I was hoping a follow up to my first Grieving While Being a Parent post would not need to come so soon after the first, but here I am.
I’m both dreading and feeling compelled to write this second post now.
As a counselor who specializes in grief, it is always on my mind. However sometimes the grief is more personal than others.
Has the news gotten scarier or am I just more affected now that I am a mother? This is the question on my mind a lot lately.
I am constantly reminding myself, my family, my clients: for every hateful person there are thousands of loving, kind people. An example would be after ONE shooter attacks, THOUSANDS of people go to memorials, give blood, and make donations.
But even though this makes sense rationally, it still feels like a lot of hate and a lot of sadness. I am doing my best to focus on the love and hope but sometimes its a struggle.
Do you feel the same way? Maybe my experience can help.
First let me say (putting my grief counselor hat on), secondary trauma is a real thing. Trauma is a spectrum. If you are in a sudden fender bender, the trauma will most likely heal quicker than if you are mugged. Every person is different and every reaction to trauma is different. By the way, grief and trauma go hand and hand. It’s hard to have one without some element of the other.
So, back to secondary trauma. With the news, social media, and technology we are more aware and therefore more exposed. To some degree, we have all experienced some level of secondary trauma. I will use myself as an example.
I hear about grief and trauma all day at work some I can relate to more than others. I have to take special self care to make sure I don’t absorb too much of others’ trauma. I also work hard to not let anxiety take over how I interact with my family.
Some times that is harder than others.
For me, hearing about the school shooting in Florida elicits empathy, but not as much trauma as the Route 91 Vegas shooting. This is because Vegas is close to home. I knew many people who were there. If I had a child in high school or friends in Florida, my reaction may have been different.
Having trouble following? Think of it this way:
Scale of 0 to 100: no trauma to worst trauma response.
- You see a sick kid in the hospital on TV the same age as your kid… give it a number.
- You hear about a classmate of your child in the hospital…give it a number.
- Your child is in the hospital…give it a number.
I’m guessing for most the number gets higher with each scenario.
Well, last week my number went way up with the news of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg.
It hit too close to home. I’m not from Pittsburg though I do know a congregant at that synagogue who was thankfully not there that day. I am however, Jewish, and I attend synagogue regularly.
When you see me on the street you may not see minority, in fact you may even assume white privilege and to some degree you would be correct. But I am a minority. I am a Jewish woman living in Orange County. Approximately 3% of Orange County residents identify as Jewish.
Through out my life at different times I have been more aware of hate towards my people. I have had fear at times and peace at others. But I have ALWAYS had pride in being Jewish and raising Jewish children.
I get up in the morning and get dressed, and kiss my children, and go to work just like everybody else.
My holidays and traditions are a little different than the majority. But I smile the same, I talk the same, I live my life with integrity…just the same. The singling out and hate for Jewish people – this I will never understand.
If everyone remembered we are all human beings regardless of color, religion, sexual orientation, likes and dislikes, there could be more peace. That is a world I dream and pray about.
So here is the grief:
That ebb and flow of fear and reminder of hate…well, it’s flowing big time. There was a time in life that when I went to pray at the synagogue I left my phone in the car to be more present.
I’m grieving that time.
Now when I go into the preschool or the synagogue I have my phone on me at all times just in case I need to call 911.
It is so sad to say that out loud, but it is my truth.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not living in fear. I’m not letting others’ hate limit me. But I am more aware that it can happen anywhere.
It can happen to me.
When we went to Sabbath services here in Orange County the Friday night after the shooting in Pittsburg, I was filled with all kind of emotions. There have been times where I pride myself on the comfort level my kids have there and that there is a whole village looking out for them as they run around.
But when all the kids were invited to sit on the stage, I felt a moment of panic that my babies were out of my reach. I was able to take a deep breath and let it be. I was able to see the beauty in honoring the lives lost with song from the next generation. But that moment…more grief.
Again more grief when we went to light a candle and looked at the pictures of the lives lost. I had to explain in 3-year-old language why we were doing this. This is what I said while choking back tears,
One of the most special parts of being Jewish is helping other people and repairing the world. Those people in the picture are Jewish; They and their families need help right now. We are far away, so the way we are going to help is by lighting this candle and saying a prayer for healing and peace.
Side note with my professional hat on:
If you think you don’t need to talk to your kid about what is going on in the world, if you think you don’t turn the news on so they won’t hear or they are too young, you might be wrong. I know a woman who felt this way, and two weeks after the shooting in Aurora at the movie theatre she was going to take her kids to a cartoon movie. Her kindergartener said, “I don’t think I want to go people get shot at the movies.” When she asked where he heard that as she had tried so hard to shield him from it, he said a boy at soccer practice told him. He spent two weeks worrying about it, confused about it because they hadn’t talked about it.
So back to my story.
My tears of sorrow quickly changed to tears of pride and hope. We lit our candles, the kids were singing and laughing. The sanctuary was filled with non-Jewish neighbors respecting and honoring our rituals for the night. They were their to show their support. To show that love conquers hate.
My grief healed a little and my hope grew.
And then last week we had another shooting at the Borderline Bar so close to home with many Route 91 survivors experiencing terror again. The grief comes out. I hug my babies.
But, here’s where the magic happens:
Last night I opened an unexpected package delivered from Amazon and the picture below shows what was inside.
The text in case you can’t read it:
Dear Melissa, Please accept this random act of kindness in memory of all the innocent lives recently lost. Your loving heart, beautiful smile and kind soul makes this world a brighter place. You are loved! #LOVEWINS
So here’s where I’m at: There is more to grieve in this world as a parent because there is more to lose and more to love as a parent. If that’s the reason, I’ll take it. It’s worth it.
I’ll grieve and I’ll work to heal, because I choose to love.
I’m doing everything I can (with some bumps along the way) to choose hope and to believe that love wins over hate. That is how I’m healing my grief.
I hope my experience can help you and I would love to hear how you are healing your grief. Please share and comment so we can support and learn from each other.