on the state of grief

12 Jan

On Saturday morning, when I heard the news about the shooting, I was upset.

Like everyone else in the United States (and many abroad, I’m sure) I clung to the nearest news sources for the next three days.  I watched the press conference where the Pima County Sheriff fought back tears and railed on the rhetoric that has made American news media into entertainment media.  I watched Gabrielle Gifford’s trio of doctors troop onto a stage with their heads low and tell us that they were cautiously optimistic about the congresswoman’s recovery.  On the radio, they shared the interview with Bill Hileman, whose wife, Susie, was calling out in her painkiller dreams for the nine year old girl she tried to save.  “I’m not sure that she knows Christina is dead,” he said.  “She keeps saying things like, Christina, Christina, let’s get out of here, let’s get out of here.  She keeps talking about the holding of hands.”*  I cried in the car, and didn’t even stop when the conversation moved on towards gun control in Arizona.

In the past several days, though, that sadness has begun to twist and morph into something else.  Something that was not quite sadness but still gnawing and painful.  I mistook that for anger for a while.  I looked at the nonsense with the Westboro Baptist Church and the horrible, horrible mugshot of Jared Lee Loughner, with that nauseating smirk on his face, and I felt that deep burn in the pit of my stomach, but such behavior, while not acceptable, can be expected of idiots and crazy people.  So I sought out like-minded folks, others who were grieving for souls they didn’t know.

I started reading the comments below the news articles, which is, anyone can tell you, always a mistake.  The hatred spewed there is undeniably poisonous.  One woman said that for the sake of the children, all ‘liberal lunatics’ should be locked up.  On an article about Jared Lee Loughner’s poor behavior in the classroom, the top comment was, “He shouted out? Like JOE WILSON?????” He read the Communist Manifesto, so he’s liberal.  He was obsessed with government control and the constitution, so he’s conservative.  Sarah Palin made him do it.  Obama made him do it.  The more I read, the more that terrible feeling grew.  People were latching onto details, things like Loughner’s home page or a certain word he used in a YouTube video and firing them off at the opposition in an intent to wound and kill.

Reading those comments clarified my emotions enormously.

I am disgusted.

That’s the word.  Disgusted.  Utterly and completely disgusted.  I am embarrassed on behalf of the airwaves, of the editorial pages, of the rows and rows of comments vomiting vile uninformed blame all over the place.  The photograph of that nine year old girl, is being thrown around like confetti, accompanying every opinion piece, as though daring you to disagree.  Her death, tragic and completely senseless, is being used as a weapon to gain a political foothold.

It’s true that there are things in our country that need fixing, and yes, our rhetoric is high on the list.  The black-and-white, end-of-the-world tone of our congress and news media is divisive and unnecessary.  It is crucial that the United States have that conversation, and make changes.

But not like this.

I’m tired of seeing grief used as a cheap ploy to ‘one-up the other side’.  This isn’t about pointing fingers.  This isn’t about who we can shame or drive out of office.  This isn’t about who said bad things and who said the worst things.  It’s about the insane and deranged loss of life, and that’s all.

I actually saw, on one article, a debate in which the commenters screamed, “CHRISTINA GREEN WOULD HAVE BEEN A REPUBLICAN!” and in response, “NO, CHRISTINA GREEN WOULD HAVE BEEN A DEMOCRAT!”

Christina Green would have been an adult.

And we should try to be, too.



Posted by on January 12, 2011 in Uncategorized


10 responses to “on the state of grief

  1. Alexandra

    January 12, 2011 at 11:58 am

    This may not be helpful to your topic discussion, but I am so grateful that I’ve chosen not to get sucked in to politics or media-behaviour. Mine is a life that focuses on nature and beauty and striving to be the best possible human I can be.

    I work at a TV News station, and over the past 15 years I have developed a thing that I used to imagine was “thick skin”. We used humour to diffuse the horrible feelings we get from what the Media chooses to report, but the humour sounds sick when you try it on with anyone not in the “trenches.”

