“I Want to Share the Pain.” Help Me Figure Out Why

Hi Readers — Here’s an issue I truly want help figuring out. I just got a comment on the post below this one (which was about why zydhtfibfb
the Sandy Hook shooting feels so close
)  from a reader very far away:

All the way over here in Australia, this pain is just as raw. The faces of these darling children beaming are out from the front page of today’s paper. The pain is gut wrenching….it’s in my heart, it’s in my head, and it’s in my womb. It does not make me fearful to send my children to school, but it is overwhelming. However, I do want to feel this pain, I do want to share it, but the coverage of these tragedies is always taken way too far. They are splashed constantly across our screens and paraded across our consciousness without respite.

Lenore here again: So, readers, my very real question is: Why DO we want to share the pain? And how is this actually sharing?

I ask not  because I am belittling the hurt. I feel it too, in the same organs. I’m just really trying to figure out what purpose sharing this ultimate pain (of certain parents,but not every parent in deep pain) serves. And also: Who are we sharing it with? I don’t think we’re sharing it with the actual parents, are we? Their situations and ours are so different. So are we sharing it with our fellow onlookers? What makes this feel like we are “doing” something — and what, in fact, ARE we doing?

I don’t mean to sound like a sociologist from Mars. I just think there’s something about this overwhelming feeling, even from half the world away, that may explain even more about our society than the fact we are sympathetic creatures.

Or maybe not. That’s why I’m asking. Thanks for any insights. – L




95 Responses to “I Want to Share the Pain.” Help Me Figure Out Why

  1. SKL December 17, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    Interesting question.

    I guess we’re all sisters on some level. And that’s a good thing. Turning away from a sister’s pain would tend to distance us in general, I think.

    Of course I don’t mean to exclude men. I guarantee that there were many millions of tears shed by men last Friday too.

  2. Theresa December 17, 2012 at 10:12 am #

    Maybe we see it as a way to exercise our emotional faculties. As in, if I can put myself as near as possible to this pain, and let it in, then control myself and move on, then when I am ultimately grieved personally (and we all know that it is coming, one way or the other) I will have “rehearsed” and will be better able to handle myself.

  3. Krista December 17, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    Denying our emotions denies our humanity. Sharing the burden of grief, no matter the distance or “good it does”, helps us to remember that we’re all in this together.

  4. Jillian December 17, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    I think there is something in bearing witness. When people suffer so terrifically, it can feel like the least thing we can do to say, “I will not look away from your pain.” Does it help those most affected? Probably not. But there may be collective value in it.

  5. Heather December 17, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    Sharing the burden of grief is part of the Christian faith, and, I would guess, other faiths as well. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15.

  6. Bob December 17, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    But, why do we have these emotions over these particular families as compared all other families that lose their children? Children die by the thousands everyday from war, starvation, etc. If the connection is our humanity, then all we should grieve for all children everywhere regardless of race, ethnicity or culture. But we don’t. If we are really all in this together, why are we selective about who we grieve for?

  7. Stacey December 17, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    After a tragedy like this everyone asks how we can prevent this from happening again..the scary truth is, we can’t, for the most part, without living in a completely locked down society, and even that won’t guarantee any safety… Problem is, no one in the public realm will admit this. We have always had to rely on our fellow human beings doing the right thing in the past. There are just fewer and fewer people with a strong moral compass, or too many mentally ill people, drugged out and disconnected from reality by psychotropics that these instances are on the rise. We have always had the guns, we have just had more people with stronger sense of right vs. wrong.
    On any given day, we have to hope and trust that the car coming head on at you does not cross the double yellow line, whether due to negligent behavior, accident or malicious intent…, that the bus driver doesn’t flip out and drive the bus off a cliff. That the pilot flying your plane isn’t suicidal that day…and so on… These occasions, while rare, make us fully aware of our powerless, of our lack of control. The first knee jerk reaction is to reach for more control, i.e. legislation. But if anyone was really honest they would realize that more laws don’t put us more in control. They just make us feel that way.

  8. Suzanne December 17, 2012 at 10:30 am #

    I’m with Lenore in that I just don’t get why people want to consume themselves with this tragedy. My sympathies go out to those parents and families, I cannot imagine what they must be going through. On the other hand I have heard as much as I want to hear about it – evil exists in this world and as insensitive as it sounds talking endlessly about this event is not going to shine any light on why it happened. The guy was obviously crazy, there is probably truth in the way the media reports this type of thing and the attention people give to it makes it more alluring to the perpetrators.

  9. pentamom December 17, 2012 at 10:32 am #

    Bob, I think it’s right to recognize the difference between this kind of shocking, sudden thing that happens in an unimaginable way, and for unimaginable reasons, and the kind of thing that happens because, well, life is really hard and awful for a lot of folks, always has been, and always will be.

    I don’t mean in any way to diminish those deaths from war, starvation, disease, etc. It’s just that you can see that kind of thing coming. It’s not any less horrible, but shock and suddenness are aggravating factors in how we react to it, and I think that’s normal, not wrong. When my 85ish year old parents died of cancer and Parkinson’s, that was awful. Yet it was a completely different thing from when my 51-year-old friend died from bee-sting anaphylaxis one sunny Saturday.

  10. Sky December 17, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    Because it ought to be the case that the *deliberate slaughter* of innocent children is felt deeply far and wide—the deliberate slaughter of innocent childrn ought to be so rare, so repulsive, and so terribly shocking that it has a universal emotional impact on human beings. When it ceases to have that impact, we have much to fear as a society. It’s not “wanting to share the pain” so much as wanting to acknowledge the horror.

  11. jb December 17, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    We want to feel the pain because we want to have empathy. If we don’t feel pain from something like this, we think, there must be something wrong with us, some kind of psychopathic tendency.

    This is especially immediate in the wake of a shooting like this, since the act of shooting a bunch of innocents is (often) the work of a psychopath. Nobody wants to be like the shooter in any way, even the most superficial.

  12. Fernando December 17, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    I think it may be a combination of things:
    – it may be our paleomammalian brains responding to the shared loss. we all instinctively understand that part of our (i.e. as a species) shared future was destroyed on Friday. So we grieve.
    – this is not politically correct, but maybe this one feels worse because not only we are exposed to this all the time (loved your piece on the 1927 massacre, Lenore) but these kids looked like ours and lived like ours. Sad as it is for similar tragedies around the world (10 girls were killed in Afghanistan today), Newtown is either the reality or the aspiration of much of the Western world – be it in Northeast US, Canada (where I’m from) or Australia.
    – we may be sharing this pain as a way to atone for our collective inaction. Depending on what side of the debate you fall under, you may feel guilty for not pushing for more gun control or for not pushing for better prepared (i.e. armed) communities. Sharing the pain is then a way of saying “i’m sorry for not participating more in improving our community”.

    Again, political correctness aside, I can say as a father that this tragedy also affects us because it showed us how powerless we were to stop it. So some of us may want to share the pain to atone for not fulfilling our evolutionary roles as protectors.

    All I know is that this one affected us much more than anything else so far. So grieving is part of it. Don’t forget though, that so is moving on: as supporters of the Free Range philosophy, we should participate in the debates so that the tragedy of Newtown is not compounded with irrational (though understandable) responses to what happened.

    PS: if you’re so inclined, find, sign and share the petitions for awarding honors to the educators that gave up the lives trying to save the children.

  13. Wendy December 17, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    Simple human compassion. Some of us feel it more strongly than others, but it’s there. We’re wired that way, and that’s a good thing.

  14. Linda December 17, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    Bob and Stacey sum it up perfectly. I feel sad for the horrible tragedy that happened. But I just wish the media would let that town grieve with as much privacy as possible. Horrible things happen every day. I was 18 when my 22yo sister died in a car accident. I grieved with my family and friends. I can’t imagine how much more painful it would have been if there had been media everywhere covering her tragic death. It’s like pouring salt into the wound.

  15. Erica December 17, 2012 at 10:46 am #

    “Shared pain is lessened.
    Shared joy is increased.
    Thus we refute entropy.”
    –Spider Robinson

  16. AS December 17, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    Jillian summed it up for me – I need to bear witness and not look away, no matter how much I wish I could un-know this. I won’t pretend it makes a difference to the bereaved families, but it’s the least I can do.

  17. SKL December 17, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    Bob, I dunno, but I feel grief/sympathy when I learn of any parent losing a child. If anything, it’s worse if your child’s death is a sort of “isolated incident,” because that in a way makes the grieving parents isolated.

    I also feel there’s a loss of innocence for our children when something like this happens. Not that I’m telling my young kids (age 5 & 6) about this, but in my own mind, that they could be the targets of some maniac kind of changes the picture of childhood a little bit.

