Friday, December 28, 2012

Humbug, part 2: Holidays in Newtown, CT

There was a big thing I left out of my last rant, and I didn't want to just edit it in, so I'm writing it as a new post. Perhaps that's for the best - it certainly deserves a post all its own.

Rhetorical question: Did they celebrate Christmas in Newtown, Connecticut this year?

Many families experience loss around the Holiday Season™. Many don't, but find it difficult all the same. The holidays just don't seem as they should be when your beloved dog isn't at the end of the dinner table, begging for goodies. They don't feel right when the person who sat in that particular chair isn't around anymore. It's strange when you realize you don't have to speak quite so loudly anymore because your hard-of-hearing grandparent is no longer sitting in the living room.

But none of that can possibly compare to the agony of the families in Newtown this year. The Sandy Hook shooting was a mere eleven days before six of days before the Winter Solstice.

In this season of gift-giving, many (most?) of those families had gifts waiting for those kids. They were anticipating making new family memories - like one victim's family got their daughter cowboy boots since she wanted a horse. What do you do with a new pair of cowboy boots when the intended recipient is no longer around to wear them?

It seemed like the world stopped for a lot of people on December 14th. Everyone was shocked and horrified - parents teachers, and other child educators and caregivers especially. But life went on for most of us. Newtown is drowning in memorials and they're planning a permanent memorial, but for most of us, life went candles, wrapping (and unwrapping) gifts, baking, eating, hugging.

I suppose you could say this is true every year. There's always a war somewhere in the world...this year, the dubious honor falls on Syria. Crime doesn't stop when the Holiday Season™starts. But I think you'll forgive me if I take a moment to ponder how it is that life seems to revert to normal so quickly, even in the midst of tragedy.


  1. I think grief is interesting from a psychological perspective, because it is an indescribable emotion. It is unlike other emotions in its lack of feeling. Anger - grief's blind little brother - is a directed sentiment, but it is also abstract in that it is generally not acted upon. Most people internalize their anger, and that is the hallmark of the English speaking world. The fact that things have returned back to "normal" so quickly is perhaps part of a larger fact - one that sits at the base of American culture: we are a nation of consumers. Have we used consumption to allay our grief and anger? Have we done so for hundreds (if not thousands) of years?

    I don't think the Newtown incident is more or less heinous than other shootings. But, what is surprising is the lack of dialogue in our response towards it.

    What do we do? What are we supposed to do for our children that is going to protect them? I would like to believe that metal detectors in schools is a step in the right direction. We have to start acting like we have a future as a country, and work together to grow that future.

    1. It's interesting that you should mention consumption and internalization of anger. In my various treatments for depression, one of the things the clinicians emphasize is the propensity for people with clinical depression to not only internalize anger (as you said), but never, ever cut themselves a break or do anything for themselves. "Normal" people seem to instinctively know that you have to cut yourself a break - call a friend, go shopping, take a walk, take a hot shower - find *something* healthy (or at least not unhealthy) to do to get some relief.

      So I guess the Holiday Season™ helped most of us get past the tragedy. But I still worry about the families involved - it probably made things worse.

      And I think it's the proper task of our elected leaders, academics, writers, and artists to focus (or re-focus) our attention on the dialogue we need to have. That our elected leaders fail us so often in this regard...well, that's another story entirely.