Tragedy struck Aurora, Colorado, last week. A senseless, gut-wrenching tragedy that leaves many of us feeling stunned, confused, sad, mad and vulnerable. My son was at the midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises." As a 16 year old, he was stoked to go with his friends. “What fun,” I thought. I declined my daughter’s pleas to do the same for the Katy Perry opening, but all three of us attended the midnight showing of "Harry Potter." Clearly, it really could have been us.
When confronted with something so senseless and so tragic, we immediately try to make sense of it. We feel a desperate need to understand it. Hoping that we can somehow keep ourselves out of harm’s way, we try to figure it out.
We immediately talk of gun control. Or of prosecuting the offender. Or of enacting the death penalty. Or we question the parents who took their young children to this movie.
Of course, the solution-oriented discussions to prevent future deaths are warranted (whatever your politics are and whatever that solution might ultimately be), and punishment of the offender is appropriate. However, we must remember that our grief for the lives lost in Aurora is its own distinct issue. Unfortunately, debating the cause, the solution and/or punishing the perpetrator does not mend our broken hearts.
While we think we feel better “doing something,” these issues do not address our grief. Why not? Because the solution and/or punishment is an intellectual answer. Grief is emotional. Grief, by definition, is the emotional response to loss. The solution is of our head and the grief is of our heart.
Liken the emotional wound of grief to the physical wound of the body. When it comes to the physical, we consistently and immediately treat the wound, as well we should. We stop the bleeding and address the cause of the bleeding.
But when it comes to grief, we seem to confuse the two. Because we don’t know what grief is or what to do with it, we race off to fix the cause of the grief while ignoring the emotional wound it has left. We think (hope) that eliminating the cause of future pain will magically alleviate the pain from the loss that already occurred. But it doesn’t. It can’t. The “fix" is of the future and the pain is of the past.
So while we debate and reach toward a solution, please give your heart and other hurting hearts your attention, too. With grief, we must tend to our emotions. We want and need others to listen, with dignity and respect, to how we feel.
But, please, listen without fixing it. Don’t debate the cause. Don’t suggest a solution. Don’t change the subject – because while they are related, the solution and the grief are two different subjects.
“Just listen.” Put away the intellect. It is a hard thing to do, but once you have recovered from grief, then you will be better equipped to tune into your intellect and search for a solution.