MCKNOTES MOVING ON
My last segment was about the tragedy in Connecticut. This segment is about moving on from what are sometimes the horrors that befall us. I have a little experience in this regard, but this is not about me. This is about all of us.
The parents of the children who were needlessly slain in the Connecticut massacre will never fully recover from such a horrendous loss. We often hear that time heals all wounds. Well, I don’t know if that’s true or not, but given time, we can at the very least distance ourselves from the severity of the pain we suffer initially when horrible things occur. Even the parents of those children have no choice but to think about the responsibilities they have for other children, or perhaps parents who need their care. It doesn’t mean they’re failing to honor the lives of the children they’ve lost, but only that they need to do their best to regroup and do what they can with their own lives.
All of us face difficulties and we simply have to somehow learn to bear the pain and go on with our lives. There is a danger to allowing our tragedies to define our existence. My dear mother lived a full and wonderful life, but near the end of her life, she was stricken with a fairly rare condition that required medication, which in turn had side effects that made her life rather difficult. My mother lived to be 91 years of age, so one could fairly say that she was pretty fortunate. Most of that life was without illness. Sadly, in later years she became so focused on her illness that it was the first thing she talked about to everyone she came in contact with. I remember once taking her to dinner. The waiter innocently asked her what she wanted. She replied by explaining what she’d really like to have, but could not because of her medication and her illness. I think the poor waiter returned to the kitchen and turned in his apron. My dear mother got into the rut of defining her very existence by the maladies she had to endure.
Eventually, I tried to explain to her that when people asked how she was, they didn’t really want a rundown of everything bad that had happened to her that day or week or month. When people ask how we’re doing, they usually just want to hear us respond with, “I’m fine,” or something equally innocuous. That doesn’t mean that we can’t discuss our illnesses or our sorrows with the people we are closest to. But it does mean that we need to make sure that we can have a normal conversation without focusing on the negative aspects of our every day.
It’s different, of course, when a person suffers the loss of a loved one. At first, we can think of nothing else. The constant presence of the sorrow we are enduring seems to invade our minds to the point that we can scarcely think of anything else. I believe that most therapists will say that it is normal and even desirable to allow ourselves to experience the various stages of grief. There is a certain catharsis that needs to occur.
To a lesser degree, other losses in our lives are best pushed to the back of our minds rather than allowing them to pervade our every thought. It’s really difficult sometimes. We have a whole new life after, for example, some life changing surgery. It’s kind of hard to remember what life was like prior to the illness that demanded some form of surgery. Cancer is a terrible disease that stays with us even when we’re pronounced “cancer free.” It’s just hard to believe, and we don’t much want to set ourselves up for future disappointments. We just have to think in terms of the future and not rely on the interruption we endured that required major surgery or other severe treatment.
As a country, we need to do the same thing. We need to not focus on the tragedy and let it invade our every thought for weeks and weeks, but neither should we forget it. We are called by such events to implement changes that might ward off some of the causes of tragic events.
Some people say that after this shooting in Connecticut, it is no time to discuss gun control laws. Frankly, I believe it’s the perfect time to discuss such issues. Mental health is another issue that we avoid discussing throughout our lives, but we really need to get past the discomfort of discussing such issues so that we can make changes in our laws and procedures that will help us solve some of the awful things we are faced with.
There was a song we sang in elementary school called “The Arkansas Traveler.” At one point in the lyrics the traveler a homeowner why he didn’t repair his roof. The answer came back, “Cabin never leaks a drop when days are bright and fair.” Maybe we’d be better off to face some of these issues when we are not suffering from the effects of a tragedy and can think more rationally.
Maybe this is exactly the time to talk about gun laws, mental health and so on. We need to work out solutions to our problems when we are clear headed and can distance ourselves a bit from the raw scars left by the endurance of some horrible event.
We also need to realize how fragile life is. I learned this in a bunker/fox hole in Vietnam. My thought then was that if this was my last day of life, I didn’t want to spend it worrying about what might happen to end my life.
Finally, while we need to move on, we can never forget. We don’t have to live the rest of our lives centered around a senseless tragedy. That is not the way to honor those who have lost their lives. It is a time to examine our laws and privacy issues and the avenues for mental health treatment in this country. There will almost certainly be other occurrences of indiscriminate killing, but we need to shed, if only for a moment, a ray of light on ways to curtail such awful events.