We are coming up on two years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings that killed twenty first graders and six educators.
There have been eighty eight school shootings in the United States since Sandy Hook.
There have been sixty thousand victims of gun violence in the United States since Sandy Hook (Not counting the ones that have occurred since this writing).
At this point there should be a manual -- "The ten things every community should know after a shooting."
Transformation will no doubt come as people are gradually waking up to the plague, the epidemic, the societal health issue known as gun violence.
Till then, for those who have suffered since Newtown and for those who predictably will suffer in the months to come, a few lessons learned in hindsight from one Newtown Resident...
Relationships matter more than anything else - More than therapy, more than religion, more than money, more than drugs. Relationships repair and restore.
Photos are misleading - A photo in which someone who lost a loved one to gun violence is smiling or ostensibly enjoying an occasion, does not mean that they are "doing fine" or have "gotten over it." They haven't. While there may be moments of pleasure, profound grief is never more than a thought away. As a parent of one of the young victims remarked, "We are not doing okay; we are just choosing to live."
It should be called "Brain" not "Mental" Health - We HAVE a broken leg...We HAVE the flu...We HAVE cancer. Yet, we ARE bipolar...we ARE schizophrenic. We ARE autistic... The word mental often elicits pernicious inferences. Perhaps individuals and families would seek treatment for a brain related matter as readily as they would for any other body part if the brain was recognized as the significant organ it is. (The Avielle Foundation, created by the parents of young Avielle Richman who lost her life in SH., is steadily advancing this conversation through their research into the link between brain health and violent behavior.)
Guns (type and availability of) are part of the problem - Indeed, the root of the issue is multifaceted. Nonetheless, in the meantime, it's remiss to ignore the obvious. When a candidate for state senate recently knocked on my door, I inquired as to his stance on gun legislation. Two years ago I probably wouldn't have opened the door. Pay attention to the issue before it comes knocking on your door.
Look beyond the "experts" - All-knowing connoisseurs of trauma may swoop into town with notable works, worldwide expertise, compelling discourse and tactical plans for" healing" the community. The true leaders though, are often concealed within the community; lying dormant until sought out or inspired to come forward. While a handful of gems certainly exist among the world's more renowned specialists, finding them will require a keen eye for the difference between ego and wisdom.
The second year is harder than the first - According to the father of a victim,"It feels like the Anesthesia has worn off." The kind strangers who descended upon the town have left. Residents want to get back to "normal." This is when those affected need others most. Sustaining small and random acts of compassion -- a meal... plowing a driveway... a quiet walk, can lift people out of darkness.
Programs don't heal people. People heal people - A community center in which residents can gather, converse, share a meal, paint, sing, play music or simply make a connection, can be infinitely more healing than any costly or "evidence based" symposium. While programs certainly have a place, the most restorative programs have at their core the ability to foster genuine, spontaneous and organic connections between individuals.
Hilary was spot on - It really does "Take a Village
Money can make nice people behave very poorly -- Enough said.
God did not "need another angel" - One person's idea of a soothing statement is another's source of acute aggravation. Don't say it. Absurd proclamations such as "God never gives us more than we can handle" or, "You can always have another child," do not help. More often they hurt.
First responders and EMS workers are reluctant to seek help for Post Traumatic Stress - Many law enforcement and emergency personnel "tighten the boot straps" believing that as "protectors," they cannot and will not "fall apart." The brain, however, has a way of "going there" -- to the tauma -- whether one wants to or not as is evidenced by the alarming rates of suicide, addiction and relationships issues among this population. In our day of mass shootings, EMS workers are being exposed to scenes no one can be fully trained to witness. Support within a safe and supportive environment is critical.
Don't feed the trolls - Also known as the "hoaxers." There will be those who crawl out of the dungeon in an attempt to proclaim the heartbreak never happened. Any attempt to rationalize or argue will be spun and distorted to reflect their twisted agenda. Do Not Engage.
It helps to Learn about Post Traumatic Growth - "A set of positive changes which occur as a result of coping with a traumatic event."
Relationships matter more than anything else - "The most traumatic aspects of all disasters involve the shattering of human connections...And so it is with human relationships -- we can both create and destroy, nurture and terrorize, traumatize and heal each other."
Dr. Bruce Perry