Coping One Year after Newtown: Light in the Dark

Love conquers Darkness Along with many others (mental health professionals, parents–all of us, really) I remember December 14th 2012 as a day that felt very dark. Any episode of mass violence is upsetting, but the killing of 26 children and teachers seemed beyond the pale. As the first anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary approaches, I have been thinking a great deal about coping in the face of incredible loss. I’ve been thinking about the darkness that I felt, and what we can do in the face of that. And then, I heard this article on the WBUR program Here and Now a few weeks ago. The host was interviewing Robbie Parker, a father who lost his daughter Emilie in the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary last December. She was asking specifically about an investigator’s report that had been released that week, including new information about the incident and about the shooter. I found myself touched over and over as I listened to Robbie Parker. He exhibited such grace and compassion as he spoke. Here’s one sample of his words:

“That information is new, and every bit of information that you get from any of this, you have to go through that whole kind of grieving process and you have to try and understand it the best you can. You try and make sense of it in your head and then at some point you have to let it go. Because if you sit there and you dwell on it and you try to figure out who to blame or who to point the finger at, it doesn’t change the fact that my daughter is gone or these other kids and teachers are gone.”–Robbie Parker

I noticed several themes as Robbie Parker spoke. And I think that his words may provide lessons for all of us as we remember Newtown or face our own tragedies and dark times. Here are the things that stood out for me:

  • Take time to grieve. Robbie Parker was clear about the fact that the grief process for his family is ongoing. He made statements that suggest that he and his wife answer questions for their younger daughters and allow the sadness to be present in their lives.
  • Find ways to let go of anger, resentment, and other pain. Robbie Parker’s words above express both his grief and his commitment to living well in the face of pain.
  • Feel free to set the boundaries you need to set. Robbie Parker was firm and clear with the reporter. He has chosen not to speak publicly about the investigator’s report, or about other controversial issues surrounding the Newtown shooting. He was clearn and unapologetic about his boundaries.
  • Allow yourself to be grounded in your own experiences. Robbie Parker did not consent to speculating about anyone else. He expressed his own feelings, his own thoughts–and that was all. This seems to have helped him move through this difficult year.
  • Look for ways to remain connected to the good. Robbie Parker and his wife have been active in two different organizations to honor the memory of their daughter Emilie. He talked about using his life to honor his daughter and to live in a way she woudld be happy with.

I am so grateful to Mr. Parker for sharing his story and for his powerful example of making healthy choices in the face of tragedy. Please feel free to share your own suggestions for coping, for bringing light into darkness, in the comments.

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