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Respond to Your Aurora Grief and Trauma

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The mood in Denver is somber, reflective and resigned. No matter where you are, a nagging disbelieving grief exists about the Aurora massacre. Rarely since 9/11 has the country experienced such a unifying shared trauma. Ignore your reactions at your own peril, or respond to them with the tenderness they deserve.

The desecration of the all-American cultural temple of the movie house littered with injured, dying and dead people, along with bewildered survivors is traumatic -- we can imagine being there. We instantly remember the plethora of movies, popcorn, dates and family outings enjoyed in the safety of a theater. Our array of pleasurable memories collides with the mayhem, murder and madness of Aurora. The attack on a universal American pastime of moviegoing has left us wondering where we can find safety.

There are tools for allowing our grief, fear, heartache and trauma to be healthy instead of debilitating.

Acknowledge your grief and trauma. Denying your reactions causes them to be suppressed, which almost certainly guarantees that you will be haunted by them in the future. Find safe environments where you can be authentic about your reactions and emotions without having to filter them. Your reactions are normal, so claim their normalcy.

Discuss your fears. Waiting in the departure lounge at Seattle for my flight to Denver, the constant theme of every overheard conversation was about the safety of going to the movies. Discussing your fears typically reveals that your fear of fear is greater than the fear itself.

Find community. Seek out a civic or religious vigil or commemoration of what has happened. If you live in a remote community participate virtually by going online. Joining with others in community is an affirmation that we need one another in order to be human. Post your condolences or expressions of sorrow on the online sites offering that and read the postings of others.

Remember. Read the names of the injured and deceased aloud by yourself or with others offering your intentions for them and their loved ones. In the intimacy of verbalizing a name, you are reminded of our oneness.

Be honest. If you are around children who bring up the massacre, be honest with them that a bad thing happened but also remind them that the world is full of good people. They will intuitively know if you are being authentic or not. Your authentic and heartfelt response will reassure them.

Express love. No one going to the movies in Aurora that night expected to have their life ended or upended. We're left with the unsettling truth of the fragility of life. Do not take your loved ones for granted. Express your love for them each day out of gratitude and thankfulness.

Notice the unexpected. Old memories and images of violence typically surfaced because of events like the Aurora massacre. Because they have shaped your experience of life and been part of your formation, greet their resurfacing with curiosity. They either have something to teach you about the present or they invite you to consider unresolved truths.

In my own grief and trauma about the Aurora massacre I've felt a tender empathy for the victims and families who have been subjected to the protests of the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas. I've been targeted for protest by them on two occasions and have been depicted as a fornicating pig burning in hell on their website. Their tasteless protests are shameful and disrespectful of the dead and grieving. They do not reflect the goodness, generosity and shared grieving of most Americans. Do not give them the attention they so desperately hunger for.

I've been surprised by my archive of old images of violence that have shaped my experience of life and which have resurfaced in recent days. I recall the shooting down of school kids in the streets of Soweto and elsewhere in South Africa as they peacefully protested apartheid. The scenes of Columbine have been on constant re-run in my mind. Alongside those old tapes is the remembrance of the kindness of strangers, of justice claimed and communities uniting in their response.

The grief and trauma are as real as our emotional and physical responses to it. Be present to the surprising waves and complexity of your responses. Be tender and compassionate with yourself and others. Become part of the triumph of goodness and hope.

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