The bombings at the Boston Marathon, like so many other senseless acts of brutality, have grabbed the nation’s attention. Again, we watched our televisions in horror as people ran screaming and crying from the unthinkable. Again, we watched, with deep admiration, those who ran toward the explosion to help in any way they could. Again, we watched people carry one another to safety. Again, we watched people searching frantically for their loved ones. This life-shattering and other-worldly scene has become all too common—Columbine, 9/11, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Oak Creek, Newtown, and now Boston. Each of these tragedies is unique, but the scenes of the aftermath are eerily similar and leave us feeling scared, exposed, vulnerable, and totally out of control.
So what should we do in the wake of such inexplicable tragedies? Should we keep calm and carry on, as the Brits encouraged during World War II, or should we allow ourselves to be changed? The answer likely will vary from person to person. So try to sit with your response to this tragedy for a moment and see what rises to the surface; it might help you choose your next move.
For many, there is a visceral need to connect with loved ones. Maybe it is out respect for those who can no longer connect with their loved ones. Maybe it results from the realization that you never know when you are having a final conversation with a loved one. Maybe it is simply because you tend to seek comfort in your relationships. Whatever the reason, if this comes up for you, do it. Call family and friends near and far and let them know that you love them and value the relationship you have with them. Spend time with family and friends that live near you and, if possible, plan trips to visit those who don’t live so close. Be freer with hugs and I-love-yous.
Atrocities of this magnitude often create perspective-taking moments for people. You may find yourself questioning a grudge you’ve been holding against a friend or colleague; is it really worth it? You might decide to leave work a little earlier than usual so you can make your child’s school play; what’s really more important? Maybe that fancy new car you’ve had your eye on seems less necessary; is there a better use for that money? If you find yourself wrestling with these kinds of questions in the coming days and weeks, wrestle with them. Don’t be so quick to push them aside; they’re there for a reason. Stay with them and take a moment to consider what really and truly matters to you and act accordingly.
For some, clinging to loved ones and refocusing on what is truly important is simply not enough. There are some who feel compelled to create greater change in the world. The Newtown families’ activism for gun control legislation is an example of this. Many charities and foundations were created by and for the 9/11 families and first responders. And it is common for memorial scholarships to be set up in victims’ names. Survivors who pour love, hope, righteous anger, and tireless efforts into these initiatives are driven by a deep-seated need for the tragedy to not be in vain. If you find yourself feeling a need to create something good from this unspeakable event, look for a way to initiate or get involved in something along these lines.
No doubt there will be some people who suffer from acute stress (symptoms last no longer than four weeks) or posttraumatic stress (symptoms persist for more than one month) as a result of this event. If you are experiencing flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, feelings of jumpiness, numbness, loss of interest in things you usually enjoy, difficulty concentrating, loss of memory, or other such symptoms, you should seek out the assistance of a mental health professional. You don’t have to struggle alone and you don’t have to struggle forever. There is help and there is hope.
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