On Tragedies: When Society Grieves

Bereaved family remember their loved ones at a memorial service, 2006 TCF National Conference, Detroit, MI

It happened again this week and sent the nation reeling. Violence; evil; the death of innocents. I am referring to the Virginia shooting of two reporters and a councilwoman interviewee, by a former, disgruntled employee of the reporter and cameraman’s network. There are countless other tragedies I might reference as well.  Two people were killed by the gunman, another terribly wounded, and the cowardly gunman turned his weapon on himself and completed what justice should have accomplished anyway.

And now the country is left to process what happened. Several happy homes and almost-families (the cameraman who died was engaged) were torn apart by the actions of just one person. Society lost a few good people yesterday in a shocking way. There is much to grieve.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first proposed the five stages of normal grief in her 1969 book, “On Death and Dying.” These five stages which do not necessarily come in the order listed (and some stages people never experiences), and do not have time limits for getting through include: Denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (taken from PsychCentral’s The 5 Stages of Loss and Grief).

The grieving effects of such national tragedies as yesterday’s shooting, can be seen in the varied responses of people via online comments, blog posts, news articles, grassroots campaigns and political activism, and quiet memorials. All of these reactions and responses are understandable and normal since everyone grieves a little differently.


Genova-Staglieno-DSCF8984

A statue from the Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno, Genova, Italy

Denial and Isolation:

People might downplay the tragedy and refuse to read about it or watch the news-there have been so many this year alone! How can any person stand to read and hear and share so much pain? We have limits, after all.

Anger:

People might feel much anger at the gunman, at the news station for not protecting its employees, at the victims for not paying attention to their surroundings, at society in general for breeding such a person as the gunman. These totally normal feelings of anger can easily segue into the next “stage”, bargaining.

Bargaining:

This stage is all about control and blame and involves a lot of “what ifs”. What if people knew how to better protect themselves, this probably wouldn’t have happened. If we had stricter gun control laws in our country, this wouldn’t have happened. If we had better care for the mentally ill; if the victims had just looked up; if we worshiped God more; if racism could finally be buried; if, if, if. And then we might segue back into anger for a while again. We tend to blame others or institutions, we want desperately to find the responsible party. The bargaining stage is about trying to find the why and how of the tragedy, and if such things can be prevented in the future.

Depression:

Sadness, regret, and worry, says the article at PsychCentral, are the hallmarks of this stage of grief. Crying, feeling numb, not knowing what to say or do, wanting to sleep all the time/can’t sleep at all, or wanting to eat all the time/not eating at all, giving/attending memorial services, can all be parts of feeling sad and depressed and this is normal and not necessarily a bad thing. This is just another way and stage people go through grieving.

Acceptance:

This stage is not about being apathetic or giving up, it is not about finding joy or peace in the midst of tragedy. This stage is about understanding that no matter how hard we try, no matter how just our laws, no matter how perfect our society, there will still be tragedies that happen. There might be someone to blame, then again it might have been simply a terrible accident. This stage, I believe, is the time to take moral or legal action, unclouded by volatile and natural emotions.

This poignant clip with Bill Murray from Groundhog’s Day, illustrates the grief cycle well.

All that said, peace be to you, dear reader, and to all those who are forced to walk grief’s road.

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