The Power of Words in the Midst of Tragedy

Bearded Iris at Krohn Conservatory

Bearded Iris at Krohn Conservatory

I’ve been quiet.

I’ve been sitting.

I’ve been thinking.

I am not reacting.  I am choosing every word carefully.  I am not commenting on the events.  I am addressing everything after.

What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary was a tragedy.  What has happened after is tragic.

I was determined not to watch or address anything Friday.  I attempted to stay off social media for the day.  I kept the TV off any station airing news.

Frankly, news anchors and reporters piss me off when tragedy happens.  People’s over-reactions to tragic events on social media piss me off.

Being pissed off at this time in my life needs to be avoided as much as possible so my body will heal.

Then one comment I happened to see when I finally went on to Facebook to share some good news about Dr. Cuz (she has a book coming out next month) sent me into a tizzy.  One of my friends decided to make a comment on my status about staying off social media and that watching so much media coverage is not healthy.  His comment, “it seems to me this is not about on this is not about mental health this is about parents about their failure to teach citizenship inappropriate behavioral responses to frustration.”

First off, I nearly raged.  Nearly took everything within arms reach and threw it.

Nothing makes me mad more than assigning blame to someone other than the person actually responsible.  It makes me even more mad when it becomes about those with mental illness (or suspected as it was at the time) and their parents.

Those of you who are personal friends and those of you who have followed me for a while know I used to work in the mental health field with kids.  Mostly teenagers.  I worked for a non-profit agency with a psychiatric residential program, and in the later years of my career there, a community based services program.  The one thing that we all taught the kids across the board was taking responsibility for the choices they make.  Yes, it is natural to get mad, but the choice they make in how to manage that feeling could be appropriate or inappropriate.  Yes, you got punched in the mouth, but walking away to talk to one of the adults is preferable to punching back.

It wasn’t easy work.  I was hit, kicked, bit, scratched, spat upon, and had my hair pulled.  I spent hours physically restraining kids from hurting themselves or someone else.  I spent even more hours talking to the kids, connecting with them, teaching them through words and action.

I worked with the parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  I validated their feelings in their difficult times and situations.

Through the years we experienced losses of kids who left and were in accidents.  Then, in 2005, it really hit home.  A young man we worked with years before shot an officer in the early morning when confronted by the officer, then shot and killed himself.  The officer did not survive.  This turned our world upside down at work.  Somehow the media got wind that he was treated at our facility, instead of mentioning that it was years before, the media made it sound like we had just discharged him.  Because the media can say what they want.

I watched the news when I got home that night against my better judgment.  They twisted everything.  Everything.  And because they feel the need to insert opinion rather than just reporting fact, one of the anchors ended with, “I hate seeing when kids go down this road.”

I screamed.  At the top of my lungs.  “YOU DIDN’T SEE HIM GO DOWN THIS ROAD!  WE DID!  YOU SAW HIM AT THE END OF THE ROAD!”

I broke.  All the losses I experienced in the year before this finally took its toll.  I wound up taking time off to process all of it.  From losing my last living great-grandparent, to losing Granny and Papa, to this unfathomable mess I was feeling at the time.

Fast forward 3 more years.  I left the agency earlier in the year and wasn’t working at the time.  I got a call from one of my friends still working at the agency.  One of my kids, a kid I worked with in his home and with his grandmother, had been shot and killed along with the man he was with when they broke into an elderly couple’s home and attempted to rob them.  I immediately went online looking for a report of what happened.

I shouldn’t have.

When I got to the end of the online article I kept reading on in the reader comments.  Someone had the audacity to blame his parents.  His parents weren’t to blame.  They didn’t raise him.  His grandmother did.  She did everything she could to raise him and his brothers to make good choices.  That included calling me over a year after services were ended because she felt like he was in need of them again.  She was in no way to blame.  No.  Way.  He made his own choice.  He choice to attempt to rob that couple with someone else.  He chose it.  And while my heart broke for his grandmother and brothers and for the loss of his wonderful smile, I knew he was responsible.

I sat with parents and grandparents in the waiting rooms of psychiatric hospitals for hours waiting for intake assessments.  For those whom it was the first hospitalization, I assured them it would be all right.  I checked in on the kids while in the hospital as often as I could.  You cannot blame a parent for a choice their child makes when you’ve seen the pain in their eyes as the doors closed to the hospital and they are walking away from their baby.  You cannot blame a parent for their child’s choices when you’ve been in their home in the midst of a full-blown explosion and the child is throwing balls, shoes, and ashtrays at every adult in the room.  You cannot blame a parent when you see the tears rolling down their cheeks as their child is sitting in the back of a police car in handcuffs.

I cannot stand that the media has decided to peg Friday’s shooter as someone with Autism (and this isn’t the first time someone in the media has done that without confirmation).  I cannot stand that instead of waiting for confirmation from authorities, they decided to do their own digging and pegged the wrong person, which in turn sent people to his Facebook page leaving all kinds of nasty messages.  (Is this really what our world has come to?  Attacking people like that on Facebook?  I wonder what Miss Manners would say about that.)   I cannot stand that people are polarizing in the midst of tragedy.  I cannot stand that the media is interviewing the children.  I cannot stand that the media will air on-site reports for hours on end because they can and because they know people will watch.  I cannot stand people who are slinging around opinions without any base in fact.

This is not about gun control.  The right to bear arms is one of our rights under the Second Amendment.  We can choose to exercise this right or not.  If we do exercise this right, it is our responsibility to have adequate training in the use of whatever firearm we choose.  It is also our responsibility to keep said firearm stored safely and properly.

This is not about prayer in schools.  Courts may uphold no organized group prayers in school.  But, every individual in a school can pray on their own.  Courts and schools can’t take that from an individual.

This is about families and individuals who cannot get mental health services because funding gets cut at every turn when budgets get smaller and no politician wants to take a pay cut.

This is about the media who take tragedies like Sandy Hook Elementary and air continually for hours and sensationalize everything.

This is about all of us building a community and helping each other rather than tearing each other down.