news item: dealing with grief

All of us here at PAIL are just so heartbroken over the tragedy at Sandy Hook. We wanted to respond and reach out without further sensationalizing the events or doing injustice to the victims. We hope the following offering is helpful to those looking for resources when dealing with the unfortunate circumstance of  tragedy, and we hope for a future where these things will cease to occur.

Trauma. Trauma comes from the Greek word meaning “a wound” and while it traditionally refers to a physical wound, it also applies to emotional wounds. It makes sense when you think about it, when we are hurt emotionally, and it haunts us, and we can’t let it go, it’s because it is a wound, and wounds take time to heal.

Our brains operate on logic, a good image to think of is to think of a library with a huge circulation desk at the center that receives and organizes all new entries. When a new experience comes into our brain, say learning a new word, tasting a new food, the brain categorizes it and files it away on the  appropriate library shelves. However with trauma, that does not occur. A trauma is a blunt-force experience that blows by the circulation desk and starts knocking down shelves. The brain tries to compensate, it tries to shove the traumatic event into a category, tries to “file” it in a logical way. But the trauma won’t “fit” into any category the brain comes up with. And so this trauma, this memory, runs around our brain, trying to fit in here, trying to fit in there, bumping into things, knocking stuff over and leaving us feeling bruised and battered. Because trauma can not be logically filed by our brain, we keep re-experiencing it, and little things, things seemingly unrelated to it, can bring the memory right back again. And trauma can happen to anyone, even if we don’t have a direct connection to the event, we can still be traumatized.

That is how I feel now. This unbearably sad event is a trauma for all of us. This is not said to trivialize the direct experience of those poor parents in Newtown. It is said to let you know that if you are struggling with this event, if like me, you are still tearing up thinking about it, that is normal. We have been traumatized.

And one thing that is a passion of mine is working to ensure that when traumas happen, that we don’t inadvertently re-traumatize a victim or increase their suffering. And so we offer you today’s news item, an article by a Reverend Emily Heath on things not to say to someone who is suffering a loss or trauma. I’d like to highlight one particular point she makes, one I, as a pastor’s wife, am quick to make when people say things like “God needed another angel” or “God must have wanted to call him/her home.” God, does NOT kill children. Not only do those statements imply that, they also imply that the parents have no right to feel sorrow and in fact should be glad that their child is now an angel.

Reverend Heath’s article is a great resource for us all and offers helpful things we can say and do to someone who is suffering. I’d also like to say that when a trauma happens, we want to help so badly, we want to say something, anything to help the person. But I’d also like to highlight the Jewish custom of “sitting Shiva.” This is a custom followed upon the death of a loved one. The community brings meals to those in mourning and typically people come to literally sit with the mourners and do not speak until spoken to by those in mourning. It gives the mourners a chance to breathe, and a chance to talk about what they want to talk about. Sometimes sitting with one who is suffering, just being present in silence, can be extremely powerful.

We hope reading Reverend Heath’s article: Dealing With Grief: Five Things NOT To Say And Five Things To Say In A Trauma Involving Children, is helpful to you.


I could only think of one good question for this news item:

How are you feeling?


  1. What a lovely and perfect post- thank you. I also wrote about this last night, and am feeling much the same things you describe- the library metaphor is perfect. I feel traumatized. I wrote about those kids becoming new angels- and this was certainly not meant to trivialize that sentiment in any way- It was simply my own way of trying to self-soothe, and to voice my own belief and hope, while my brain is trying desperately to organize and sort through my own jumbled and disturbing thoughts. Because hope is really all I can fall back on- hope that this kind of thing never, ever happens again. Hope that through this tragedy, new and better ways of treating mentally ill people will be addressed. Hope that the trust and faith we place in our school systems protecting our children will continue to be strengthened. Hope that each and every person affected and touched by this event can find some peace. And hope that each one of the children who perished, will live on in beautiful, happy and joyous memories for their families who got to share with them their all too short lives.

  2. Lovely response to this tragedy. Thanks for a thoughtful inclusive post.

  3. Thanks for posting this…I can’t get Newtown out of my mind…wrote about it yesterday as well…
    The last paragraph here made me think about when my brother was killed…we lived together at the time (as adults) and the rest of my family was out of state. My brother and I had all the same friends (our lives were really intertwined) and everyone showed up at the ER where he died (or where they pronounced him dead, anyway) and everyone came home with me after and we all just sat in the living room and dining room, someone made a fire, people took turns sitting next to me and holding my hand…I’m tearing up just thinking about it but for those first few days especially people were just there and no one really said that much, they just sat and held my hand and it was perfect.
    Love to everyone who is suffering today…

  4. Beautifully written. I will never forget the how some of the most unexpected people in my life showed up and sat with me – just sat – when we were grieving. A sentiment often forgotten. Just being still and listening.

  5. Such great thoughts. Thanks for sharing.


  1. […] us an article about grief and processing traumatic events in this week’s News Item, “Dealing with Grief.” This is an especially poignant piece to follow the devastating shooting at the Sandy Hook […]

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