Opinion | A loss from a distance

A view of how society has been nurtured to treat tragedy

By on February 20, 2018

My 2018 started with a friend, not close but nonetheless a friend, dying in a car crash early on a January morning. He was a 19-year-old college student, in the car with three friends driving down I-95. And then suddenly he wasn’t. The car slid off the road, was totaled, and only the driver survived.

It is always shocking when a young person dies. There is instant heartbreak when you hear about it, and an indescribable shock that soon follows. To think someone who was so full of life and had so much more to give, simply would not be around anymore. It was difficult to process. I didn’t go to his wake and I was hesitant even to mention his death on any sort of social media. Other than to wish the family my condolences, why would I? More importantly, what would I have said that hadn’t already been felt?

When this sort of thing happens, people often commemorate their friends or family with a personal memorial. A few pictures of them and that person together, enjoying life while they could. As I mentioned, I was not super close to this person and only had one picture of us ever together. So, do I cry out how much I miss this person, despite hardly knowing him?

I was puzzled on where I wanted to take this article, not knowing if I should solely focus on individual loss. Then on Feb. 14, there was a school shooting in Florida that took the lives of 17 high school students. That’s 17 families that are grieving, mourning the loss of their children. As someone that wasn’t directly affected, what are the actions of those that read the story and watch the video of the terrified teenagers screaming as their peer gunned them down. What does someone close to the family say to them, let alone the entire nation?

In 2012, 20 families felt the shock of losing their elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut. Thousands of prayers and best intentions were sent over social media from all over the country. What these people felt goes beyond anything you can fit into a tweet. For a parent who lost her six-year-old, talking about it is the only comfort she has. Not talking about her loss, but about her daughter’s life, celebrating who she was.

We, as collective living and breathing humans, have a strange way of handling loss.  When a tragedy like shootings or natural disasters happen, the nation puts on a universally sad face. This past year was yet another year full of celebrity deaths. When a famous actor dies, we all talk about how whatever they’re most known for starring in was our favorite movie.

Take the death of Robin Williams. Think about how many Mrs. Doubtfire memes were created after he passed.

On the flipside, think about the Paris terrorist attacks and how fast everyone changed their Facebook profiles to have the “Prayers for Paris” filter on them. Both of those started off as commemorations with the best intentions, but turned into a mindless robotic system. It is arguable on how many people used that to express their grief, and how many did it just because they saw everyone else do it and felt obligated to follow.

The sad realization is that this has been happening regularly and some of us are getting used to it. Then there are those individuals that only do it for the attention. It’s one thing to show your respects, but another to make a scene and cry about how you “had a pen-pal that lived near Paris (or was it Prague)?”

Rurik Bradbury, a CNN writer and blogger, beautifully voiced the same thoughts about the international mindset, shortly after the “je suis Paris” movement.

“…The part that feels the most useless to me is people’s vicarious participation in the event, which on the ground is a horrible tragedy, but in cyberspace is flattened to a meme like any other,” Bradbury said. “Millions of people with no connection to Paris or the victims mindlessly throw in their two cents: performative signaling purely for their own selfish benefit, spreading information that is often false and which they have not vetted at all, simply for the sake of making noise…”

To some, caring about such atrocities have begun to seem like a chore. With every bombing, earthquake or shooting comes another button to push and another color scheme or theme to blend over your profile.

This must stop.

The only one it benefits is those that push the button, thinking they’re a better person for doing so.

So, what is the right move when someone else loses someone dear to them? Well, I’ll tell you. We shut up and listen. When I checked the obituary for my friend, the family was calling their son’s wake a “Celebration of Life.” This is a common theme I’ve seen with grieving families and it was a rather optimistic take that we all appear to need in such a bleak existence.  Rather than going on and on about how much you’re going to miss the person and go on about how tragic the situation is for you, think about those involved.

Like with the parent from Newtown, talking about the good times they’ve had with their loved one brings an unimaginable amount of comfort. So be mindful you are not stroking your own ego and avoiding the real conversation.

Tragedy won’t stop. Even as we try to prevent it, it continues to happen. Even if we never stop it, we might as well know how to treat those affected by it.

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