Contributed by Alicia La Hoz, PsyD
At a time where many anticipate the joy and good will ushered by the Christmas season, our cheer is detained. The peace and hope we wish to all through our sharing of Christmas cards, goodies and gifts feels helplessly out of place when what we otherwise feel is sorrow, fear, disillusionment and grief. The traumatic event at the Connecticut Elementary School goes far and beyond any parent’s worst fear. Evil plagued the safest of communities, the safest of settings and shattered what we most trust. While most of us were spared the grief with our own children, and while we can never truly understand the depth of pain that the parents who lost a child at Sandy Hook Elementary feel, our hearts pang for the loss. We love, we hurt and we try so hard to protect the lives that have been cherished under our care. Lurking in the shadows of the media frenzy covering the trauma, is the voice that quietly says, “this could have been my child”. Fear drives us to want to control our environment, to do what is necessary to prevent all the violence. So as we try to make sense of the tragedy, we seek answers. We turn to policy and government hoping for tighter gun restrictions and we turn to mental health hoping to find an answer. Since we desperately want answers and we dig for them with utter despair, many have used this platform to spur tighter gun regulations or to stigmatize young adults diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorders such as Asperger’s and Autism. We want to put our fears to rest, and want answers so that we can go on and move about the business of our lives. The reality is that the problem is a complex one requiring comprehensive solutions. Luckily, most of us are very resilient. In light of such trauma, most of us will be amazingly strong. And thus we will:
- Reach out to each other – talk about what happened and process it in our on way.
- Recall that we have overcome other traumatic events such as 9/11.
- Try to help and get involved in some way – donate, pray, write.
- Try to make meaning and put things in perspective.
- Keep a positive and hopeful outlook embellishing random acts of kindness
- Take care of each others’ family and do what we can to keep the routine going.
As we do all of this, life regains its sense of equilibrium and we will go about our days and lives. As we do this, we will get busy and we will forget to see the lonely parent struggling with a difficult child whom she fears. We will become critical of the parent who doesn’t seem to rein her child at the grocery store. We will be too busy to offer a helping hand to a parent who is going solo and feeling burned out as they cope with a difficult child – maybe one suffering through mental health. We will keep our children away from other children that are reserved and appear withdrawn fearing that their somberness may be contagious or serve as bad influence. We may forget to engage in conversations with policy makers about how to address violence and to invest in programs that help prevent family fragmentation.
But we don’t have to forget. Maybe the lives of these children can truly be honored and remembered each time you sit with a parent who is struggling with a difficult child; by purposefully providing social opportunities with the disenfranchised youth and children in your neighborhood; by volunteering and advocating for families in partnership with your local social service agency; by working to help families struggling through adversities; by proactively seeking to address policy that can help put more preventative measures in place to address violence in our communities. Maybe the cries of the children will be a sharp motivating force to work together to strengthen our families and our communities as we face the evil that darkly wants to permeate our Christmas this season.