For What Do We Grieve?
I have read hundreds of posts, articles, and blogs since the horrible murders of the children and adults in Newtown, CT. I searched for words, images, thoughts, insights, or perspectives that would somehow describe the emotions and turmoil I was experiencing. There was a sense of desperation, a sense of hopelessness that left me feeling incredibly vulnerable and isolated. As I sat with this rollercoaster of ache and confusion, I tried to capture this desolation in words, but nothing came.
As I searched, internally and externally, I received a post from a blog to which I subscribe. In this blog, the writer challenges our right to grieve as a nation over the deaths of the 27 innocent victims in Connecticut:
A resounding gong, a clanging cymbal, bullshit: that is what this all-too-familiar national liturgy of grief is when it’s acted out once again without having taken the available steps to avoid repeating this horror.
If I don’t grab the hand of a sinking man whom I could have reached, then I can’t grieve his drowning. If you don’t feed the hungry woman from your stocked pantry, then you can’t grieve her starvation. If we don’t take tools away from the demented that enable them to multiply their evil, we don’t get to express shock, horror, and sadness when that multiplying evil is unleashed. (Kent Annan, 12/17/12)
Annan goes on to point out that genuine grieving implies involvement, action, and connection.
I shared this post on my Facebook page and a good friend challenged Annan’s claim. She responded that just because she had not given someone food from her pantry or tried to save a drowning person did not preclude her experience of grief and loss. Her challenge brought me to the question, “for what do we grieve?” In the shadow of these deaths, what do we grieve concerning this traumatic event?
For what do we grieve? Do we grieve the senseless killing of 20 six- and seven-year-olds whose lives were cut short by the ruthless act of an individual? Or, do we grieve the loss of our own naïve sense of safety and security? Do we grieve the deaths of six adults who alertly and boldly stepped forward to stop the killer? Or, do we grieve our guilt at our silence and lack of action at not doing something sooner to try and stop such egregious acts of slaughter? Do we grieve the emptiness that each of the families who lost someone live with now? Or, do we grieve the startling reminder of our own mortality and the sense of aloneness such a realization brings? Do we grieve the altered sense of community Newtown now must live with? Or, do we grieve our own lack of connection with ourselves, our family, our friends, or our community? Do we grieve the evil that once again has raised its ugly presence in our midst? Or, do we grieve a past spirituality that enwrapped us with a false sense of protection and goodness?
While grieving over the possibility of losing our own loved ones, or our own sense of safety and security, or own fear of disconnection from family, friends, and community can be a good and positive, it nevertheless falls short of the true essence of grieving. To stop at grieving over that which only directly affects us personally is ultimately nothing more than a self-indulgent, self-serving, narcissistic grieving that cleanses our soul of guilt and nothing more. It is the kind of grieving that we experience for a short period of time and move on with our lives as though nothing has changed.
Annan reminds his readers that in the New Testament, James stated, “Faith without works is dead,” and he goes on to say the same applies to grief. Grieving without action is dead. If our grief over the deaths of the 28 children and adults who died in two separate incidents in one week across our country does not move us to action concerning the well-being of all people in our communities and nation, then our grief is empty and worthless. Our grief must move us to action, action that serves the greater good of our community, our schools, our mental health organizations and institutions, and our nation. Our grief must move us to find safe, reasonable ways to monitor the use of deadly weapons in our communities and the nation. Our grief must open our eyes to deadly events happening around the world, and move us to take action at ending the needless killing that goes on . . . not just in the United States, but in China, Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, and the list could go on.
Grief is not just about tears and sadness—grief is also about change, adaptation, and creating a new normal. We are in the season of peace and goodwill towards all, may our grief move us to actions that will create a more peaceful family, community, nation, and world.
-- Steve Fehl