The unthinkable recently occurred in my precious community. Previously unscathed with mass shootings, we now bear the scars of an unimaginable tragedy. We all know where, when, and how we received the news of the shooter storming the building at 888 Bestgate Road,Annapolis MD, an address with a triple eight number that signifies the yin and the yang of both the finite and the eternal, of completion and of infinity. We remember when and how we learned that five of the talented, conscientious Capital Gazette staffers died during the massacre, leaving behind spouses, partners, children, grandchildren, colleagues, friends, and many stunned and sad community members. We now share the grief of so many other communities in our country whose half-staff flags bear witness to their palpable losses from a school or church shooting.
All of us feel a deep sense of shock and many of us are trying to make sense of an event that is incomprehensible, even as we attempt to explain what’s happened to our children and grandchildren. Our collective sense of loss and even betrayal is what unites us, despite ideological and political divide. As community members, we too are grieving for our slain journalists, their families and friends, and even for our town and its loss of safety. This united grief is what will help us heal and recover, albeit slowly and uneven, as our deep wound has penetrated our community’s heart and soul. If there is anything to learn from bereavement, it’s that the capacity of the human heart to experience both sorrow and compassion is larger than we ever knew.
We can expect that survivors of the newsroom massacre and survivors of the slain staff will go through a long period of traumatic bereavement as they struggle valiantly to pick up the shards of the brokenness. Traumatic bereavement is a complex phenomenon that involves enduring reactions to a sudden, traumatic death of a loved one. Traumatic death challenges our fundamental assumptions about life and our dreams for the future. The traumatic nature of the loss makes healing from grief even more challenging as survivors struggle to cope with intense emotional reactions while juggling day to day responsibilities of life.
Yet similar to a strong storm, the deepest of grief has moments of relief from darkness and tumultuousness. Grief cycles through periods of intensity like waves in an ocean, calm on one day by slackened winds and ferocious on another by a small craft weather advisory. Does this mean that we love the ones we lost less? Or that we have become desensitized to sorrow and sadness? As a grief survivor, I don’t think so. I believe our gratitude for those we lost deepens with time and our perspective shifts. Sooner or later we realize that our heartfelt loss simply connects us to another world full of fellow grief survivors who, like us, are sojourning foreign territory. We understand that we aren’t on this trip alone – we are companioned by other travelers coping with the unraveling of life as we once knew it. Grief and traumatic bereavement are healed primarily by strong connections to others. The ancient Persian philosopher Rumi said, “There is a secret medicine given only to those who hurt so hard, they cannot hope, It is this: look as long as you can at the friend(s) you love.” Let’s be these kinds of friends to each other in our distress.