By Charity Hagains MA, LPC-S
By now we all know the terrible tragedy that occurred in Theater 9 in Aurora, Colorado. No measure of grief can be shown to reflect how deeply saddened I am when I think of the lives that have been forever changed by that horrific event. I would like to say that this is the first time I have awoken to hear such news, unfortunately I cannot.
It seems like I have turned on the television so many times to hear, or even witness, events that darken America. The Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine massacre, the A&M bonfire tragedy, 9/11, the Virginia Tech shootings…it feels as if it goes on and on. Each time I feel a profound pain for the individuals involved, and each time I seem to get stuck asking, “Why?”
In every case I, and probably many people, want an answer for the cause of this pain. We seek justification, blame, and understanding. I believe we do so in an attempt to gain knowledge that may help prevent such tragedy from occurring in the future – that we may have more days between startling news reports and more hope that our world is moving in a safer and more peaceful direction. Whatever the reason, I find that we rarely receive answers that bring us such solace.
Grief is a painful and often lifelong process. It isn’t something that happens once and never again do we have to process our loss. Having a life taken from you whether it was expected or not, is difficult and heartbreaking. Living your life without the presence of that loved one carries a significant burden that, if left unattended, can become all consuming. The stages of grief that we go through aren’t easy, and acceptance can often prove elusive. Our hearts go out to the families who lost someone they cared for in Theater 9.
We also think of the survivors who now carry the traumatic memories of their survival. The overwhelming fear and panic that must have been felt that night is likely something that will take a great deal of time to process. PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) is likely to occur for these individuals. Repeatedly reliving the events, avoidance of anything that may provoke a memory or fear, the inability to feel safe, lack of sleep, irritability…all of these are symptoms of PTSD.
Seeking professional help is indescribably helpful for people struggling to regain peace after a traumatic event. It’s important to remember the responders when we think of those who are likely dealing with how to process this event. Police officers, rescue workers, EMT’s and firefighters are all likely to experience some form of PTSD. These brave individuals are trained to run into dangerous situations that most of us will do anything to get away from, yet that does not make them immune to the terror of being in the center of such horror. As I listen to the communication between the officers who responded to theater 9, and the determined focus they had towards rescuing the wounded while simultaneously securing the scene, I was once again in awe of their capabilities.
Because while often these stories of horror make me question humanity, I know they also make me take notice of the great capacity we have for caring and courageous action. The men and women who ran into this situation, as so many of their brethren have before them, give me hope of how enduring the human spirit is.
While as a country we all suffer with some level of grief and sadness at the events that occurred in theater 9, we can all take comfort in how so many Americans are dedicated to the care and prosperity of their fellow citizen. We can come together as a community that shows support for the survivors. We can stand up against violence and intervene when we see something that may prove harmful, and we can do so without fear of embarrassment or intruding. Showing that we care and are invested in one another is a value that defines us as Americans.