Stepping Back from Grief When Possible

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree and Rising.

Cho Seung Hui’s killing spree at Virginia Tech is riveting the nation in ways similar to 9/11 and Katrina, and me, I’m working hard to distance myself.  I have good reason to. And this time, I don’t have to be close to the grief.

Since this time last year, four significant deaths have touched my family and three major heartbreaks, two of them mine. I don’t ever want another emotionally wrenching year like this past one. I’ve lived with grief and in grief for much it.

I’m too empathic to listen to the news right now and the media does like to get those close-up, ain’t-moving-the-camera-to-give-you-privacy reactions—and seeing the grief on others’ faces on the screen calls up too much of my own wicked emotions of recent. I need a break. I’m keeping my distance and staying informed through online communications. Others don’t get to have that break and they’re hurting, and my heart goes out to them, but this time I have the luxury that I can back away a little and observe. Call it self-preservation if you will.

By doing so, I find it interesting to watch how grief affects large groups of people, something the U.S. fortunately does not often see. I know it so well on the small, personal, intimate scale. But to see how it jolts those who don’t have friends or family involved in the massacre is interesting. The emotional outpouring of support is uplifting but at the same time, people struggle to find a place to direct their anger and shock.

Sometimes it’s at each other. Political debates spring up. Irritation that news-group bloggers and reporters don’t express the right emotion or enough emotion or too much emotion. I can understand the dynamics of mob violence better, how all that energy that’s seeking justice and answers just wants to be directed somewhere and they can’t adequately rail against a murderer who cheated them of feeling the return lash of their grief and confusion. There’s not a clear target to aim the anger part of grief that comes with senseless violence.  I think it’s human to want see that person and to strike back, hurt back, to see his remorse.

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At first blush, it seems incongruous that so many people would grieve a tragic and deadly incident where they knew none of the victims. Looking deeper, I see the reason it has such a far-reaching effect. We could tell ourselves that 9/11 wasn’t a regular event and we’d keep those terrorists out. We could reassure our children that not every hurricane would be a Katrina. We could pretend the world we create for our children and ourselves is far safer than the (less publicized) violence of history and how civilized we are now and how secure. Events such as this remind us that safety is an illusion and there really is no security in anything.

The way we think and feel about our world changes in a drearier way. And that, I think, is why strangers grieve on a mass scale.


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