The Lonely Road

My heart is heavy for those families who began their day unscathed and end the day torn apart, forever changed and reeling from pain and loss. There are no words that will change reality, or be a salve for the pain of the horrendously tragic shooting this weekend in El Paso and Dayton.

Among those who are gone may have been the one with the answer to climate change, a future researcher with a cure for forms of cancer, the next Nelson Mandella or Mother Theresa, we will never know. However, there is more blame to go around than just the shooters.

The Loneliest Club

Americans are bound together because of terrorism. We, who are not directly affected share in the grief with those who are, if only because we can see ourselves and our families in their story. Grief comes in many forms — but this particular brand of grief, coupled with PTSD, flashbacks, depression, and wrenching sorrow is unique.

That thought alone is profound to me. I regularly speak about the topic of grief and how to manage and prepare for certain dates — a loved one’s birthday, during the holidays, on the anniversary of the person’s passing. So the idea of combining those milestones, with normal feelings and emotions associated with grief, and then increasing everything by 1000 percent every time the news announces another tragedy is completely overwhelming. These people can’t prepare for dealing with a new wave of grief — because they literally have no way to know when it’s going to happen next.

Victims and Co-Victims

The number of deaths and injuries related to domestic terrorist violence is only one part of this equation. When considering the full scope of this situation and the sheer number of people who are touched by shootings, it’s necessary to realize there is an even greater number of secondary victims. These people also happen to fall in the “survivor” category and are sometimes referred to as Co-Victims. They are the parents, children, siblings, spouses, and others who have lost a loved one or a friend to gun violence. In the aftermath of a shooting, it is the co-victim who has to deal with law enforcement, the medical examiner, the press, and the court system, among others. They may have to clean up the crime scene or stay close by while this is managed, they may have to pay the victim’s medical bills, arrange for a funeral…the list goes on. And while some of this sounds typical when dealing with the death of a loved one — there is another angle present here.

The Co-Victim has had their sense of security shattered. They aren’t dealing with someone who passed from cancer, and it’s a different type of shock than what is experienced when there is a car accident, for instance. They had their loved one is taken from them in a very public way — possibly in a school, a movie theater, a mall, or in a church. Places where we believe we are supposed to feel safe. Combined with this pervasive epidemic of terrorism that is becoming a part of the American way of life, it’s little wonder that grief management takes on a completely different angle when helping this group of people.

Dealing with Trauma

It’s a fact that survivors of terrorist violence are a group, unlike other grievers. Frank Ochberg, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University, said gun violence survivors with PTSD may see symptoms recur or intensify, including nightmares and flashbacks, fear, anger, loss of capacity for positive emotion, and avoidance of others when news coverage of new situations occur.

And while some of those feelings and symptoms are also associated with “normal” grief, there is a divide here. A terrorist violence survivor is a member of a club that no one wants to be a part of and it’s hard for non-victims to truly understand what they are going through.

With that being said, here is some advice for terrorist and gun violence survivors who are dealing with the aftermath:

  • Seek out support groups. Tuesday’s Children a response and recovery organization with a mission to promote community, healing, and resilience in all those we serve. There is the opportunity to feel secure and comforted while in the midst of people who you have something (albeit tragic) in common with.

  • Form bonds with other survivors and keep in touch on Facebook, via text, email, and phone. Seek these individuals out when facing debilitating sadness, experiencing slipping faith, or when flashbacks return and insomnia sets in.

  • Realize that it’s a situation that is impossible to get over, but that it will get better. Find a way to balance grief with hope: find a cause, create a website, keep your family close, make your family bigger,

  • Understand your “breaking point” regarding media coverage of new events. If watching TV coverage of a shooting triggers anxiety, but you have obsessive thoughts about wanting to continue to watch, connect with a friend who will check in with you during these times and encourage you to turn it off, tune it out, or talk you through it. It’s okay to check out in these situations — for your own emotional well-being and mental health.

For those who have not directly been affected, turn your empathy into compassion with action.

Get involved in your community. “ Each one, Teach one” Find an organization such as My heart is heavy for those families who began their day unscathed and end the day torn apart, forever changed and reeling from pain and loss. There are no words that will change reality, or be a salve for the pain of the horrendously tragic shooting this weekend in El Paso and Dayton.

