3 Tevet, 5773
I lack adequate words to describe my reaction, or the wider world's, to the mass murder of the children in
Connecticut, USA. Those words are in the hearts of everyone who died in, or survived, the massacre.
From a mental health perspective, everyone dealing with children who survived the scene and dealing with children who know of it, needs to be aware of several facts that can promote emotional and spiritual recovery from the horror:
- Little ones will likely regress, losing their most recently acquired skills (this includes toilet training, knowing the alphabet, the ability to dress oneself, games, songs, names of important people places and things). DO NOT CRITICIZE the child or fuss over the issue. The regression is the child's expression of grief, a way of saying "I lack coping skills for this bigger-than-life event in my young mind. Embrace me with unconditional love and acceptance. I need to be soothed before I can go on with my life."
- Nightmares will become the new normal at bedtime and at nap time. Reliving the attack and imagining other attacks will fill daytime activities, usually at the worst possible moment. This is an expression of supreme fear, worsened by the impact of every child's worst nightmare having come true about 30 times in one hour. Adults died trying to protect the children, the worst possible scenario in this bloodbath of defenseless innocents.
- Adults and children involved in any manner with the onslaught will need to weep, to tremble and to retreat from social involvement at unexpected, unpredictable intervals. The abnormal response to this or any completely abnormal event is inevitable, and oddly enough, part of the healing process. The mind and body are communicating to the wider world that the adult or child experiencing these symptoms is showing signs of processing the events and the grief into thoughts they can handle in the future. It is a future they are trying to create. The sufferers must come to terms with agony. LET THEM. Help them in constructive ways.
- Spiritual questions about GOD and why GOD allowed this attack to happen will be asked. Do not try to inhibit the children - or adults - asking them. Do not worsen their lot by stating simplistic cliches that answer nothing and are designed to make people shut up so they'll suffer in private.
- Praise the children and adults speaking up, bless them with hugs, love and conversation. Admit your own sadness and fear to them. Share the humanity of it all. Access mental health professionals and clergy skilled at dealing with grief, children, plus spiritual growth. Use techniques proven to help at troubling times.
- The stages of grief must be processed by mortals. Do not indulge anyone by bribing away tears with food, gifts or promised rewards for "calming down." Calming down is not a reasonable option just yet.
- Consult with grief counselors and other certified mental health professionals who treat children and adults with complete respect.
- Children handle grief by mimicking what they see in the adults around them, and by imagining outcomes plus behaviors. They practice all that in their playtime. Their thoughts and emotions help them to reconstruct their naive, shattered lives. They are working to build a sense of hope and the sense of a pleasant, sane future. Let them, and help them in constructive ways.
- The mental health profession needs to come to grips with the fact that people who commit crimes at this level of violence are identifiable much earlier. Their tell-tale symptoms tend to fit known patterns. BUT... nobody can accurately predict when or how the mentally unstable person will strike. That they will strike is a known danger, a given. Put your minds together with other mental health experts and do your best to work with reliable profiles and the law enforcement world's preventatives.
- The legal profession, judges included, need to become sophisticated enough to better handle child custody issues. Manipulative parents can use such destructive events to hurt bereft, distraught progeny desperately in need of stability and their protective, more sensible family members. Lawsuits demanding more or otherwise harmful visitation tend to ensue during times of emotional upheaval, and counter-suits by protective parents follow. Lawyers and judges know the drill: Egos fill the court room.
Only one ego matters and that is the child's. The judiciary has a moral imperative to work hand-in-hand with mental health professionals to prevent further abuse (by bickering parents, one of whom is likely a manipulator and the other overwhelmed by those machinations) of young, naive psyches lacking defense mechanisms.
- ANYONE who cries at expected an unexpected intervals in the foreseeable future needs to do so. Let them. It is a simultaneous call for help and a sign of healing in progress.
You'd cry too, if it happened to you. Use your tissues and handkerchiefs with my blessings. GOD gives you Permission to Weep. And you can say that to any critics after explaining that "It's MY Crisis! And I'll Cry if I Need To."
Face Your Medical Problems with Dignity. Face Your Future with Optimism.