Many of us watching the news out of Newtown, Conn., do not have a personal relationship to those murdered on Friday. Some of us may not have children who we need to guide as they see images from the scene of Friday’s shootings.
Yet even without these connections, many of us are looking for ways to process our grief and mourn the victims.
“Everybody is just rocked by this disaster,” Pastor Eugene Peterson tells NPR’s Guy Raz on Weekend All Things Considered Saturday. “The depth of relationship that’s in our nation comes to the surface at times like this, which I’m glad for. It doesn’t mitigate the suffering, the mourning, the loss but it does give witness…”
Peterson, a retired Presbyterian minister and author of The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, says some of the best advice he could offer pastors currently preparing for Sunday services has nothing to do with words.
“Silence is sometimes the best thing to do, holding a hand, hugging somebody,” Peterson says. “I say, ‘Don’t say anything.’ Just hold their hand. Hold them. Hug them and just stay around for an hour or so in silence and just be there. That’s what we need at times like this, an affirmation of the sacredness of life.”
Even on social media, the need to offer comfort was apparent in Facebook updates, tweets and photos posted in response to the shooting.
“All we need is love, love, love,” wrote one Facebook user, New York resident Laura Heywood.
NPR’s Andy Carvin, after following news surrounding the shooting as it unfolded on social media tweeted: “Time to go home and hug my kids. Please do the same with yours. Let’s pick up the debates once every[one] has a chance to grieve. RIP #newtown.”
Taylor Jones, 23, who hosts the blog Dear Photograph, posted a photo on Saturday morning that shows a simple marquee standing in the middle of a grassy lane that reads, “What This World Needs Is A Group Hug“
So far, the photo has been shared more than 1,000 times.
Jones, who primarily posts photographs from the past, set in the present, explained in an email his decision for posting the photo:
“Honestly, I know hugging isn’t going to fix the problem. But I know when I go home and see my family during Christmas next week I’ll be looking forward to giving my Mom and Dad a hug. So, this is just a small reminder to everyone to make someone feel loved while we’re all still here. I feel horrible for the families and the community of Newtown.”
It’s small acts like these that help us recover, says Dr. Elaine Ducharme, a clinical psychologist and trauma expert in Glastonbury, Conn.,
In an interview with NPR’s Scott Simon on Saturday’s Weekend Edition, Ducharme says “decisive actions” like cooking a family dinner “can help us feel like we’re doing something to get us out of that stuck place of just feeling so fragile and vulnerable.”
The advice trauma specialists will be offering the children and families directly affected by the shootings can also help the rest of us, Ducharme says.
“One of the things that most often happens after a tragedy is people start reaching out to each other,” Ducharme explains. “Talking to people, talking to parents and friends, that really helps us when feeling alone.”