    So now I just let it slide off me and choose to focus instead on my life, my future, my close neighborhood community and my development as a human being.

    My husband and I are planning to sell all our “land” goods and live on our boat and travel to many countries by sea. We’ve been planning this for over eight years now and we only have 18 months left before we can leave the land of sick and twisted media and politics.

    I’m not saying you have to leave your country and live on a boat to avoid the media and twisted sickos out there. I’m saying find out what is important to you in this life and then go make plans to DO IT!

    That way you won’t have time to ruminate over people and things and death and situations that are happening hundreds of miles away outside your community. Go walk down the street and help out your neighbor. Go volunteer in a home or hospital that cares for adults or children. Help the people around you instead of crying over the strangers (on the news) that you cannot help. Get angry at yourself that you’re giving away your precious time, emotion and energy to *strangers* on TV instead of helping your grandma grieve the real death of her real husband.

    Once you’ve finished helping those around you, go help yourself to climb Mount Everest or sail away to new adventures with your loved ones.

    It’s a big life, but it’s short. Don’t waste your time on idiots.

    Sorry to sound preachy, but I’ve earned the right.

    Thanks Jessica for peppering your blog with good topics of discussion lately. In this way you *are* reaching out to your “community” – even though we may live hundreds of miles away. Just don’t waste your time and worry on the sickos for too much longer 😉 Life is worth more than that!

    • Alexandra

      January 12, 2011 at 2:13 pm

      …and when I say my life is one that “focuses on nature and beauty” I mean that at the same time the Arizona shootings were happening, my husband and I were out walking on the thick ice of the frozen Mississippi, up in Minnesota, watching the eagles soar over our heads and the trumpeter swans swim in the open water (where the current keeps the water from freezing.) We were all alone out there – except for two ice houses (with fishermen inside them) and it was effing awesome!

      We did not find out about the shootings until we got to work on Monday.

      Nature is awesome you guys. Forget about the crazies, and enjoy it before *you’re* dead.

  2. Tess

    January 12, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    I’m reading a book right now called The Gift of Fear. It is written by a man named Gavin De Becker and is about recognizing and acknowledging the warning signs and gut reactions we feel. The first few chapters, though, focus on violent people. It was rather convenient that I read about this at the same time that this tragedy took place because it has made me think about the situation in a very different way.

    The author asks the reader to think of the worst possible act a human being can do to another. Not something you’ve read or seen on TV but something completely original that is the worst thing you can imagine. Simply by virtue of the fact that you were able to imagine this act, someone has done it. What separates you from the person who committed the act is that fact that you didn’t act on it but you were still able to think of it. He then goes on to tell the stories of two people. The first is a woman, a public figure who requested to remain anonymous who sees him as a counselor. When she was in her early 20’s she broke up with a boy and was filled with the desire to kill him. She eventually calmed herself but a few days later was driving somewhere and her ex was in the cross walk in front of her. She took it as a sign from the universe and stepped on the gas. Her car made enough noise that he moved and only broke his leg but she attempted murder. The next is a man named Mark Wynn who, along with his brother, filled his abusive step-father’s beer with bug spray and waited for him to die. He is now Sergeant Mark Wynn, a founder of Nashville’s Domestic Violence Division and considered ground breaking in the field of preventing domestic violence.
    The point of the stories is that some of the most amazing, influential, respectable, “good” people have done unimaginable things. As much as we may loathe Jared Laughner and the Westboro Baptist Church, you and I and anyone we may encounter have more in common with them than in contrast and we are all capable of the things they have done given the right circumstances. No we are not all schizophrenic nor have we all been raised with overbearing prejudices but we are human. It is common for people to refer to these acts as “inhuman” but I think that’s a mistake. They are all too human. To say they are inhuman gives them a kind of super power. It makes it seem as thought we will never understand or prevent them because they are beyond us.
    I am not saying that if we loved Jared Laughner we could have prevented what he did. I watched his youtube channel. He needs psychiatric help. He is beyond the reach of the hug of a father figure. But the more we cultivate this us versus them mentality, the further we get from peace of mind. It is painful to think that we may be capable of what they do or that we contain in us all of the capacity for hatred and violence they demonstrate but if you don’t open the door to the closet and face the monster you are doomed to never get a full night’s sleep. It is so alluring to dismiss it as a tragedy and try to live our lives unaffected but we will just live in fear. We have to go through the pain of staring the monster in the face or else nothing will change.

