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Risking Growth After Tragedy

The world looks different after tragedy.

Maple_Lined_Silver_Creek_Trail_Silver_Falls_OregonWith recent tragedies in the news, it’s common to feel afraid, but also to feel afraid to express things that don’t fit the acceptable response.

When it’s personal experience, it’s tough. For the thinkers, artists and sensitive people, hearing about even distant death and suffering can make us need to retreat from the world. Yet when distant tragedy strikes, we can also have such strong reactions that we need to connect meaningfully with others.

In either case, following a tragedy I find I need to take care to limit extra input so I can process and be diligent about sorting through the questions and emotions. I feel that’s my job as a word-person and as a connector.

Recently, I needed to write and process some thoughts after a friend’s memorial service. It was actually the son of a friend who’d died in Colorado Springs where I spent 10 years—though I never met him—and I attended the service with a mutual friend in support of the man’s parents who I’d known and worked with.

What I realized after reflecting on it was that we must risk talking about our thoughts and feelings after tragedy so we can defeat the power they have over us in silence and isolation. And this is a major way we can overcome the debilitating pain and fear in our disconnected world.

DSC_0027Listening to his family share words about him, I felt determined to use the opportunity to connect and learn how others deal and respond, as well as to help others learn to process their questions and emotions better.

But most of all, I felt powerfully that we need to learn to listen to God alone so we aren’t unduly influenced and end up betraying our own experience, undermining, dismissing or changing what we think and feel to fit others’ expectations.

I had no desire to make challenges to God about it–but neither did I want to hear how God would make everything better or bring good out of this. When one family member tried to encourage the mourners to find hope by trusting that God was still good here and now, I was surprised to feel angry at that. I knew others weren’t feeling that and hearing those words of good-intentioned “biblical” truth, made me desperate to connect and express a different thought:

When we too quickly jump to words of assurance, it can steamroll others and even derail their healthy grieving process.

12122609_1171015702913537_3774299135056736632_nI wanted to offer hope too, but more than that, I wanted to affirm others’ experience and maintain that connection. Familiar platitudes can kill connection with the very people who may be hurting the most.

It’s not easy to put others first. And any gathering like this is one of the most difficult situations to relate in. But what if we truly cared for people without presuming what they needed? I want that kind of self-awareness and respect. I want to recognize that emotions are challenging and simply allow that, learn to feel and deal with them, and help ourselves and others heal and better understand that even the darkest silence is an opportunity for connection and light.

I know from experience that listening to our hearts is a skill we have to learn as adults. But it’s also an in-born ability all children have. And in my adult disability, I’ve experienced many situations that have kept me from expressing my heart throughout my life. Getting back to that clarity of purpose as a child is what I long for. And I’m so grateful to have had this chance to remember the child who still feels difficult things and may one day learn to overcome the blocked adult I’ve become.

I hope to find where the blocks came from and learn how to think and feel what I do freely, as well as approach God on my own without others impinging on that.

When tragedy happens, I need to learn to express what I feel with those I trust. And I’m learning I need to disconnect with those who overwhelm me and would steamroll me so I can defeat the struggle I experience in silence and isolation.

I’m so grateful for this experience, to learn how I need to connect through tragedy with others to deal and respond, and to process the questions and emotions better.

And most of all, to strive to listen to God first and not be influenced by someone else and end up betraying my own experience, hiding my true thoughts and feelings to fit someone else’s expectations.

At this stage, that’s what risking to grow through tragedy means for me.

What does growing through tragedy look like for you?

7 Responses to “Risking Growth After Tragedy”

  1. suzee says:

    to me it looks like . . . waiting.

    it’s weird to think how the creator isn’t part of “time” which is exciting to even TRY to imagine (which i can’t, being stuck within “time”)

    but as a human confronted with tragedy in endless forms, time becomes my friend because i KNOW from experience that as time passes, excruciating emotional pain lessens. you know, the wound scabs over, and yes there’ll always be a scar, but like some wise man said, TIME does it’s healing work.

    suzee B

  2. Paul Burgess says:

    Mick, Although anticipating your Monday words I was not intending to reply to them. Did not want you to disconnect thinking me overbearing, but you hit me between the eyes. Tragedy! Let me tell you what I have learned. Perhaps it will be helpful to someone.
    Rule #1 BE REAL Whatever thoughts or emotions are ruling the moment let them out. Someone will share them with you. You need to be hugged and heard. Let others know the emotional triggers you do NOT want to hear. They will not know otherwise. Tragedy is a Shocking Dose of Reality, an unavoidable time meant for man to be real.
    Rule #2 REMEMBER to DISREGARD any thoughts that your words must be acceptable and socially correct . They are your words.
    Rule #3 KNOW the DIFFERENCE between platitudes and truth. Truth spoken from the heart, in love, will always, in His time, accomplish His purpose. Platitudes are helpless, hopeless and thoughtless words that, at best, come from the lips of those who do not know what to say.
    Vote for Light in everything.

    • Mick says:


      That’s good advice. Sounds like words of wisdom from the voice of experience. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Very well said, Mick. In times of suffering people want to be held, not fixed. Yet too many of us come from backgrounds in which the notion of withholding platitudes seems unspiritual, faithless. Far from it. Jesus wept.

    • Mick says:

      Thanks, Dave. I try to remember this when people are afraid and in pain. It’s good to remember we’re all fairly helpless when we don’t know what to do and just want the pain to stop. Yes, even we who are supposed to know all the right answers. There should be a school for unlearning the automatic responses, huh? Or maybe there is: the school of life. Keep putting yourself in others’ shoes, my friend. It matters more than we’ll ever know. Thanks again for the kind words.

    • Mick says:

      Thanks, Dave. A friend once said, “Offering words when someone’s heart is breaking is like offering a man a bath when he’s dying of thirst.”

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