Remember? We became a nation of somnambulists. In shock, we watched the news for clues. We called family and friends to find out if one of ours was among the dead. Why them and not us? The fear and helplessness engulfed us. Numb, we demanded blame and blood: Who can we shame? Some of us turned to the 'Just-World Hypothesis', targeting groups and making lines between “us” and “them.” Our collective anger served as a crumbling bulwark against the chaos.
Nothing is left as it sweeps everything away.
Slowly turning around I know what is left, only bedrock,
Rumbling laughter booms from the sky above,
I yell again, this time louder than the thunder above,
I yell the screams of a thousand dying people,
I yell until there is no air left, only whispers
(Peter Sugen, The Tsunami of Despair)
In the immediate shadow of a mass homicide it is common to feel numb and unreal; to experience the confusing ambiguity of such an event in a "liminal or threshold state.” Joseph Stalin, himself a mass murderer, said that “the death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.” It's a statistic because it is so big, because it is hard to take in the enormity of such tragedies and connect personally. Like eating a whale with a teaspoon, we wonder where to start.
Pilgrimage and Vigils
We humans are meaning-making machines. Through symbolic grief rituals, we try to exert control over disorder and find calm in the eye of a world-storm. Meaning-making can be especially important if we want to connect with and understand a mass trauma like Orlando. Candlelight vigils have already been held across the nation. Many have made pilgrimage to The Pulse nightclub.
Psychologist Sandy Sacre says that “Coming to the site of the tragedy is thought to be important to mourners also because it is the closest thing to being at the deathbed of a loved one in their hour of death, even though it is after the fact.” Sacre goes on to say that by bringing a piece of ourselves to the site of the tragedy (flowers, flags, pictures) we attempt to gain some control over the tragedy by adding our own story to it.
Shrine Building and Memorials
Shrines and memorials are often spontaneous in cases of mass homicide and traumas. Shrines are a way for a community to commemorate the lives of those who have passed on, much like a gravestone commemorates the life of an individual. “Flowers are often left at both temporary and permanent shrines to the victims and this likely dates back to an ancient ritual where flowers symbolized innocence and purity, with cut flowers representing lives cut short (Sacre, 2014).”
The leaving of objects (toys, food, quilts, letters) at shrines shows the need we have to keep the dead alive—even if it is only through our memory of them. In recent years websites have also served as memorials and places for connection for people.
But the best way to connect with a mass tragedy like Orlando and to deal with the grief of a mass homicide is to get involved. Choose to make it personal. Some do this by lobbying and becoming activists for stricter gun laws and better mental health care, others decide to volunteer and help with the healing efforts in the community.
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Mass Trauma: Impact and Recovery Issues