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Our View: In wake of shootings, grief

‘It could have been me’

The recent mass shootings in the Atlanta area and in Boulder, where so many Four Corners folks went to college and have spent time, have sparked grief among us.

It’s the kind of grief that doesn’t, on the surface, make sense. After all, unless we knew the victims personally, do we even have a right to feel grief?

Actually, it does makes sense, and we always have a “right” to feel grief. It’s a normal human emotion that we all feel at times and one that requires no justification.

These recent tragic events make us sad for the victims but also tap into our own past experiences with death and other kinds of loss. We’ve all experienced losses of many kinds in the past year because of COVID-19. The fact that we seem to be on our way out of the pandemic does nothing to mitigate those feelings – especially because we cannot regain those losses.

Mass shootings are a frightening reminder of our own mortality and how close all of us are, at any moment, to unexpected death. “It could have been me,” we might think because we all go to the grocery store. “It could have been me,” if we work in a job in which we are often alone with strangers. “It could have been me,” if we are members of a marginalized group. Even though we are rarely in those circumstances in which the victims found themselves in the moments before their deaths, even though we know that the statistical probability of death by mass shooting is very small, still – “It could have been me.”

Grief grabs ahold of us and shakes us like a dog shakes a toy. It makes us forgetful; disturbs our sleeping and eating habits; prompts annoyance, irritation and sometimes arguments with those we love most, for no reason; it can make turn to alcohol or drugs, too often or too much. It disrupts everything about our lives. Yet we cannot talk, self-medicate or ignore our way out of it. Grief demands our attention and keeps it as long as is necessary, in some unconscious process no psychologist or neuroscientist can explain.

It’s a good idea to give voice to feelings of grief, to talk to a friend or family member, to a therapist or clergy member. It’s also important to recognize that young people – who typically have little experience of death – may be deeply affected, though they may try not to show their feelings.

Adding to our intense personal feelings of sadness in the wake of the shootings, we also may feel hopelessness for our society.

Yet despite the uncontrollable misery our grief can inflict on us, we can come to embrace it as a natural part of life. No matter who we are, we will experience grief, and we will experience it more and more often as we age. Each time someone we love dies, or something we deeply love is lost, grief will visit us.

Next week, at 8:50 a.m. Monday to Friday, KSUT – Four Corners Public Radio will air a special series by reporter Sarah Baumgartner called “Speaking Grief.” Though the series is not specifically about the recent shootings, listening may help us feel less isolated.

Grief changes us forever, but if we don’t resist it, grief also softens us; it makes us vulnerable and more open to our fellow human beings. It makes it possible for us to deepen into relationship with each other. It makes us appreciate this moment more.

We can’t help thinking, “It could have been me” – but it wasn’t. Grief is the process that gets us from here to there. Let it.