    Yesterday my kids had their church Christmas program and there was a weird-looking young guy (looking confused, never seen him before, greasy hair, lots of tats, hands in his coat pockets – it wasn’t cold in there) who walked up and down the side aisles a couple of times before he finally left. All I could think of was “copycat” and “I hope some folks in this congregation are packin’.” Call me crazy, I don’t care. Would I have thought that way a week ago? Not sure.

  18. BMS December 17, 2012 at 10:50 am #

    Maybe I’m just in a bad mood, but sometimes I think people wallow in all this to stroke their own egos. I must be a wonderful, empathetic, overall good person because I am capable of feeling pain for someone half a world away on the basis of a bunch of news reports. If this sort of event doesn’t move me to tears I must be a bad person, so I’m going to get worked up about it just to prove how good a person I am.

    I don’t watch TV news ever, and I have read as little about this as I can, and I still found myself moving from sympathy for the victims to ‘Oh God enough of the media circus’ in about 36 hours. My church is having a special prayer service for the victims and I gotta say – Why? I mean, why not have special services for the kids killed by random violence and war all over the world every day? A whole village can be massacred in Africa or some other third world location and we don’t care, but 20 American kids die and it’s a worldwide crisis?

    I’m probably coming across as insensitive, and I don’t mean to be. But this didn’t make me cry, and clutch my kids closer and all that. A friend’s son died in October in his sleep from an undiagnosed congenital defect at age 11. That got to me. But this media circus just disgusts me.

  19. SKL December 17, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    By the way, remember that time in Russia (or neighboring country) when the school was taken over by gunmen during the 1st day ceremonies? There were many adults and children killed. I felt the same way about that, even though that was a politically motivated act on the other side of the world that didn’t endanger my kids at all. The thought that some people could make and carry out a plan to murder children should upset all sane humans. The realization that each of those kids has grieving parents should grieve all sane humans.

  20. Paul R. Welke December 17, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    I have a feeling that I’m about to become REALLY unpopular here, but I’ve noticed a trend that might be worth mentioning. Also worth mentioning is that I might be entirely wrong.

    With any tragedy, it seems that some people have some inexplicable reason to make it about themselves. They need to somehow be a part of it, and I don’t quite understand why.

    We’ve seen it with the September 11th attacks, with people around the world, who didn’t really suffer any real loss needing to tell their (mostly) unrelated stories. I’ve seen the same thing with regards to deaths of family and friends, with people who barely knew the deceased and maybe only had contact once every few years talking as if they’d just lost their best friend or twin sibling.

    The strange thing is that, on some level, these feelings appear to be absolutely genuine. I don’t deny that these people (and I’m sure that we can all be lumped into this category at times) are feeling what they claim to be feeling. I just don’t think that their grief is based on any sense of rationality that we’d expect from someone who has actually had to suffer a terrible loss while the rest of us have been spared such a horrible situation.

  21. SKL December 17, 2012 at 10:55 am #

    That’s not to say the media circus doesn’t disgust me. I’m not even looking at the news as much as usual these days. Just give me the facts whenever you have them straight. Why do I want to know what Geraldo or 100 other reporters or even Obama thinks of this? Is it really news that people have a heart? I hope not.

  22. Erica December 17, 2012 at 10:57 am #

    (Hit return too soon.)

    It is natural and right that we should try to be aware of the suffering of others; it gives us a sense of perspective and reminds us that our own sorrows are not unique or unbearable.

    For those suffering, knowing that strangers are concerned doesn’t help much, but it can serve as a reminder that they are not alone, that their losses are not selfish solitary things but losses to the world at large, that it is okay to mourn deeply and intensely.

    That said, there’s a difference between opening oneself to the pain of others, even strangers half a world away, and “disaster porn” news services that don’t carry a message of loss and sorrow but of fascination with atrocities and the macabre. That role may have its place, but it should not impinge on the shared grieving of a town that’s lost so much brightness and hope.

  23. marie December 17, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    Maybe I’m just in a bad mood, but sometimes I think people wallow in all this to stroke their own egos. I must be a wonderful, empathetic, overall good person because I am capable of feeling pain for someone half a world away on the basis of a bunch of news reports. If this sort of event doesn’t move me to tears I must be a bad person, so I’m going to get worked up about it just to prove how good a person I am.

    Bingo. We all heard the news and we all hurt to think of how it must have been and how it must be. But then the public emoting began. I stopped reading the Facebook postings when I read one that talked about how she “said No a little less often over the weekend” to her kids. I mean, c’mon! If your reaction to Sandy Hook is like that, fine. We all react in some way. Some of us hug our kids, some of us make sure the safety is on and the ammo is put away. But we don’t all have to announce how sad we are or how we just can’t imagine.

    That’s the bit that makes me crazy: Individuals who are not connected to Sandy Hook in any way (except to recognize and react to the pain) going public with their breast-beating. It’s so easy to go public now.

  24. Daniel December 17, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    Bob asks a really good question. I think it’s survivor’s guilt. We obsess over it because it could have been us, but it wasn’t. This also suggests a reason why we want to “share the pain” more when the victims are people “like us”: more for Newtown, somewhat less for kids who are bystanders in gang violence in Chicago, even less than that for kids shot by US drones in Pakistan.

  25. Emily December 17, 2012 at 11:10 am #

    Lenore, I agree. Yes, the Sandy Hook shooting was tragic, the Columbine shooting was tragic, 9/11 was tragic, the Montreal Massacre was tragic, and the child abductions that are all over the news are also tragic. However, it’s possible to feel for the people affected, but still go on living their lives. When I was living in Australia, in the International House community, there was a boy from another residence who went surfing one morning, and drowned in the ocean. The friends he was with couldn’t save him, and the lifeguard didn’t get there fast enough, or maybe it was early in the morning, before the lifeguards arrived. I don’t remember exactly, but a lot of my friends knew him, and of course they were sad, but nobody went into hysterics. I’m fairly good at art, so I made a poster-sized card on behalf of iHouse, people signed it, and we gave it to the director of Campus East, where the boy had lived, and they probably displayed it somewhere, so that the residents there would know we were thinking of them. Meanwhile, people continued going to classes, evening activities, and yes, even to the beach. I remember that day pretty well, because I remember going jogging along the path by the beach that morning, and seeing the waves, and debating going back home for my body board–for the uninitiated, the line between “fun waves” and “dangerous waves” can be pretty thin sometimes. I’m glad I didn’t attempt to surf that day, but I’m also glad that nobody stopped surfing permanently (or tried to stop anyone else from surfing) because of one freak accident.

  26. AlanaM December 17, 2012 at 11:11 am #

    That is exactly my question Lenore. And thanks for saying it so well. I wanted to ask this on another (mom themed) board but I knew I would immediately be flamed for being insensitive and mean.

  27. TRS December 17, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    ” My church is having a special prayer service for the victims and I gotta say – Why? I mean, why not have special services for the kids killed by random violence and war all over the world every day? A whole village can be massacred in Africa or some other third world location and we don’t care, but 20 American kids die and it’s a worldwide crisis?”

    ITA – Our Pastor stated in his Sermon yesterday. While we are outraged by the murders of these 20 beautiful children – where is the outrage of the 50 children that die every min from starvation and illnesses that we have cures for.

    Yet I don’t think I have ever wept like this for kids I don’t know and a town I have never been to. It is private in my home. I am catching myself to stop in front of my kids. I won’t turn on the TV – I do read the Washington Post and read on the Internet. I picture those kids laying in the classroom or I see a picture of the deceased child, teacher, psychologist, and principal and I just get so choked up. Probably because I have a 2nd grader that is a toehead with blue eyes. I see my child and then my imagination runs wild.

    I still took my child to school today w/o concern. In reality I have trained myself to accept inherent risks to every situation. I know my kids are safe at school. It is the safest place for them to be. My daughters MS has a police officer that hangs out in the lobby most of the time. I always see him when I go to the school to volunteer. Now I really appreciate him being there. It is too bad the Elementary school did not have an armed officer in the building. He would have been met at the door with bullets and would not have made it past the lobby. Now I think our county is putting an officer in every elementary school just like the HS and MS.

  28. Emily December 17, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    *I meant, it’s possible to feel for the people affected, but still go on living OUR lives. I wish this board had an “edit” feature.

  29. North of 49 December 17, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    A child who looses their parents is an orphan. A wife who looses her husband is a widow. A husband who looses their wife is a widower.

    There is no word in the English language to describe the depths of pain a parent feels when they loose their child.

  30. Lollipoplover December 17, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    Wendy mentioned human compassion and I think that nails it. When I was a teenager many moons ago, my mother stated (as she made me deliver a hot meal to a family who had a sicked loved one) that the world is divided into two types of people- those who bring you a covered dish when things are tough and those who complain about what’s wrong with the world but do nothing. Surround yourself with compassionate people.

