By Dr. Jan Hittelman
Hearing about the unimaginable tragedy at Sandy Hook and the profound impact that it has had on all of us, reminded me of another national calamity during my childhood; the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. While I was only seven years-old at that time, I vividly recall how this tragic news stunned everyone and life seemed to stop for a moment while we all grappled with comprehending the enormity of this tragedy and sense of loss that befell us, not just in our country but around the world. Given my young age, I couldn’t completely understand what had occurred; let alone how to deal with it emotionally. All I knew was that my mother and grandmother watched in tears as the news unfolded on television. In some ways, I never fully recovered from that moment of trauma and shock, even after all these years. Unlike that historic event, this time most of the victims were young children. These young victims were about as old as I was when JFK was shot. What makes it much more personal for both children and their parents, is that we cannot help but think: what if that was my school? What if it was my child? Like the JFK assassination, we have all experienced a profound trauma that will take time to heal. As parents, what can we do to help our children, as well as ourselves, to move on from this and begin to heal?
Regardless of what we may say or do, events like this require time to allow us to heal, so first and foremost we must be patient. While we slowly recover, it is important to refocus on our parental priorities; to verbalize and demonstrate our love for our children, while treasuring and cherishing precious moments with those we love. Too often we take our greatest gifts for granted, and tragedies like these remind us to refocus on what’s really important.
As parents, teachers, and community members, we must do our best to reassure our children, letting them know that events like these are extremely rare and therefore we need not fear that something like this will happen to us. It also critical that we provide our children with opportunities to freely express their feelings and provide them with support, acknowledging that we would likely feel the same way and that there are a lot of caring adults in their life who are here to support and protect them. It is also a lesson for all of us, to not take what we have for granted and make the most of this lifetime we are so fortunate to have. This is a time to revel in positive family activities to allow us to reaffirm how much we are blessed and our love for each other.
We cannot undo what happened but we can do our best to wrap our arms around our children as a community and hopefully as a society, to get serious about reducing gun violence, increase mental health awareness, and to make resources accessible for those in need.