Dealing with the loss

As a nation, we were dealt a withering emotional blow with the deaths of many school children in Connecticut Dec. 15. In the days since, as the reality of this loss to the greater community has washed over us, we have been tentatively trying to make sense of it, to gain perspective that would help us understand the why of it. But nothing comes that salves the deep grief, that lets the lump in the throat dissolve.

Four years ago, this time of year, a friend of mine killed himself with a rifle shot to the head. He was living alone in self-exile, following a divorce. He made his home in a mountain valley where he was surrounded by all of his 'stuff', the things he had collected over years and which, in part, led to his divorce because his wife found his pack-rat tendencies objectionable. On top of that, he was a vagabond and his wanderlust did not square with being a family man. Still, I loved him.

He was a gifted cinematographer, living near Hollywood and much in demand for his skills, until there was a writer's strike and no one was making movies. His phone stopped ringing, his income plummeted and he became despondent. He had reached an age where he could no longer meet the physical demands of his work. He worried that he would not have any way to support himself. This condition wore him down over a period of many months and he chose to end his own life in a violent way.

When I learned from his daughter that he had died, it knocked the wind out of me.

That is the same feeling that many of us are likely to experience now in the aftermath of the Connecticut shootings. We feel helpless and numb, in disbelief and aching.

Yet somehow, we have become as a nation inured to violence of this type. Is it that our minds shift to the notion that it is all in perspective?

How can we go on without demanding change?

I think we have to look to each other to make meaningful change and not expect our politicians to do it for us. (Every politician of every stripe is co-opted and left impotent against the backdrop of anxiety about getting re-elected.) We have to change ourselves instead of waiting for someone else to do it. We have done it before on many levels and we can do it again, banding together against powerful foes.

In trying to plumb my own feelings about the loss of these young lives and the lasting effect on their parents and relatives and the community, I think back to how I have dealt with the loss of my own friend.

On the material level, I keep a favorite photo of him on my desk and look at it often. On a spiritual level, I keep him in my thoughts and cherish those thoughts and replay the movie in my head of what a fine man he was and how much I loved him. We can all do this on a personal level to help absorb some of the grief that flows from the sadness in Newtown, Connecticut.

Now, as each day slips further from the date of the loss, and we fight the notion that time heals all wounds, we should pray in whatever form we find most meaningful and let loose our capacity for love into the world.

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