    I cringe at the news photos but I can’t look away. One of the little girls matches mine- same age, blonde hair, same funny smirk. She could have been mine. I gasp to imagine a world without one of my children and can’t imagine what these moms and dads and their community are going through.
    I want to send a covered dish.

    And to the above post about putting a police officer in every school- no, no, no.

  31. meghann December 17, 2012 at 11:41 am #

    I read on another blog yesterday these wise words:

    “We are all indescribably sad. We send a prayer to those families who are going through this tragedy even more than we are. But we will give them the respect of letting the depth of their grief be theirs… we will not claim it for ourselves.”

    I do not understand why so many people want to insert themselves into tragedies and to take on the grief of others as their own. I wonder if it is because we don’t know how else to express ourselves, when something really awful happens. (I also wonder if some people simply like the attention.)

    I grew up nearby to Newtown and have been reeling a bit, these last few days, with the shock of something happening in a place I know and love so well. A few people here who know where I am from have offered their sympathy and condolences, and I haven’t known quite how to respond. It makes me uncomfortable. Those near and dear to me in town are fine (physically; emotionally is another story entirely, of course), and I know the sadness I feel is just a pinprick compared to what those who are actually grieving a child, a neighbor, a friend, a schoolmate are feeling. I can’t lessen their suffering by taking on their grief as my own.

  32. marie December 17, 2012 at 11:41 am #

    And to the above post about putting a police officer in every school- no, no, no.

    Oh, thank you. I agree with you on the “no, no, no”.

  33. Havva December 17, 2012 at 11:56 am #

    I get a sort of mental dissonance from knowing something awful happened, but not seeing it. It feels detached and on some level wrong to just peacefully read or hear about something horrendous. Something that for the people experiencing it is a visceral experience. I guess I was raised with enough TV that I expect a visceral story to feel visceral. To not get that sensation, feels sort of sick, or at least it used to.

    I haven’t been watching any of this. The shock of hearing the press conference on multiple stations in my car, and thinking it might have happened in my city, gave me a good dose more of the visceral than I could stand.

    I think my desire to have a visceral feeling of horror for horrifying events have been subsiding along with my TV viewing. At this point TV has been practically eliminated, from my home. Now that I’m accustomed to the more muted intellectual approach to news of all kinds, it feels ever more grotesque to insert myself into someone else’s horror and pain, via the camera. Particularly those camera’s shoved into a grief stricken, or a panic stricken parent’s face. That seems so vulgar now.

  34. MrsSell December 17, 2012 at 11:59 am #

    I think that we in the West experience so little suffering compared to people throughout history, and in other places in the world today, that our psyches have not adjusted yet. Think of all the people who lived through WWII in Europe, and the London Blitz specifically. Their whole worlds were being destroyed their very eyes, their families and friends dying by the thousands. Yet they got up every morning and continued to live. Had they allowed themselves to become overwhelmed by grief at every horrible thing that happened, they would all have become catatonic with misery. Human beings are much more resilient than we realize.

  35. Barb December 17, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    Somewhere in the back our minds we know that children by the thousands die everyday and when I think of that it does make me horribly sad, but I can push it away with other thoughts and get through my life without too much empathy bringing me down. This is different in many ways though, these are children who we did not consider at risk, there was no war, no sickness, no natural disaster these babies were taken in a brutal fashion by a sick individual who if provided the help that he needed might not have done this and for that we grieve and it is trust into our conscience constantly by every news organization out there, there is no escape. I also think that somewhere in back of our minds we hope that those people will be comforted in some small way know that the world cries with them.

  36. Lori December 17, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    This is the first major tragedy that I have been able to successfully deal with by putting some distance between myself and the media onslaught. I’ve read the more factual articles online but shy away from the emotional ones. I feel just as horrified as everyone else but I refuse to watch any television news or video or even look at the pictures of individual students or grieving parents. It’s not that I don’t care but that I care TOO much and I know from past experience that if I allow myself to go down that road I will end up an emotional wreck and not be any good to anyone.

  37. Captain America December 17, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    I’m just stricken by how inexplicable this is.

    The best viewpoint I’ve run across is simply that it is part of a large and unimaginable plan of God. I simply cannot fathom it.

  38. pentamom December 17, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    ” My church is having a special prayer service for the victims and I gotta say – Why? I mean, why not have special services for the kids killed by random violence and war all over the world every day? A whole village can be massacred in Africa or some other third world location and we don’t care, but 20 American kids die and it’s a worldwide crisis?”

    Do you go to every funeral for everyone who has ever died? Or just those who are known to you?

    On one level, I agree with you — Lenore expressed well in her “distance” post. These kids are closer to us than the kids massacred in Africa, but it’s only a trick of culture that makes us think we have any actual closeness.

    And yet I think it’s dangerous, once the “closeness” feeling is created, to just try to shut it down by comparison. We want to keep things in perspective, and if we’re clear-headed enough to say, “These are not my children or my friends, and though I see this as a tragedy, this is not my grief” well and good. But we don’t want to impose a coldly rational numbness on ourselves too quickly, if we have a more emotional initial reaction. If people feel the need to express some kind of personal reaction, gently acknowledge their feelings, and then when they’re cooler maybe introduce the idea of perspective. I think only bad things can happen from an approach that implies, even if wholly unintentionally, that people are wrong for caring too much.

  39. pentamom December 17, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    Having said all that, I also agree that there’s sort of a “porn” mentality to some of this — that’s meant as an analogy, not that I think what’s going on is literally sexually charged. People get some kind of satisfaction from thinking how much they care. I think a more obvious case than this one for that was the death of Princess Diana. A woman with a troubled personal life dies in a car accident — that’s about what it added up to, in the barest of terms. Yet people all over the world were convincing themselves that they were personally bereft.

    This case has somewhat more foundation — we feel legitimate shock and horror when kids like ours have unspeakably horrible things happen to them. (And though it’s true that a person of unlimited emotional capacity and generosity might be able to react the same way to kids who are significantly different suffering the same way, I don’t think we’re MEANT to be that way. That we react more strongly to things that feel closer to us in a whole variety of ways is what keeps us able to function in a world full of awful stuff. As long as we don’t actually convince ourselves that the kids who don’t look like ours don’t matter, I don’t think there’s a problem.) But it so easily slides over into a means of self-aggrandizement — we’re good people because we lose sleep over things a thousand miles away that happen to people we don’t know.

    But on the third hand, as others have pointed out, people are just different. My sister-in-law spends a day crying every time one of these mass horrors happens, especially to children. I don’t think she’s a sop and I don’t think she derives emotional or mental satisfaction from thinking she’s a good person for caring. I truly believe she is the most tender-hearted person I’ve ever known.

  40. Beth December 17, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    @BMS, thank you for your post.

  41. court December 17, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    I don’t get why people want to know so much about the individual victims in this tragedy. To me, watching these people grieve is the same as gawking at the victims of a car accident on the side of the road. I have specifically avoided all news coverage of the victims because I believe they have a right to privacy. If it was my own child who had died like that I wouldn’t want his name and photo released to the world. I would want to grieve in private with my family.

  42. M in AL December 17, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    I agree with almost everything I’ve read above in one way or another. Still, I am put off by an outpouring of public grief by those who are not connected to this tragedy in any way other than our common humanity.

    This sort of reaction has become common in my area, and I really do wonder where it comes from. I’ve seen candlelight vigils heavily attended by people who don’t even know the ill or deceased person, nor any of their family. And not just attended, either–hugging and crying and clinging to each other is in full force. It makes me very uncomfortable.

    I also am uncomfortable seeing the piles of toys and flowers as memorials left by strangers. I see the hundreds of teddy bears and other toys piled on the wet ground in Newtown, and can’t help but think of all the children in our own country this year who belong to families who have little or may be in drastically reduced circumstances. This is a lot of time, money and effort that could have been used more constructively. Many of those memorials are left by people who don’t know those directly affected. If you’re moved to go buy something, please know that the affected families are mostly in seclusion with their private grief. A note to them to read when they can and a toy or monetary donation to a charity that helps children/those living in
    need is more useful.

    I worry that I’m cynical or, at best, somehow uncaring. But I do see a me-me-me aspect to this sort of response. Maybe this is the Southerner coming out in me, but this sort of thing is unseemly. On a person level, it’s not about YOU.

    Having said that, I see and recognize this horrible tragedy, and I honor those immediately affected by it. I cannot help but put myself in those parents’ shoes, the teacher’s shoes, or put my own children in the dead children’s shoes. How can one not? How horrifyingly senseless this all is, and how terrifying and confusing and lonely those minutes must have been for the victims in particular, but for the survivors inside the school, too. I would go to the ends of the earth to spare my loved ones–and maybe even your loved ones–a fate like that.

