Thoughts on Responding to Tragedy
February 15, 2016

Last week we had a chance to sit down with Jobin Panicker from WFAA and offer some of our reflections on the how families and communities deal with grief after a suicide. You can see the story here.

It’s not an easy subject. Suicide leaves a wound in families, in schools, and in communities. My first observation is that everybody has a different way of grieving. Everybody has to find their own way and they have a right to have that way respected.

If you are on the outside looking in, you see a family torn inside out. Your greatest gift is authenticity. Simply being there for the other person means so much more than any advice you can give them. Indeed, any advice given is likely not even to be heard. If you are a person who believes in the power of intercessory prayer, pray. And by all means, absolutely refrain from idle speculation and gossip.

Now, if you are on the inside looking out, your world has suddenly changed. You will be faced with one great temptation and it is a temptation that must be rejected. This is the temptation to blame yourself and others. This is not easy, it takes patience, and it takes time. A couple of things may help you get there:

Faith: If you have a faith tradition, lean on it. Our ancestors have walked this path before. The words, teachings and traditions which they have handed down can guide us during these times of disruption and transition. Ritual speaks a poetry of the transcendent mysteries that cannot be contained in the everyday language of this world. Lean into the mystery.

Hope: Know that you will laugh again. Know that things will get better, and you will not always feel this way. I know this sounds impossible, but it is true.

Charity: Be patient with yourself and with everyone around you. You are not perfect, and that’s OK. If God had wanted you to be perfect, he would have made you that way. He made you exactly the way he wanted, and he loves you that way. Go easy on yourself. Let yourself be weak.

For the community the way forward is to keep talking…not just in school, but in homes and churches. Especially for young people, this event is something they will never forget. They are going to want to talk about it, and they’re going to want to do something about it. That’s good. This is their issue and they need to own it. Grownups, this is your chance to harness some powerful energy.

Parents, you are going to want to talk about it too. If you’re anxious or scared, know that you are not alone…far from it. Of course, this is not what you want to talk about after a long day at work, but get on the phone and reach out to other parents.

More than once during the last year I have joked that all this hell might have been worth it if I had at least gotten some super power out of the deal. Peter Parker got bitten by a radioactive spider and became Spider Man. No such luck for me — I still can’t fly, and I don’t have X-ray vision. But I can say I have seen more love in the last year than I have ever seen in my whole life. I have seen a lot of amazing young people make some life-changing decisions. That doesn’t bring a loved one back, but it is something.

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