It’s difficult to process all the emotions that we experience when tragedy strikes. Whether it affects us directly or indirectly it can be challenging to cope with and understand. It seems that tragic events have been happening more frequently everywhere you turn. Natural disasters have struck around the world, and — if that isn’t bad enough — there are people inflicting harm on others: plowing trucks into pedestrians, mass shootings, the list goes on. This is a lot to deal with. It can leave us feeling angry, sad, confused and wondering what the future holds – will we be next?
Self-victimization has never been my forte and I consider myself to be a generally positive and resilient individual, so please bear with me; it is difficult to put all my thoughts and feelings into words. How are we supposed to process this? How do we make sense of it? Primarily, how do we help our children understand it when, as adults, we simply do NOT understand it? How do we help them cope with the madness in this world when we have trouble coping ourselves?
Tragedy from a Child’s Perspective
When I knew I’d be a mother for the first time, I imagined the many things I would teach my children. Things like how to tie their shoes or (for my boys) to put the toilet seat down — and, most importantly, not to be afraid of anything. I still think of everything I want them to learn from me and hope they become decent human beings in the process.
I knew there would come a point where I’d have to teach them about death or at least attempt to help them understand it. However, I never envisioned having to explain to them senseless acts of violence, terrorist attacks, or mass shootings.
I vividly remember the day Timothy McVeigh was executed by lethal injection. I was very young and so confused. I knew he had bombed a building in Oklahoma City and I knew he was evil but I couldn’t understand what drove this man to do what he did. Shortly after his execution, the attacks on the World Trade Center ensued. Again, as a teenager it was difficult to understand why and how people could be so evil. My mind could not grasp the reason why anyone would want to take the lives of innocent people.
Searching for the “Why?”
Fast-forward 16+ years later and I still can’t comprehend why any of these senseless acts of violence occur. The first thing that comes to mind is that the people committing such heinous acts were children once. What went wrong in their lives that they felt the need to hurt others? Was it rejection? Did someone they love hurt them? Did they do it just because they felt like it or worse, because they could?
Pardon my naivety, but I don’t understand. Nothing about this makes sense. I desperately wish bad things didn’t happen, but the reality is that they are ever so frequent in today’s world. As I previously stated, this is not what I imagined having to explain to my children. We shouldn’t have to explain to them that some people callously hurt others just because… but, we do. We do have to explain it.
My first response to all this is: What can I do? What can I contribute to help people that are hurting? Things like this can leave us feeling helpless and like you’re not doing enough. What can we do then? What can we do right now that will help us collectively deal with and help others cope with everything going on in this crazy world? What can we learn from this and what can we teach our children?
1 LOVE ONE ANOTHER
It’s amazing to see the willingness people have to help each other in a time of crisis. It’s heartwarming to see the unity and abundant love people demonstrate after tragedies occur. It’s gratifying to know that although evil exists; good always prevails. The only question I have is why does all this goodness have to occur after a natural disaster or tragedy?
I’m not trying to minimize all the good that comes from bad (sometimes horrific) circumstances but why can’t we start expressing love, support, and care for each other just because? Why wait until after a significant event occurs to show genuine care for each other? There is not one person in this world that does not crave genuine human connection. We are born needing someone. We are born needing warmth and affection. Nothing changes when we grow up; we still crave that warmth and affection but we express the need for it less. The bottom line is if we love our neighbor just as much as we love ourselves, the world can be a better place. Seriously, try it! Love and kindness goes a long way.
2 IT IS OKAY TO BE ANGRY
Being angry is sometimes viewed as a bad thing. How many times have you scolded your children for being angry and throwing a fit? I admit I’ve done it more times than I’d like to admit but being angry isn’t wrong. Anger comes from feeling trespassed – feeling that you have been harmed or slighted or feeling that someone violated your rights. It can also be disguised as a feeling of loss or sadness.
What really matters when you’re angry is what you do in response to that anger. Handling anger in a productive and healthy manner is a life skill that anyone can develop. We can use our anger (or energy) to solve problems. We can learn to take responsibility for it instead of using it to justify our actions. There is no denying that anger is sometimes justified. Senseless acts of violence are the perfect example. Victims or anyone affected by these tragedies have every right to be angry. Often times the anger must be experienced and dealt with in order to reach a place of true peace.
3 NEVER LOSE HOPE
I can shamelessly say that my unwavering faith in Jesus Christ has gotten me through a lot of dark moments in my life. It’s helped ease pain and anger that I otherwise would not have known how to deal with. Prayer is a powerful thing and it has always given me a sense of hope in times of despair and discouragement.
Having your faith (or believing in a higher power) can alleviate the stress that comes with times of uncertainty. We’re living in crazy times and there is no doubt that each and every one of us could use the comfort and hope that comes with believing in a higher power. Regardless of what you choose to believe, know that so long as there is life; there is hope. Hope comforts you in times of adversity and helps you find peace knowing there is light at the end of the tunnel. No matter how hopeless things may seem never lose hope and have confidence that someone bigger than us is surely in control.
4 BE GRATEFUL IN EVERYTHING
Life is short and can change in an instant. Be grateful in every circumstance and do not take anything for granted because nothing in this life is guaranteed. Take time to search for the good things in your life no matter how small – the breath you take, the electricity in your house, the hot meal you had for dinner.
Not every day will be a good day and it would be foolish to believe that. However, there is good in every day. All you have to do is search for it, especially in times of grief. Finding something to be grateful for in times of sorrow can comfort you even if it’s simply for a moment. The power of gratitude is truly a beautiful thing.
5 IT WILL BE OKAY
I don’t know when and I don’t know how but eventually everything will be okay. It may be more difficult for some to hear this. Maybe it’s something you don’t want to hear or believe because things are NOT okay right now and because it sounds downright cliché. When bad things happen it is difficult to truly believe that things will be okay. You may want to curl up in the fetal position and shut the world out because you don’t want to deal with whatever is going on but things will be okay. Everything in this life is temporary (even the good things) and the bad times will come to pass.
6 DO NOT LET FEAR STOP YOU
It is almost expected to feel fear after bad things happen around us; continue to live your life anyway. Do not let fear paralyze you from doing the things you wish to do no matter how big or small. If you want to travel the world, do it. If you want to attend a concert, do it. Do not allow the cowardly actions of others stop you from living your life. Live boldly. After all, no one knows when our time will be up on this earth.
We owe it to the people that have left us way too soon to live our lives as fearlessly and boldly as we possibly can and to teach ourselves and our children to be resilient in the face of adversity. My heart breaks for the countless of families grieving today due to their loved ones being taken by natural disasters or irrational acts of violence. If you or someone you know has been affected by any of these things I hope that you can find peace and comfort in your time of need.
Please know there is someone thinking about and praying for you.