    By all means hug your children tighter today and every day forward. And others: teachers, neighbors, etc. . . But becoming prostrate with borrowed personal grief helps no one.

  43. BMS December 17, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    All us parents just got an email from the principal of my younger son’s school (edited slightly):

    “I am sure many of you are wondering about your children today. I am happy to report that today has been a typical Monday–students kicked off their morning with a fabulous jazz performance. I have been in and out of all classrooms today and have enjoyed hearing stories about students’ pending vacations, all about me presentations, and reports on their reading. Indoor recess was an energetic and fun time (as always–chock full of disappointed kids who ask if they could PLEASE go outside??!!?) Teachers have been working hard to maintain our normal routine, and it shows! While I will send another update later this evening with details about the day and our safety protocols for your review, I wanted to let you know how we are doing. Thank you for all of your well wishes and for your support.”

    This is about the 6th email from the school district since the shooting. I don’t know, it seems like they’re somehow shocked that the kids aren’t prostrated by this. I don’t need an update every five minutes saying “The kids are still fine!” I know they are.

    Sorry, I won’t be going to any candlelight vigils tonight (yes, one is planned in my town). If I had any free time, I would spend it lobbying for better gun control laws, better mental health services, or something that would actually do more good than all this pointless hand wringing by people who weren’t even there.

  44. Jenne December 17, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    It’s a thing (some) humans do. They feel that things this terrible should be remembered, should be marked, so that we don’t just forget them, so that we don’t pretend they didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean, necessarily, that we are putting ourselves into it: in another age, or to other people, it might be the impulse to pray. Some people feel that way. We have this outpouring of sympathy for people we’ve never met…

  45. Filioque December 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    M in AL: I thought I was the only one in the world who didn’t get the point of flowers, toys and teddy bears at the sites of tragedies.

    I suppose toys and teddy bears are at least understandable in the case of children, but it seems particularly incongruous and almost laughable in other circumstances: On the patrol car of a macho cop killed in the line of duty, for example. In these cases I think these tributes trivialize and almost ridicule an adult’s accomplishments and death.

  46. Renee Anne December 17, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    I’ve had difficulty with this whole topic because I have a background in education, I’ve worked in schools where violence happens (usually students getting into it about girlfriends/boyfriends), and I have a small child. Part of me wants to understand so badly but the psychologist in me knows that it’s not something that *can* be understood. Another part of me is so, so tired of reading about it on Facebook and USA Today and everywhere I look. I’ve actually gotten glossy-eyed looking at Facebook because 7/8 posts are related to it, in some way, be it about the stigma related to mental health or to the teachers or the faces of the children or groups to show support. I felt the same way after the World Trade Center was hit. I think I use detachment as a coping mechanism but, at the same time, I don’t need to be exposed to it every second…so the detachment is also because I’m just tired of it. There are so many other things going on in the world and to fixate on one (very rare) incident seems so…I don’t want to say, “silly” because that’s not what I mean but I guess it’s a disservice to everything else. Do I feel horribly that it happened? Absolutely. Am I going to let it run/ruin my life? No.

  47. Julie December 17, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    I don’t think sympathy is a bad thing. I *do* grieve with parents who have lost their children, whether to cancer, to an accident or to a shooting. Actual tears. It really isn’t something I choose, but I know what I would feel if it had happened to my kids and my heart cries for the parents.

    However, I will also say that constant media attention does not help anyone. My brother’s 13-year-old niece was shot and killed in a mass murder in 1999. As he told me this weekend, “Grieving that kind of loss is excruciating. Having to do it in the public eye is worse.” And as my sister-in-law said on the anniversary of the shooting when another memorial and dedication was scheduled, “I’m so tired of talking about she died. Can we, for once, talk about how she lived?”

    Granted, it’s a bit early to say that about Newtown. But at some point, it can become too much for the survivors. We don’t want to pretend it never happened, but all of those families were more than just victims and we do them an injustice to reduce them to that.

  48. `M in AL December 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm #


    Julie wrote this just above. I just wanted everyone to see it. When you’re thinking about these families, Yes. This.

  49. `M in AL December 17, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    Huh. The quote didn’t come through. I’ll retype it:

    “We don’t want to pretend it never happened, but all of those families were more than just victims and we do them an injustice to reduce them to that.”

  50. Amanda Matthews December 17, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

    Maybe it’s because we think that by sharing, we all get a little less? Though if so it’s kind of selfish imo…

    @BMS why couldn’t they go outside?

  51. Michelle December 17, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    Sorry to go off-topic, but does anyone know where I can find a Houston area lawyer who supports Free Range? I just got a cop write me up and tell me she’s going to call CPS for letting my 6yo play at the park right down the street from our house.

  52. Susie Maguire December 17, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

    It’s simply because we are all connected … It’s not a case of WANTING to share so much as it’s impossible not to share. I cried my eyes out on Saturday morning when I heard about what had happened. Not because I wanted to. But because we are bound together in the web of life and the tears came unbidden and the emotions unbridled. What happened hurt. It hurt every single one of us.

  53. km December 17, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

    Because we know that the pain of those involved must be terrible to the point of being impossible to understand, yet we wish to understand our fellow human beings.

  54. BMS December 17, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    @ Amanda Matthews: It was absolutely pouring rain and cold and miserable besides. So I am ok with indoor recess for those reasons. I stayed in all day too!

  55. mollie December 17, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

    “If the connection is our humanity, then all we should grieve for all children everywhere regardless of race, ethnicity or culture. But we don’t. If we are really all in this together, why are we selective about who we grieve for?”

    I love Bob’s question. I guess it all has to do with what triggers us. Different people have different triggers. When my husband mentioned this event to me, it triggered dismay, sadness and frustration, but I didn’t cry. I didn’t feel my heart break. Maybe that’s because I’ve accepted, somewhat wearily, the fact that in a country where guns are easy to attain, there will be random acts of violence involving guns. It’s not really a surprise.

    I don’t have a TV, so maybe if I saw all the children’s faces, or corpses, or saw interviews with grieving parents, it would be different for me. Different triggers elicit different responses.

    We are hard-wired as humans to have a sympathetic emotional response to suffering. I’m REALLY wired that way. That’s why I cannot watch those “funniest home videos” showing people suffering horrible pain, or even disappointment. It’s simply awful for me. I can’t even enjoy Chevy Chase “Vacation” movies because they trigger depression instead of levity, seeing everything go so terribly wrong for the characters. There’s enough for me to respond to, right here in front of me, every day of my life. I don’t need the thrill of artificially triggering my emotional responses. And don’t even think about horror movies. I’m over it. Completely.

    I, too, got the predictable emails from the school today, giving me the details of the “lockdown” policy, NOT THAT THERE IS ANY IMMINENT THREAT TODAY, oh no, of course not, your kids are alright. I count myself absolute last on the list of parents who would contact the school and query about what they plan to “do about it” in the wake of this “incident in Connecticut.” Do about it? Nothing. There’s nothing we can do about it, especially here in Canada. We’ve already done plenty with our firearms laws; it’s so vanishingly unlikely that someone would come in to shoot up the school already, what’s to do? Crikey, I get the heebie-jeebies thinking that some parents actually CALLED THE SCHOOL and wanted to make sure *their kids* are safe. No, parents, your kids are not any more, or less, safe than they were yesterday. Now find a spiritual practice and get yourself some grounding and acceptance around life’s unpredictability.

    Cranky today.

  56. Lollipoplover December 17, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

    @BMS- weather here has been miserable too. My kids walked today with umbrellas. Glad they weren’t at this school. School in lockdown over an umbrella.


  57. Dovmom December 17, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

    I feel like a bitch for saying this, but here goes. I think we “share” our pain the way the stimulious is presented to us in the first place. What an apt term, share is too: through social media humanity has been reduced to what amounts to marketing. So we share openly and publicly with the lack of conviction the news came to us. We’re so bombarded with images and pointless updates that restate information with high repetition. Before there’s time for any thoughtful discussion or response we become disinterested. So as a society we re-post tributes on Facebook and dutifully update our statuses to show we care or at least are informed but very little real discussion will occur.
    These families, this community will grieve forever but the rest of us will be over it next week. Not because we’re terrible people, but because we never felt anything real to begin with.

  58. Julie December 17, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    I’m wondering if anyone has contacted or is getting ready to contact their school/district about NOT implementing more security measures in light of Newtown.

    Our elementary school has been handling things fairly well in my opinion, but in response to repeated questions (apparently), the principal sent out a message this afternoon saying that the district in a meeting last month had “already identified concerns regarding our open campuses and are working on plans for fencing and gates to make our campuses more secure.”

