Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Million Ways To Mourn

The tragedy at Virginia Tech has everybody grieving across Virginia. And across the blogosphere. And the ways and forms that our grief takes illustrate how very differently people mourn.

Over on NLS, and elsewhere, a thread where people were expressing mourning for the young victims has turned into a debate on guns, with people expressing anger at those who have turned this “political.”

Terry Hartnett, president of the Million Mom March and a longtime anti-gun activist, was roundly criticized for this by some and defended by others. And Republitarian and others were equally criticized for making the point that if somebody had had a gun, they might have been able to stop the shooter in his tracks.

But I respectfully disagree with those who have accused those on both sides of the spectrum of politicizing this or of opportunism.

People express their grief in different ways and need different ways to find comfort. The author Leo Tolstoy once observed that “all happy families are alike but unhappy families are all different in their unhappiness.”

I think that’s true. And I think it’s a myth that tragedy brings us together. In fact, we are more likely to be unified in the times when we celebrate than in the times when we mourn.

That’s because we all have different styles of explaining tragedy. And also because mourning and grief contain an element of anger anyway. Indeed, the late Dr, Elizabeth Kubler Ross, who devoted her life to working with the dying, observed five stages of grieving and one of those was anger. Another was attempting to “make a deal with God.” Another was denial.

Often the loss of a child in a family does not bring the parents closer, seeking comfort from each other. Sometimes it does. But it is just as likely to lead to divorce.

Here in Virginia we are seeing the many ways that people explain tragedy to themselves as well as express their grief and they are all valid expressions.

For somebody who has made gun control a major part of their life, it seems so obvious that banning guns would have saved lives that reacting in anger to the availability of guns becomes a natural expression of very real grief, not a chance to exploit the opportunity to promote their political views. Their real concern is saving lives and their anger and opinions are a natural expression of that concern and of their grief.

Likewise, for those like Republitarian, defending the right to own a gun becomes crucial at such a time. He truly believes that somebody who was armed might have been able to stop a killer. I don’t know whether that’s true or who is correct in this debate. And that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that neither of these good people is exploiting an issue. Rather this issue is deeply who they are and bringing it up is a natural expression of real grief as well as a legitimate desire to prevent future tragedies.

It’s fair for others to say, we don’t want to hear it now. For them, grief is expressed much differently. The kindest thing we can do is to respect each other’s different ways of mourning.

Right now my prayers are with all those at Virginia Tech. Ben Tribbett, at NLS is right. Today we are all Hokies. But that doesn’t mean the discussion about what to do next isn’t valid. Or that the people raising it are being exploitative. We are all just different in our unhappiness.


Kevin said...

Eloquent as usual...

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Thank you, Kevin

Lowell said...

I'm really glad you're back...definitely one of the best writers around. Thanks.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Thank you Lowell. It does feel right to be back now.

Anonymous said...

I find this site meaningful for one day blog silence for Virginia Tech.