The world looks different after tragedy.
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.
Listening 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.
I 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?