    Currently our campus cannot be locked down. The individual classrooms can be locked, but not the entire school grounds. A couple of the gates are merely openings in the fence, and they do not lock the students in for the duration of day. (A nearby school, perhaps 4 mi away but in a different district does this, so there is area precedent for implementing this kind of procedure.) I really want to know what others have said or what you might say if you were to contact the district urging them NOT to make our students into prisoners. Besides the fact that we don’t have the money to do it, it wouldn’t really help anything.

  59. Julie December 17, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    @Lollipoplover–Good lord, did you read the last paragraph of that article? That high school does routine lockdown drills–complete with actors to simulate a threat. I’m pretty sure I’d pull my kid out of there!

  60. Onemusingmama December 17, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

    This is not directly to the original question, but in the same vein. And that is my occasional feelings today that something must be wrong with me and my reaction. Because I did not particularly worry about putting my 2nd grader on the bus this morning. I did not drive her to school, park near her school to “check on things”, or go out of my way to drive by her school during the day. All things that my local friends were posting about during the day. I didn’t spend the day “liking” every tribute, photo, and news story about the victims to show how much I care. I was vehemently against the grass-roots effort to have everyone wear the Sandy Hook school colors today, and appalled by a friend’s school who was having their elementary-aged kids write letters of support to the kids in Newtown. How does any of that help anything? It doesn’t. Wearing colors and writing letters? That’s not about the kids, that about the adults trying to show how sympathetic they are and using their kids to do it. Elementary school kids shouldn’t have to know about this, and all the communications from our school system (we live about 40 miles from Newtown so this is very close to us in many ways) said they were keeping things as normal as possible and parents should decide how to address it with their children. Many of my friends opted not to tell their children and then spent the day fretting (and posting about fretting) about what their children would hear at school today. (Perhaps they wouldn’t have heard anything if it wasn’t for the wearing colors and writing letter thing?) We decided to tell our as-yet unaware daughter about it, in the most general way possible, following some of the very good recommendations we read. Although I was unsure this was the right decision, as the day went on I felt better about it because I was not worried about what she was hearing, and anything she did hear would not freak her out. But as I’m reading people’s posts online, I actually had moments of wondering if I wasn’t worried enough. But I don’t believe that my worrying helps anything. I’m horrified, sad, and disgusted by what happened, but it can’t compare to what the victims families are feeling. I will not live in fear of something that is so unlikely to ever happen and inhibit my child’s growing independence out of a sense that I “should” be more scared. My solution today – less news, less Facebook, and a growing sense that our global interconnectedness is making our local communities less strong.

  61. Beth December 17, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

    @Julie, not only that, the vast majority of commenters were in favor of the lockdown over an umbrella – one even cliched “better safe than sorry.” It was an UMBRELLA. Who would have been sorry again? And why were the boys still being interviewed by detectives at the time the article was lifted? I’m so sad that our culture has come to this.

  62. decemberbaby December 17, 2012 at 9:11 pm #

    I have a slightly different take here, but I’m exhausted, so please bear with my slightly disorganized thoughts:

    People here in the “Western World” are grieving… but they’re not grieving the loss of those children and educators. I think that when this kind of tragedy – absolutely unpredictable, violent loss – strikes people who look like us and live like us, it reminds us that we do not exist in a Just World. Tragedies like these, for which nobody could have prepared, remind us that all our wealth, intelligence, health, “preparedness,” our safe cars and our safer homes, can’t guarantee we won’t die a violent, horrible death.

    We are immersed in a culture of control. Books like “The Secret” proclaim that we get what we think about. Fat people are ridiculed and assumed to have major character flaws that render them incapable of controlling their weight. Most of us have delusions of control in life… until we hear of something tragic and unexpected happening to people just like us who did all the right things just like we do. Our illusion of control is shattered and we are terrified to realize that these things can and do happen, and they might even happen to us. And so we grieve.

  63. Julia December 17, 2012 at 9:18 pm #

    There are several elements at work:
    1- the selfish element which is the desire to be “linked” somehow to a national tragedy, even when it has nothing to do with you. it may be the tears you shed with friend or the would-be premonitions you have (nightmare friday morning?). Mine was the song “Seven Spanish Angels” in my ears upon waking.
    2-the desire for community in an increasingly insular world. paradoxically, as we see more news from the other side of the globe, we do not know who our neighbors are. we have few raw intimate connections in our general life and increasingly find difficulty having those connections with those we say we love.
    3-we are in some way innocculating ourselves from the possibility of outliving our children. The less the likelihood that a child will die in a sudden, violent, unexpected manner, the more likely the parent can take the emotional liberty to feel the pain. but we feel this pain the same way we feel gravity by bungi jumping. no matter how terrifying it is to fall, before you begin your decent, you know you will rebound. and you know you will walk away from it.

    I would be curious to ask any number of parents from neighborhoods where the likelihood that they will outlive their child is realitively high, do they have these grief fantasies as well, or is their respone to further insulate themselves from their dangerous reality?

  64. linvo December 17, 2012 at 9:20 pm #

    Haven’t read all comments, but I agree with the couple of comments I read on how lots of people tend to try shift the focus to their emotions. It annoys me to no end when I read all those facebook posts describing the poster’s emotional response to such tragedies in details. It just makes me want to shake them and yell “Not everything is about you, you know! Why would anyone now care about YOUR tears?”.

    Yes, I think it would be rather unhuman to not shed a quiet tear when watching/reading stories like these. I do the same when I see the suffering of kids and parents in war zones or through natural disasters. But to wallow in that grieve about people you didn’t know is plain self-absorbed.

    Which is also why I, like some others, switch of the tv and avoid the papers after a couple of days of relentless reporting by the media who is trying to prolong these instinctive emotional responses. Because it sells papers, it attracts viewers. When really, once you know the fact and have accepted that people have suffered and are suffering, what more can be said about it? I remind myself that life’s a b!tch and move onto things that I can control instead.

  65. Erik December 17, 2012 at 9:33 pm #

    The kids ages 4 and 5 were both wiped and were out cold by 745! My wife Lisa was out cold by 800!

    Dinner dishes are in the dishwasher and I’m sitting here in the living room with just the light from our Christmas tree. Thinking. Reflecting. And crying.

    The tragedy in Connecticut on Friday has truly affected me. Those who know me well know I have never been a “what if” thinker. I have never worried about what might happen. I take the facts, situation, decisions, and everything else and I just run with it. I don’t worry. “It is what it is,” is a common phrase.

    Then why, after 43 years of life, am I sitting here wondering and getting worked up over the questions running through my head? What if it were Melody’s or Sam’s school? What if something happened to one of them? What if I were traveling for work when it happened? How quick could I get home. Doesn’t matter, it would not be quick enough. How would Lisa handle it? How would I console her? Or Sam? Or Melody? Would/Could either child understand and comprehend if something happened to the other?

    And as much as this thinking has caused me to actually start crying, I tell myself that this is all hypothetical thinking to ME. But for nearly 30 families, this is their reality. This is their real life nightmare.

    I have prayed. Not for the 20 children as I believe that all 20 of them are in heaven, with God and Jesus. No, I have prayed for the families of those 20 children and 8 adults that were killed. I pray for the other children in that school that were injured. I pray for the all of the other children that were in that school that day because their lives will never be the same. While they may have been on the other side of the building and never even saw the shooter, their lives have changed and they have lost a part of their childhood which they will, unfortunately, never get back.

    After watching the news on Friday, one of the people standing next to me said, “Oh, those poor parents.” I replied, “And there nothing we can do to help them. Nothing to make them feel better.”

    I still believe that. Anything we say, post to Facebook, or tell one another will not make those parents feel any better. Nothing we send them will help. It is not like a hurricane came through and destroyed their house and they need food, or shelter, or clothes. It is not as though we can hold a concert to raise money to help them rebuild their lives. Nothing we can do or say will help these parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, friends, classmates, or teachers. Their lives have been shattered and there is nothing we can do to help. Anything we say or post is only to make ourselves feel better.

    Posting on Facebook pictures of these children and adults killed do not help the families. The help the person posting. Period. I saw a picture posted of a mother, father, and 3 children who looked to be around 3, 4, and 5 years old. The started to read the status that went with the picture and it said that the 5 year old girl on the far right was one of the kindergarteners who was killed. And I started to cry and I closed down Facebook. Does posting that picture help the parents or the family in anyway? Absolutely not.

    Where am I going with this? I have no idea. On Friday, I couldn’t put together a coherent thought and just had to post a list of words. Three days later, I can fill a couple of pages, but it is as if I have ADD. I can come up with a lot of disjointed thoughts. Hopefully, in a couple more days, I can put it all together so it makes more sense.

    Until then, I will continue to pray for these families. I hope you do the same.

