My 16 year old stepdaughter goes to Saugus High School – the very same school where a 16 year old boy, on his birthday last Thursday, opened fire with a .45 caliber handgun in the school’s outdoor Quad and shot 5 students before turning the gun on himself.
She was in class when a panicked boy ran into the classroom, slammed the door shut, locked it and yelled, “there’s someone shooting people outside!” Shortly after, the school went into lockdown and the alarms sounded.
I can’t begin to describe the series of events and deep emotions that have surfaced within our family and other families in our close-knit community since that fateful day.
Friday, the day after the shooting, my stepdaughter spent the day crying. She told us that when it’s quiet, she hears gunshots and screaming. So we took her to the loudest restaurant we know for dinner that night, a teppanyaki restaurant where you sit around a grill, family style, next to other diners you don’t know, and the chef cooks in front of the patrons, putting on a show. None of us were in any mood to be social or entertained, but it was all we could think to do, to keep the flashback sounds from coming back.
Saturday morning, she woke up with puffy eyes, zombie-like, in a depressed daze, not much different than the day before. I had been keeping it together for her, to be a pillar of strength so that she could lean on some semblance of solidity, normalcy and familiarity.
I had a massage appointment that was pre-scheduled and didn’t want to cancel (I needed it more than I thought), so I left early in the morning, feeling helpless as I left her on the couch, eyes glazed, staring blankly at the TV, with her dad beside her.
In January 2018, I wrote this article for Tiny Buddha titled “The Most Powerful Way to Help Someone Through Emotional Pain.” It’s about an experience I had with my massage therapist after she’d lost her twin girls from her womb, and how I allowed myself to become a vessel of grief through which her pain could safely flow.
This time, it was her turn to help me. As I stepped into her room, she sensed a disturbance in me and said, “What’s wrong?”
In that moment, I gave myself permission to break down. I began sobbing, expressing my feelings of helplessness and releasing what I’d been holding in for the sake of my stepdaughter. She listened quietly, as I had once listened to her, and allowed me to cry without conditions.
She didn’t try to fix me. She didn’t try to make it better. She didn’t try to reason, rationalize or otherwise look on the positive side. She simply listened, holding the container for me to safely spill my emotions out from inside me.
All I needed was an unconditional release, meaning a safe space to “let myself go” unhindered by thoughts of protecting someone else, how it might affect the other person, being judged, or getting fixed. And I needed a witness. Someone to lovingly hold the space for me to experience this.
I felt better immediately.
When we’re dealing with strong, powerful and painful emotions, it’s important to:
1) Allow ourselves a safe space in which to flow the energy out, releasing it from our physical bodies and beings.
2) Not try to fix it or make it better.
3) Not use our reasoning, logical minds to soothe it.
4) Not resist it, push it away, deny it, or hold it back.
5) Let ourselves FEEL and sink deeper into the pain, accepting and embracing it.
6) Witness the experience ourselves, or better yet, invite someone we trust in to become a witness for us, to see and validate our pain.
When we can fully allow ourselves to feel our pain, we can move through it as it moves through us. We don’t have to analyze, minimize, maximize, dramatize or otherwise make it more or less than what it is.
We simply need to FEEL it and let it flow.
When you’re faced with a hurting child, everything inside you wants to help them, to make them feel better. It’s excruciating to see someone you love, someone so young and innocent, hurting. You feel utterly helpless because there is absolutely. Nothing. You. Can. Do. to make it go away.
And in accepting what is, despite the apparent injustice and tragedy of it, we can begin to heal.
I find solace and comfort in being present for her, to allow her the unconditional release to feel and hurt and cry freely.
I find solace and comfort in giving myself that same unconditional release, knowing that we are each affected in our own way and no matter how we feel, we can move through it.
I find solace and comfort in knowing that God is always here, no matter how difficult it may be to see Him.
At times like these, we need to consciously connect with the Divine within us, the transcendent dimension, to know that all is truly well, despite external appearances. We can be in this world but not of it, experiencing life in full heart-crushing force, yet also witnessing it from the higher perspective of our eternal souls.
What about you? I’d love to hear what has brought you comfort and solace in tragic times and how you dealt with it. Feel free to share in the comments below.