Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Walking the Street of Imaginary Grief

I really don't want to write about Aurora. But...I also haven't been able to write or think about anything else since the shooting. It cuts a little close to home for me, literally, as I lived about five blocks from both the killer's apartment and the movie theater after I graduated from college. I've thought about why that even matters to me, 25 years later, and the answer is simple: all tragedies are about me

It's human nature to personalize it all. We see ourselves in the shoes of the victim (and maybe even a little in the shoes of the killer, based on the amount of speculation about why he would do this). It's just a little easier in this case for me to put myself in those shoes because I actually walked those streets.

My guess, though, is that you ALL are putting yourselves in those shoes, way more, perhaps, than other mothers are right now. And, again, the reason is simple   you've walked those streets. Not the streets of Denver around the med center, but the streets in your mind of having a child suddenly, senselessly, taken from you.

Does it do any good to walk those streets? Does it somehow keep our children safer to envision them dead? Do we try harder as a result, perhaps, to keep them safe? The answer, of course, is no. And yet, we all walk down foggy Whatif Avenue way too much.

My mother is a clinical psychologist, so I have a built-in go-to resource for this type of thing. She says the trick is to recognize when the negative thinking is occurring and then to re-frame it to a more positive thought. In other words, when you find yourself daydreaming about your child dying from an allergy, STOP the thought and substitute whatever works for you:
  • I've taken every precaution and trained him well, so the likelihood of him dying is extremely small
  • Most children do not die from anaphylaxis, even in situations when it's left untreated
  • Only a handful of kids die each year, and the vast majority of them did not have epinephrine with them
Or, simply, "my child will not die." 

No parent wants to think about death. But thinking about it all the time is like a little death, again and again. It doesn't make us more prepared, should the worst occur. It just makes us afraid, and therefore less able to cope in an emergency.

We're surrounded by negative stories. Negative stories build web site traffic. But there's a huge irony in living in a world that is the safest it's ever been, with technology like an Epi-Pen that can save lives, yet being more afraid than past generations. Our movies are filled with shootings and deadly viruses and global warming catastrophes. Our fiction (especially our children's fiction) is increasingly dystopic.

I don't know what motivated this man to kill so many, but I do know the line between fiction and reality was awfully blurry for him. It's not realistic to only watch re-runs of The Waltons...but maybe a little less Contagion and 24-hour news would help.

It's these little things, they can pull you under 
Live your life filled with joy and thunder 
Yeah, yeah, we were altogether 
Lost in our little lives 

All of us will have cause to grieve at some point in our lives, so in that respect, we are the same as the Aurora families. However, there will be time enough for grieving when the day comes. We know we're especially vulnerable, so that's all the more reason to protect ourselves emotionally.

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  1. Thank you. I need to reframe more.

  2. thank you. I would love to hear more tips from your mother too.

  3. I agree! I did talk to her at one point about doing a joint book. She has a busy clinical practice, though, and thinks it would be too much work. She and her partner see a lot of kids with chronic illnesses, including food allergies.

    I'll keep working on her. :) She really does give me excellent advice when it comes to food allergies. I have a diabetic little sister, so not only is she an excellent doctor - she's walked the talk as a parent when it comes to letting go of resentment and grief.

  4. Great post for putting things in perspective. As a 31 year old born with deadly peanut allergy and soy allergies, I've thought about death alot, but now I have a deeper understanding of the psyche and why my mom (especially) was always so overprotective.


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