  66. Lelia Mander December 17, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    Thanks, Lenore, for your thoughts. I have the same questions and mixed feelings about the reactions. Before I knew about Sandy Hook, I saw “Lincoln” and was particularly affected by the wrenching scene in which Abe and his wife are fighting about their different responses to the death of their son Willie. Then over the weekend I dared myself to imagine losing one of my boys (they are 9 and 11), if there could ever come a time when I’d know I’d never look in their faces or hold their hands or hug them ever again (yes, they got lots of extra kisses that weekend). Then I felt guilty as hell when they were fighting and all I wanted was for them to go to bed and leave me in peace. It is like staring into the abyss, trying to “get close” to this horror and vainly struggling to “make sense” of it. There is a profound mystery to our feelings and our common experience, and events like this only intensify that mystery for me.

  67. Ada December 17, 2012 at 9:45 pm #

    This is a really interesting question, something I’ve thought about too.
    I’ve decided that, for me….

    I don’t need to watch interviews with 7 year olds to know that they will need a lot of time to heal.

    I don’t need to see the pictures and read the names of the children and adults who were murdered, to know that their families will miss them forever.

    I don’t need to know what happened at the funerals to know that this is one of the hardest days of theses parents lives.

    I don’t need to know about the perpetrators mother and brother and father to know that only a person who is deeply disturbed would commit such an act.

    I don’t need to talk to my friends about how devastated I am because although I feel sad, my life will be the same as it was before, in just a matter of days. The lives of those who were actually there, and who lost loved ones, will never be the same. My wallowing will not do anything for them.

    I wish the media would leave that community alone. Let them mourn without cameras.

  68. Kimberly December 17, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

    We got two e-mails today
    1. From principal – do not discuss what happened in CT with students, many of them are unaware (I teach in elementary) If someone wants to talk about it send them to the councilors’ office. If parents ask – we have a lock down plan in place and they are to talk to the principal for more details.

    2. From district administration. All campuses have well thought out plans in place for situations. Refer parent questions to the office, focus on teaching the kids.

    I expect a letter will go out in Wednesday folders, if they are getting concerned phone calls.

    The other teachers in my pod (4 classrooms with a common hall that opens to the outside)- made sure they knew which key locked the doors and that it worked. I am first one there each day and unlock the doors for them.

    Something that falls under the you don’t hear about it blanket. We have had 3 lockdowns at my school since 2001. All reasonable
    1. A man was beating his wife just outside the fence line. We were locked down while the police responded – The fight was 2 or 3 yards from my classroom door. The call to 911 from a neighbor said the man had a gun. Turned out to be an older big cell phone.

    2. A teacher was attacked by a crazed parent. Kids were gone but teachers were still on duty.

    3. Man robbed store next door – ran through our playground full of 3rd graders waving a gun. The cops chasing him lost him around a corner and thought he was in our building. This was the scariest for our kids – my students knew it was real not because they saw anything but because it was the day before the BIG STATE TEST. My 4th graders knew that the principal wasn’t going to choose to have them prone on the floor instead of reviewing for the math test.

  69. amy December 17, 2012 at 10:20 pm #

    @Bob: Because, Bob, we could not mentally endure sharing the pain of every tragedy. It would break any one of us. But to hear about this is to feel pain, whether we call it sharing or not.

    When we yearn to take the burden of pain from someone, that is called prayer. It strengthens the families. So we are sharing the pain in a way. However, if nobody knows, then they don’t know to pray.

    The gross exploitation by the media is another issue. I haven’t seen Tv coverage, just read the basics when it first happened,nbut I’m sure there are hundreds of private moments made public every day.

  70. Warren December 17, 2012 at 10:35 pm #

    I know in the general public my stance is the unpopular one. I honestly feel that the implied shared pain is one of survivors guilt, being that parents were glad it wasn’t their child’s school, or a misguided way of making one’s self feel better about themself. By showing how caring and supportive they are.

    Let’s face it, the true story has already been lost, as everyone is turning it into a political calling for gun control.

    Unfortunately, this will become another event that is going to have an annual memorial, that will be top media coverage every year. The shooter, because I refuse to use his name, will be remembered for years, decades. Becoming an infamous celebrity. Famous for killing kids. Thus going to show other’s they can become famous to. If we stop making these lunatics famous, if we stop giving the events so much media coverage, it may not look so inviting to someone on the edge.

    I have sympathy for the families, what they are going thru, no parent should go thru. Was I in pain, tears…..no. Did I pay extra attention to my kids……….no. My life here in Ontario, Canada is unchanged, and unaffected by what happened.

  71. Gina December 17, 2012 at 11:03 pm #

    What Fernando said! So well-thought out and well-said. I also understand Erik’s point of view, and I think he makes Fernando’s point. My husband is a 1st grade teacher, and this weekend was long and emotional as we tried to avoid the news (nearly impossible) and he tried to not think of his own 26 students. He is not an emotional man, so this was unusual. I am glad that he is, though, level-headed and has already gotten past the worst of his feelings. I hope we all do because, as has been pointed out already, our sympathic grief will not help the people suffering with the very real grief of losing innocence, children, and mothers and teachers.

  72. Peter Orvetti December 17, 2012 at 11:25 pm #

    Lenore, thank you for keeping up the voice of perspective and cool-headedness in the midst of this latest news. I know you get a lot of heat for your stance, and I’m sure you have received some unkind words since Friday.

    I am a free-range homeschool dad in a major city (D.C.), and I’m fond of informing people of the odds of bad things actually happening to them and their kids. I have very little fear of something tragic happening to my kids. My biggest fears as a parent are of those who THINK something tragic will happen to my kids because of our parenting choices — government agencies, nosy neighbors, etc.

    I actually grew up one town over from Newtown, so my own Facebook feed is filled with people who are actually there. I also was acquainted in college with someone who later had a young daughter abducted and murdered by a stranger. And I rode the Metro under the Pentagon on my way to work on 9/11. But I know that all of these episodes, while extremely tragic, were also extremely unlikely.

    I was at a family funeral once, and I remember someone being amazed and a bit repulsed that during a long weekend, a few of us could actually sit and read. But what were we meant to do — weep and pull our hair out for hours on end? I feel similar pressure to “perform” in the wake of this latest tragedy — that posting a silly picture or a Christmas song on Facebook is somehow disrespectful.

    I do think, as a few people mentioned above, that when something legitimately shocking like this happens, which does cause pain even though we do not personally know the victims, we try to deal with the emotion by making it personal — with these public performances and vigils and retweets and all the rest. I am not cynical; I know these come from a heartfelt place, and that people really do care. But perhaps the best way to “cope” with a publicized tragedy that does not really affect one personally is just to maintain a respectful silence.

  73. Charles J Gervasi December 17, 2012 at 11:36 pm #

    I have fortunately not followed any of the coverage b/c by chance I haven’t been near a TV or radio much lately. I’ve heard bits about it.

    I see no point in going out my way to learn the details about it. There are hundreds of tragic things going on in the world and even in my city. For example, people of all ages get rare autoimmune diseases that leave them completely disabled and eventually dead. My area of knowledge is not related to helping rare diseases, so I choose not to think about them unless they hit someone I know.

    OTOH, if someone I know experiences a tragedy, I want to help. If these kids were harmed by a freak electrical accident, I would be interested b/c I’m an electrical engineer and might possibly be able take some action on my projects to protect against a similar accident.

    People in distance cities who don’t know anyone connected to this recent tragedy but feel the need to share or do something are IMHO suffering b/c they’re hearing news they can’t do anything about. _Maybe_ they could use the information to shape their views on public health, policing, or gun control, but most people know freak tragic crimes happen from time to time, so the particulars of this crime won’t change their views on these issues.

    IMHO it’s normal foible to crane your neck to see a car wreck. It’s not health to spend more than a few seconds staring at a tragedy. People who read long articles about it, watch long news stores, and listen to commentators argue what it means for political issues are IMHO engaging in unhealthy behavior.

  74. maliha hasan December 17, 2012 at 11:57 pm #

    Here in karachi, pakistan, I send my kids off each day knowing that there is a high chance a bomb in the city or political goons firing shots randomly. My daughter Diya is 6 and my son Zayn is 4. We have bomb drills, fire drills, “what to do if you get lost” drills. We have a corrupt / inefficient police force & a pathetic first-response / paramedics. So our family backup plans have backup plans. We have no choice: like any parent, when it comes to my kids, I don’t want to take a chance. I’ve been reading about this incident & saw your President choke up a little on TV. I keep looking at pictures of kids who are blond & blue eyed in the papers & on TV. They look nothing like my kids. I think I cry everytime. Because they are the same ages. Someone said it right when they said we feel hopeless as parents,, because we don’t want to feel what they are feeling. We know we can’t lessen the pain of the victims families. We know their lives have changed. I am so far away I can’t even attend a vigil to show support. But I am restless. I know I have to do something. Or my head will explode. This is the horrible reality of the world we live in. Feeling it isn’t bad. Its natural.

