coverage. Too much exposure can create a great deal of anxiety to the point of feeling victimized. But ignoring the questions can create more anxiety. The happy medium is finding a good printed summary (or notes you might take from the news, online or news magazines) and share this in age appropriate language for your children. Answer their questions in the most simple manner possible that satisfies them, including sharing "we don't know yet." You can share your feelings of compassion for the victims and their families. There is a website through CNN that allows you to leave messages for the victims and families of the victims. There is a fund to donate money for the victims. It may be helpful for your children to take part, even in the smallest way, to express their feelings and try to help. It gives them a better sense of power and control. These tragedies give us opportunities to learn, grow and prepare. Talk to your children about what to do in a scary situation. Practice it. Well-taught martial arts programs can help children be prepared for all situations, which increases their wisdom and confidence. If you are a family with a faith position, utilize prayer to help children feel more secure and grounded. If they question how God can allow this to happen - explain agency - that the Lord is not a "Puppeteer" who controls each of us, that we must choose the right for ourselves. It's helpful to look for God in the miracles of survival, and the ability for people to recover. If there has been a recent loss in your family, this event may increase your children's and your own grief. Here are some helpful websites for dealing with loss:
One last thought: You may want to encourage your family to study about how to be mentally healthy and strong - and how to ask for help when needed. Adults must be vigilant, and when in doubt, assist and or report a person who may carry some of the characteristics of mental illness so they can get help. I, for one, don't understand why so much assault type equipment is available - especially through the internet. In this case, the shooter had no police record - so he could acquire and stock-pile it. Faith, and the ability to live each day with love and gratitude is our greatest lesson in all this.
(Thank you for your questions and comments. Contact Liz via asksharpliz@gmail.com. Liz Brisacher Sharp is a Master degree level Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice with 35 years experience in mental health including serving as a school counselor, consultant and mediator. Liz is known for her many years as a TV News and Weather Broadcaster, and as a long time columnist for the monthly Lowcountry Sun. Liz is the proud mom of two and joyful grandmother of three.)

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