Among those who are gone may have been the one with the answer to climate change, a future researcher with a cure for forms of cancer, the next Nelson Mandella or Mother Theresa, we will never know. However, there is more blame to go around than just the shooters.

The Loneliest Club

Americans are bound together because of terrorism. We, who are not directly affected share in the grief with those who are, if only because we can see ourselves and our families in their story. Grief comes in many forms — but this particular brand of grief, coupled with PTSD, flashbacks, depression, and wrenching sorrow is unique.

That thought alone is profound to me. I regularly speak about the topic of grief and how to manage and prepare for certain dates — a loved one’s birthday, during the holidays, on the anniversary of the person’s passing. So the idea of combining those milestones, with normal feelings and emotions associated with grief, and then increasing everything by 1000 percent every time the news announces another tragedy is completely overwhelming. These people can’t prepare for dealing with a new wave of grief — because they literally have no way to know when it’s going to happen next.

Victims and Co-Victims

The number of deaths and injuries related to domestic terrorist violence is only one part of this equation. When considering the full scope of this situation and the sheer number of people who are touched by shootings, it’s necessary to realize there is an even greater number of secondary victims. These people also happen to fall in the “survivor” category and are sometimes referred to as Co-Victims. They are the parents, children, siblings, spouses, and others who have lost a loved one or a friend to gun violence. In the aftermath of a shooting, it is the co-victim who has to deal with law enforcement, the medical examiner, the press, and the court system, among others. They may have to clean up the crime scene or stay close by while this is managed, they may have to pay the victim’s medical bills, arrange for a funeral…the list goes on. And while some of this sounds typical when dealing with the death of a loved one — there is another angle present here.

The Co-Victim has had their sense of security shattered. They aren’t dealing with someone who passed from cancer, and it’s a different type of shock than what is experienced when there is a car accident, for instance. They had their loved one is taken from them in a very public way — possibly in a school, a movie theater, a mall, or in a church. Places where we believe we are supposed to feel safe. Combined with this pervasive epidemic of terrorism that is becoming a part of the American way of life, it’s little wonder that grief management takes on a completely different angle when helping this group of people.

Dealing with Trauma

It’s a fact that survivors of terrorist violence are a group, unlike other grievers. Frank Ochberg, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University, said gun violence survivors with PTSD may see symptoms recur or intensify, including nightmares and flashbacks, fear, anger, loss of capacity for positive emotion, and avoidance of others when news coverage of new situations occur.

And while some of those feelings and symptoms are also associated with “normal” grief, there is a divide here. A terrorist violence survivor is a member of a club that no one wants to be a part of and it’s hard for non-victims to truly understand what they are going through.

With that being said, here is some advice for terrorist and gun violence survivors who are dealing with the aftermath:

  • Seek out support groups. Tuesday’s Children a response and recovery organization with a mission to promote community, healing, and resilience in all those we serve. There is the opportunity to feel secure and comforted while in the midst of people who you have something (albeit tragic) in common with.

  • Form bonds with other survivors and keep in touch on Facebook, via text, email, and phone. Seek these individuals out when facing debilitating sadness, experiencing slipping faith, or when flashbacks return and insomnia sets in.

  • Realize that it’s a situation that is impossible to get over, but that it will get better. Find a way to balance grief with hope: find a cause, create a website, keep your family close, make your family bigger,

  • Understand your “breaking point” regarding media coverage of new events. If watching TV coverage of a shooting triggers anxiety, but you have obsessive thoughts about wanting to continue to watch, connect with a friend who will check in with you during these times and encourage you to turn it off, tune it out, or talk you through it. It’s okay to check out in these situations — for your own emotional well-being and mental health.

For those not directly involved, turn your empathy into compassion by taking action. Find an organization to support. Tuesday Children is an outstanding organization dedicated to support and healing of those lives touched by terrorism and traumatic loss.

“The best way out of your deep, dark hole, is to help someone out of theirs” Margaret Fisher, my Grandmother.

Mary Ellen Wasielewski