  75. CrazyCatLady December 18, 2012 at 12:07 am #

    I don’t know these people. I may sound callous. But really, I don’t know them, their kids, their lives. And I don’t think that I can afford to. I don’t want to. I don’t need borrowed grief.

    I knew a beautiful sweet little girl. She died of cancer, after a long struggle. I had some very frank conversations with the mother before her daughter died. I didn’t know what to say, but I was willing to be an ear, which she sorely needed.

    I have a friend with two adopted boys. One of them clearly has mental issues (at age 8 or so) and little brother is scared of him, and the parents are scared of what he might do to little brother. He pulled out his front bottom teeth (adult) when his little brother lost a baby tooth. They can’t get the help they need for this troubled boy that they love.

    I have friend with a daughter with a very painful condition. The other night she was in great pain, and reported to her mother the next morning that she can’t wait until she dies, because, she said to her mother, “there is no pain in Heaven.” Her condition is not considered deadly, but instead is to be a life of pain. I am scared for this little girl, the little girl who held my son’s hand when he was in 2nd grade and she was in first and they declared that when they finished college they would get married.

    I don’t want to dwell on what happened last Friday. I had a great day with my kids, then found about the shooting. I worry about my friends. Some with mundane issues, some with more extreme. I am not sure how much energy I can extend to people I don’t know when people near me are suffering so much…and I know them and their pain and I still don’t know how to deal with it.

    So I turn off the TV and radio and save my tears for my friends and their children whom I know.

  76. Annoyed December 18, 2012 at 12:11 am #

    I’m with BMS (roughly the 18th response).

    I decided that the first headline I saw about this event told me everything I needed to know. I knew the media would harp on every gory sad detail repeatedly and I wanted no part of it. I already felt that the right to bear arms was a stupid one and I am not about to get all worked up just because another murder/massacre took place. What good would that do me? Or anyone else, for that matter? I think as a Canadian, it would only serve to frustrate me further that there is nothing I could do to improve matters.

    A question for you people that force yourselves to get a mental image of the murdered kids lying bloody on the floor, or the people that think they owe it to the survivors to imagine losing your own children; What good does that do you?

    I live 700 km from this tragedy but it might as well be another galaxy away, for all I want it to consume my thoughts (I don’t).

    I left the house only briefly today but I still overheard my cashier talking about the shooter and his mom, etc with a customer. And it disgusts me because they are media puppets. This tragedy is nowhere near our town but my cashier had all the details, as if she’d had a cup of coffee with the police detective in charge of the whole shebang himself. It was gossip. Gossip does make the gossipers feel a bond, and bonding is a good thing, but trying to feel the pain and attachment when you’re faraway, un-related, and helpless, is not a healthy thing in my mind.

    My kids go to a Catholic school and I have a feeling that the school will just love to make all the kids pray for the victims and start collecting donations for the unfortunates and be smug do-gooders, but I’d honestly rather care for and donate to a cause closer to home. I don’t think my kids need to hear about tragedy like this anymore than I do, and I might just call the school to find out if they are going to dwell on it. I am considering taking my kids out of school for a few days because I get the feeling from all the hoopla on the net that everyone out there is (crazy) having an extended pity party.

  77. Donna (the other one) December 18, 2012 at 12:24 am #

    There was a school shooting at my high school several years ago. My family knew the shooter and the victims very well.

    Mom posted on her FB feed that after that incident, the kids (young adults, teenagers) were ready to move on. “We already know how awful it is. We were there. It was our friends who were killed, and our friend who was the killer. It’s the grown ups who want to drag this out.”

    I hate to sound callous, but beyond being sad for the families of the victims (including the killer), and hoping that they find comfort someday, I really don’t want to hear it. I’ve just about shut down my FB, won’t watch TV, and I’m actively avoiding it.

    I enjoyed the ballet I was watching with my kids (we went to see the Nutcracker), and had a lovely lunch with them, went home, did schoolwork with them, and then sent them out to play. When they asked me about the news, I reminded them that the reason it’s on the news is that it isn’t common, and that they just don’t need to worry about it.

    That’s all they wanted to know. And that’s all I wanted to cope with.

    I don’t want to share the pain, I actually have enough of my own to deal with.

  78. Edward December 18, 2012 at 12:52 am #

    Thank you for this, Lenore – and all participants. I can’t think of any other place it would be.

  79. AW13 December 18, 2012 at 12:56 am #

    I’ve skimmed the above comments, and I don’t have anything more to add. I agree that the media circus is disgusting. In fact, my first fb post was to lambast the media for their behavior, and I think that more of my friends “liked” that single post than anything else I’ve posted. (Clearly I do not post things that are of great interest to anyone but myself and my immediate circle of friends, haha!)

    But I was/am still riled up about it. It is a tragedy that children were killed. It is a travesty that it’s being reduced to a referendum on gun control. And it’s appalling that today, as my father-in-law was watching TV, I could not escape continuing coverage, telling me the life stories of the kids, giving me an update on various mental health conditions, advising me that if my child is mentally ill then I should not take them to a shooting range, and (my anger really flared at this one) Dr. Oz dedicating an entire episode to how I should explain this to my child. My child is three and lives in Iowa. Why in the hell should he even know about this? So I sent an email to several of the large media outlets in which I told them exactly what I thought of them and their behavior concerning tragedies like these. I don’t expect to hear a response back, but I felt like I needed to speak up. I’m disgusted by the way the media behaves and the borderline hysterical reactions that the audience has to it.

  80. Jennifer J December 18, 2012 at 2:50 am #

    This is a quote from the Book of Mormon. The reference is Mosiah 18:8-11. The Prophet Alma is talking.

    8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;

    9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

    10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?

    11 And now when the people had heard these words, they clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts.

    From this passage, I believe that it is a God-given part of us to mourn with those who mourn. It doesn’t matter where we are. We can pray for the souls of the dead, and we can pray for the Spirit to bring healing and peace to those who remain. These are things we are supposed to feel. Wallowing in those feelings isn’t a good thing, but stopping each day to ponder and pray in behalf of those who are grieving makes us more human, more emotionally healthy.

    Also, I learned after 9-11 to turn off the TV, and we don’t have television in our home anymore, but I do look at the stories on the internet and in the newspaper. I’m just careful not to take too much in at one time.

  81. Janet December 18, 2012 at 8:38 am #

    I think it’s natural and good to feel sadness in response to tragedy and empathy for those affected. I totally understand not wanting to ignore the bad things that happen in the world.

    On the other hand, though I know it’s done with good intentions I can’t help but feel that it’s vulgar, inconsiderate and selfish to pretend that we are somehow grieving alongside the victims rather than simply empathising with them. I’m making the distinction that way because I’m not sure how else to make it – it’s not that we don’t grieve life that’s taken too soon, but I feel like a lot of people are trying to feel it on equal footing with those closest to the victims, to immerse themselves in the same sadness the families are feeling. It hits home that these kids are not different than the children in our lives. That school was like our school. It hits home that this is the sort of thing that could happen to us, however unlikely it may be. That’s true, and it’s very, very sad, but it’s not about us, and trying to elevate our grief to something closer to what the families are feeling in response to the fear that evokes is inappropriate.

    As much as I’m sure the families of the victims appreciate the shared sadness and empathy, they also deserve the privacy necessary to grieve and to pick up the pieces as much as they can. If we feel that close to the situation then we need to pull ourselves together take a step back out of respect. It’s a fine line and like I said, I know that it’s not crossed out of cruelty. But I wish we’d find the emotional maturity to cross it less often out of kindness.

  82. Barista December 18, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    “My kids go to a Catholic school and I have a feeling that the school will just love to make all the kids pray for the victims and start collecting donations for the unfortunates and be smug do-gooders”

    In the absence of facts, then, assume the worst.

    To pray for the living and the dead is a Work of Mercy, and solidarity is a key element of Catholic social teaching. I hope they do “make” the kids pray for this. Pray, then move on.

    Most folks just use the Catholic school system as a cheap alternative to glitzy prep schools. I don’t expect them to understand 🙁

  83. Diana December 18, 2012 at 10:56 am #

    It seems to me that part of what we are grieving is that we no longer feel as safe. Of course it is impossible not to feel horrible for everyone involved and it is equally impossible not to imagine yourself in that situation. Most of us understand that we are more likely to get killed in a car accident than at school or in a mall, the difference is that we previously felt safe at school or in a mall. Now that feeling of safety is taken away. So while I didn’t personally lose anyone at Sandy Hook, I lost some of the security I felt on sending my kids to school.

  84. FredTownWard December 18, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    A question that wasn’t asked but maybe needs to be asked is,

    “Is it a good thing to for us to share the pain?”