    I am going to make it my goal to acknowledge every ugly, frightening urge or emotion I feel because by facing it, I hope I will never give in to it and it may be easier to recognize the same in others.

    • Alexandra

      January 13, 2011 at 8:52 am

      Tess, I just finished that book last year. I’m so glad others are reading it. It has so much more in it than what you’ve mentioned, so I hope people don’t dismiss it based only on what you’ve summarized above.

      What it did for me is to calm me down and release a lot of anxiety. My “fear dial” was set waaaaay too high due to a series of horribly traumatic experiences (that happened “close to home”, *not* on the TV.) Now it’s back down to normal levels, thanks in part to what I took from that book.

      Regarding your comment, “It is so alluring to dismiss it as a tragedy and try to live our lives unaffected but we will just live in fear.” Some of us, who’ve explored the fear and dealt with it, can now call a tragedy a tragedy without living in fear. I highly recommend that book for people affected by terrible, awful realities.

      Jess, pardon me for getting perhaps too personal. But your recent car accident may have something to do with how much this tragedy has affected you. Please feel free to tell me to shut the hell up if you feel I’m way off base, but I’m only drawing from my own experiences with certain traumas. Many tragedies have happened in your lifetime which received a lot of media attention, namely bloody school shootings. Did they affect you like this one?

      Again, sorry if I’m sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong – it’s the maternal figure in me.

      • Jessica

        January 13, 2011 at 9:09 am

        Lots of inspired commenting, Alexandra! I really appreciate your perspective here.

        Honestly, I have always been highly affected by things like this. I’m a really empathetic person – my dad calls me a ‘bleeding heart’. Hearing about the deaths of others, seeing people who are highly emotional triggers that same emotional response in me. I can see how the recent trauma of the car wreck would have affected me here, and I would agree with it, if I hadn’t been so easy to set off before that. 🙂

        • Alexandra

          January 13, 2011 at 9:19 am

          Hee hee. I used to be a bleeding heart slash worrier. Seriously. From ages zero to around my mid-thirties. I’m now 40.

          I’m not saying you’ll “lose” that about you in your mid-thirties, but I did.

          Wait, don’t get me wrong sisters! I am still empathetic and I get the same reactions when I see people in dramatic/tragic situations. But it used to affect me so badly that I felt almost as bad as if it was happening to me. And that, my dear, was not healthy. At all.

          Be well!

    • Jessica

      January 13, 2011 at 9:11 am

      Very thoughtful, Tess!

      I have to say, when I first saw Jared Loughner’s mugshot, my first reaction was violent. I had the urge to punch him right in his stupid smug face, force him to feel some kind of regret for what he’s done. I equated it with a desire to get control over the situation.

      Sounds like a book I may have to check out!

      • Alexandra

        January 13, 2011 at 9:26 am

        Jess, I still feel that way with every school-shooter mugshot I have to produce for the News.

        And you know what? …sh*t! now I remember that I used to also “understand” why they wanted to ‘get rid’ of the mean kids who relentlessly picked on them and degraded them. (granted, not all school shooters were ‘picked on’, some were abused by parents/uncles/aunts/grandmas/siblings – or just plain insane in the membrane.) But having been relentlessly picked on by classmates in elementary school, I ‘understood’ why they wanted to make the source of the pain stop.

        I guess that is exactly what Tess was saying above. I had the feeling in me, but unlike the folks we call “crazies” I never acted on it.

  3. Kevin

    January 13, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    Perfect post. You hit the nail on the head.

  4. Jen

    January 15, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    Kevin summarized my reaction to this post perfectly. This is a beautifully eloquent analysis of the situation.


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