Coming Together to Heal

December 19, 2012

By James S. Gordon MD

The terrible deaths of school children and those who care for them in Connecticut are bound to touch all of our children and, indeed, all of us. I’ve learned, over 15 years of work with populations traumatized by violence and natural disaster, that we must pay attention to whole populations as well as to the people most affected. All of us, certainly those who have lost family members and all of those living in Newtown need a way to come together to share their grief and anger, bewilderment, and, yes, despair. And they need, as well, ways to help them to deal with the fear and mistrust, the rage and the emotional numbing, that may persist along with the grief and the loss.

My colleagues and I at The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, have worked with tens of thousands of children and adults who have endured life-shattering loss in Kosovo, Israel, Gaza, and Haiti as well as the US. We have taught them techniques to quiet their overwhelmed nervous systems and gain perspective, and helped them find comfort in the presence of others who have suffered similarly. We have so many of them discover over time that some measure of peace and hope can and will return. We have learned that this approach, which combines compassionate and respectful listening in groups with simple techniques for quieting stress and gaining perspective on trauma, is necessary, not just for the days after tragedy, but for the weeks and months later when shock wears off and national attention fades.

It is also important, for all of us in the United States who may live far from Newtown to spend time with our families and especially with our children, to allow them to voice the fear and horror that they will surely feel. Only then, will we be able to comfort them with the reality of our loving attention to help them to understand that though we are not all likely to suffer equally, we can mourn collectively.