    If doing so actually helps anyone or anything other than ourselves, sure. But if it’s just about us, then no.

    And if it makes us more vulnerable to those who would exploit our fears in order to make us LESS safe, then absolutely no.

    According to news reports, one of those killed was the school principle who tried to grab the killer’s gun and was shot to death instead.

    Thus, she died a hero, but her heroism was ineffective because she was unable to physically disarm the killer.

    Now I’ve no way to know whether she’d have been willing to do it, but if she could have pointed a gun she was legally entitled to have at the killer instead of grappling with him, she’d actually have saved some lives,…

    starting with her own.

  85. Carla December 18, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

    I have to theories – bear with me.

    1. I think that many Western countries have been so good at creating a general sense of stability (there are no wars, most people can meeet their basic needs, etc.), that there is a sense of life being a bit too level, perhaps boring? People look for things to push their emotions, scary movies (they get scarier all the time) and following the media circus of scary events.

    2. I think that there is a general sense in our brains of things that are a)safe, b)a bit safe, a bit dangerous, c)dangerous. People stereotype in order to categorise information in our heads, otherwise it’s too much. We categorise from experience, we think ok: war=dangerous; driving=safe/dangerous; elementary school=safe. But, now many are struggling to figure out, really, does this mean that now elementary school=safe/dangerous? and moving things categories is hard and scary, it shakes the order of the world in our heads.

  86. renee December 18, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    My personal thoughts to your question: Humans are herd and pack animals. We love to BELONG to anything. We belong to religious groups, we belong to sports teams as fans, we belong to the golf club, the boy or girl scouts. This is the ‘grieving for the families in CT’ group. Our grief and sympathy certainly does nothing to help the families, and our memorials and remembrances don’t – can’t – make them feel better. It makes US feel better because we are a GROUP, a CLUB, we have something in common with others. Someone quoted ‘shared pain lessens’. Yes, that is true, but not applicable to this situation. Shared pain lessens when those sharing the pain actually have something to do with those suffering. Family, friends, neighbors can share and lessen the pain. A total stranger 8,000 miles away has no impact on the family other than reinforcing the message to the media that we demand MORE COVERAGE! Because we belong to this club and the cost of admission is to keep grieving.

  87. jonathan peterson December 18, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    I’m glad to see that quite a few people feel similarly to my wife and I. While it’s horrific for the people impacted, this kind of thing is an emotion rollercoaster that we don’t ride.

    We chatted by IM while it was happening, and I’ve had conversations about mental health and gun control with various people and we watched the President’s speech with our 15 year old and and spoke in general terms with our 15 year-old about it over the weekend, and his school’s lock-down procedures, etc. But didn’t really think about it when he came home Friday afternoon or when I dropped him off at school Monday.

    But we don’t dwell on things as some people seem to. I wonder if part of the reason is that we don’t watch TV news at all?

  88. Linvo December 18, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    @FredTownWard, Arming the teacher would’ve been one way of preventing at least some of the deaths. Making the school into a bulletproof prison would’ve been another. Or everyone keeping their kids home.

    To promote everyone carrying a gun “just in case” is the opposite of free-range.

    Sorry, I know that was off topic, but that comment in light of the post about security measures made me think…

  89. Tsu Dho Nimh December 18, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    “Why DO we want to share the pain? And how is this actually sharing?”

    It isn’t sharing, it’s exploiting.

    It’s following the old news adage, “If it bleeds, it leads”.

    What’s new is the voracious 24/7 news cycle, and the global battle for viewers. What used to be a local incident, turning up a few days later on an inner page of another newspaper turns into a national news item within moments, and if it’s bloody enough, an international one.

  90. Taylor M December 18, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

    I think this is a great issue, and a very important one.

    As has been mentioned above, it is frequently viewed as a religious imperative to “mourn with those that mourn”. And we’ve also mentioned the biological/psychological underpinnings that can push us in that direction as well.

    But I think there is much more to the statement that “I do want to feel this pain, I do want to share it” than is summed up in religion, morality, and biology. And I think it is dangerous and contributes to our age of anxiety.

    I would highly recommend a book that address this situation: “Spoilt Rotten: The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality” by Theodore Dalrymple. In it he highlights the differences between “sentiment”, i.e. the emotional response we all initially felt when we heard the news, and “sentimentality”, i.e. the idea that those feelings only count, only exist, if we show them profusely and share them in social media posts, watching and reading every news tidbit, talking about it at length with friends, etc. He talks about how over the past few decades, as a society we’ve shifted towards sentimentality and at the same time away from sentiment.

    To distill the issue for Jane Austen fans, in “Sense and Sensibility” (which is spot on in this context), who ran the household after their father’s death, Elinor (sense/sentiment) or Marianne (sensibility/sentimentality)? Marianne couldn’t be trusted with work and responsibility, so Elinor is the heroine. But it’s Marianne who fits better into our modern world.

    “I do not attempt to deny,” said she, “that I think very
    highly of him—that I greatly esteem, that I like him.”

    Marianne here burst forth with indignation—

    “Esteem him! Like him! Cold-hearted Elinor! Oh! worse
    than cold-hearted! Ashamed of being otherwise. Use
    those words again, and I will leave the room this

    Elinor could not help laughing. “Excuse me,” said she;
    “and be assured that I meant no offence to you, by
    speaking, in so quiet a way, of my own feelings.”

    To be labeled by Marianne and modern society as “cold-hearted” just requires being quiet. Publically saying, posting, repinning, etc, “I do want to feel this pain, I do want to share it” is the only way to prove a warm, caring, feeling heart. The Mariannes get to take offense and the appearance of the moral high ground. It’s no wonder the ratio of Elinors to Mariannes is changing. But who will be left that can run the household?

  91. Donna December 19, 2012 at 12:56 am #

    It may sound callous, but I haven’t given this situation a thought since the day it happened. Even that day, I thought “what a horrible thing to happen” and our office discussed how difficult it would be for us personally to represent someone who did something like that. That was it. No tears. No anguish.

    While I feel for anyone who loses a loved one, I don’t know these people and I’m not going to act as though I do. This is not my grief to share and I think it takes something away from them if I insert myself into their grief. Nor does my sharing have any meaning to the families. They don’t grieve any less because some person on some island they’ve likely never heard of grieves with them. It does nothing except make my life less enjoyable.

  92. Donna December 19, 2012 at 1:03 am #

    I should also add that I don’t watch the news any more – no local news and I’ve always hated national news – and have been on holiday since Sunday morning so I’m removed from all of this. Maybe that is what we need. To not sit and gorge ourselves on these tragedies that are not our tragedies.

  93. linvo December 19, 2012 at 2:44 am #

    Love the comment about sentimentality. Yes!

    It isn’t just the flavour of the month when it comes to newsworthy tragedies either. It permeates in a whole range of different areas of our culture. And personally I am quite severely allergic to it.

  94. Virginia December 21, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

    This is such a great and thought-provoking question. It feels right to me to personally grieve the Sandy Hook killings, even though I don’t personally know any of the people who were killed or their families, because those could just as easily have been my children and their teachers. I don’t know if it gives the grieving families even the tiniest bit of comfort to know that the world is grieving with them — but I hope it does. At the same time, I do feel there’s a point where it becomes kind of self-indulgent. I haven’t “hugged my kids tighter” because of it; I hope that I show them I love them every day, regardless of the news.

    But I do think the intense sense of grief and loss — across the country and even the world — has spurred much more serious discussions about gun control and mental health care than we were having before. If improvements in either of those areas come about, I will never, ever say that something good came out of the killings themselves — that would be purely offensive. But I do think that something good can come from shared grief.

  95. Beanie December 21, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    So as a parent who has lost a young child suddenly, I can tell you that I can remember how I felt about these tragedies before…and how I feel now.

    If you’ve never lived through something like this, I think there really IS a certain amount of “making it about me” to this, but probably not in the negative way that sounds. As humans, we need to gauge our own strength, sometimes. There is a tiny voice in the back of your head that says, “Could I survive that? Would I react with grace, or would I fold?” This is part of our survival instinct at some level. We need to be reassured that we would still be able to function if that happened to us. And we are terrified that we won’t, so we test that by trying to live vicariously, as though it will somehow make us immune later.

    Once you HAVE survived a tragedy like this (and I’m not saying that I’ve experienced ANYthing like what the hell those poor people are going through), you have a different perspective. You look at the tragedy and say “I feel so sorry for you; I know what you are facing this Christmas, and every one for the rest of your life.” You silently welcome them into “the club nobody wants to belong to.” The details of the tragedy don’t matter very much, because in the end, it doesn’t change anything for those families. Or for you.

    But you don’t wonder if you can survive it anymore. You know you can. So sharing the pain becomes less important.

    Just one woman’s perspective.