This Present Grief

There are so many things that have been normalized when trauma happens. If you’ve experienced a trauma, you’ve probably experienced the things people say … so many well-meaning things.

They’re in a better place.

God has a plan.

All things work together for good.

She’s with her Grandma now.

He’s up there fishing with his Grandpa.

God must’ve needed another angel.

It’s not that these are innately cruel statements or sentiments. It’s not that they are saying anything wrong. They sound kind. And they seem like the person means well. Here’s the thing—people do mean well. 

And you know what else? When you’re living through trauma, it’s perfectly okay to not want to hear any of those things. It’s okay if someone’s attempt to comfort you makes you feel anything but comforted. And it’s absolutely okay if everything inside of you is screaming, You’re wrong! Just stop talking! 

Most of us have heard those phrases. We might’ve said at least one of those phrases to someone in pain. That begs a timely question. What is that about? Why do we as a culture feel the need to share platitudes during another person’s incredibly painful experience?

When we hurt, when we experience trauma, or when people around us experience trauma, we want to make sense of it. And we want to explain God in the middle of it.

Tragedy strikes and we become an emotional Dory. Remember Dory from Finding Nemo? There is a scene where she and Marlin encounter a huge swarm of jellyfish. Dory bounces on the tops, one jellyfish after the other, keeping herself safe from the stinging tentacles below.

If she doesn’t stay on top of those jellyfish, it’s going to be painful. So, she’s developed a strategy to avoid their venom. Jellyfish venom clings to you. It leaves its nasty mark. Dory doesn’t want that to happen.

That’s how many of us handle tragedy, trauma, and grief. We stay right on top of it, mentally hopping above the pain waiting underneath. So our mouths open, and quick words from the surface bubble out. 

That happens because there is a disconnect. Rather than leading with our hearts, we often try to think our way through grief and trauma. We try to avoid painful feelings by keeping everything out of our hearts and controlling it in our minds—whatever it takes to keep our distance from overwhelming feelings.

All the emotions can make us think that they will bury us if we give them a voice. They seem to be whisper-shouting, You can’t handle us! So we put on our Dory fins and stick to the top of those emotional jellyfish.

And when tragedy takes a battering ram to our homes or our community, our minds race, we cry collectively, we gather and pray, and we want to do something. We want it to stop. We want to fix it.

But we can’t. We can’t fix it. We have to walk in it. We have to live alongside it. And we have to learn to be present in it.

To be present with others, we have to first be present with ourselves. Being present with ourselves means no more mentally hopping around because we have to stop and look into our own hearts. We have to pause and check in with ourselves. 

Sometimes checking in means we have to own the fact that we don’t like what we’re feeling. We have to take the time to recognize where our thoughts are coming from and how they are directing our feelings. 

In a collective tragedy, this is especially important because we have to ask ourselves a very important question. Is this MY trauma, or am I in a position to help those who are genuinely traumatized?

Just because a horrible event has resulted in tragedy, that doesn’t make it your trauma. Think about that. There is a difference between having compassion for a tragedy and being traumatized by the tragedy because you were involved. 

In light of that, our feelings may shift just enough for us to realize that we are close to a tragedy but not in the tragedy. And we are actually in a place to help the people who have been directly traumatized. 

This doesn’t mean you’re ignoring or stuffing your feelings. Be present with your feelings and move forward armed with the truth about the experience. Now you can bring your heart along with your mind into hard circumstances, to speak and act in love. 

We can be the hands and feet of Christ. Jesus never entered into any situation without being fully present. Even though he knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, he wept. Showing love to a person who is grieving can be very simple. You don’t need to come up with perfect words when you genuinely have none. Just tell it like it is …

I have no words.

This is awful.

This sucks.

I don’t know what to say, but I’m here.

That’s it. Just be. And let this person experiencing deep aches in every cell of their body just be. We’ve got to let the traumatized person have their feelings and sit in their grief without making them feel as if they need to comfort us.

Escaping our own thoughts and feelings by leaning into someone else’s traumatic experience is not productive for anybody. It’s not compassionate. What we’re actually doing is asking them to deal with their trauma because that makes us feel better and allows us to continue hopping on the surface of those emotional jellyfish. 

Some wounds must be left open to heal. It isn’t time for them to be closed. We have to watch and wait. Yes, healing will happen … But we have to allow the space for it.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t need us to grab our spiritual Band-Aids or come up with words when he isn’t filling our hearts with them. Sometimes, we must keep a sacred silence in order to hear the gentle whisper… I am here. I see you. Bring me all of your pain. Again and again, bring me your pain.

The Jewish have a beautiful practice called sitting Shiva. Nobody talks. Nobody tries to comfort with words or hugs or tissues. They are just achingly present with their grief. When someone dies, they literally sit with another person experiencing grief and trauma for seven days. No agenda. Just being present. 

“Your grief is as unique as your fingerprint.”

—David Kessler

Grief has no timeline. Grief cannot be explained by one thought or emotion. And grief isn’t experienced in the same way by anyone. 

“Grief is not a problem to be solved, it is an experience to be witnessed.”

—Megan Devine

Our community is grieving together. In one way or another, this tragedy feels as if it has entered our homes. So, we are linking arms and experiencing this crisis together. 

Did you know God made our bodies flood with adrenaline in a crisis? It automatically prepares us to fight or flee. So, as we sit in front of our screens taking in all the media is presenting, we’re not actually in a situation that requires us to put up our fists or run away. That leaves us antsy to do something, anything

This is not the time to make life decisions. This is the time to be intentional. Amy Alexander teaches very practical ways to direct this adrenaline. 

Direct Your Adrenaline

  • Go for a walk or run to discharge the trauma energy that is stored in our cells
  • Talk about it. If it’s mentionable, then it’s manageable.
  • When there are no words, paint or draw.
    • Draw an outline of your body and color your grief. What color is it? How big is it? Where is it sitting? How big is it?
    • Draw a container to hold your trauma. Imagine it there. Where can you store this container? You don’t have to keep your contained grief open and exposed all the time. You can function with your grief in a container.

Amy also teaches that we can give our grief “floor time.” You’re giving your grief a voice with boundaries around it. Plan a fifteen-minute time frame to give way to all of those thoughts and feelings. 

Phones + Feelings = A Recipe for Reducing Resilience

Something that none of us can deny is the role our phones play during a tragedy. We are alerted to the tragedy by our phones, we watch real-life videos of the event on our phones, we look for continual updates on our phones, and we read countless social media posts about it on our phones. 

Jenny Black points out a profound truth when it comes to trauma and our connection to phones. We go to our phones with our emotions rather than sitting with our feelings or talking about them in person. By doing this, we miss out on the powerful lesson of resilience. 

So then we’re faced with a sudden jolt of tragedy inside of a body that hasn’t been processing feelings. We’ve diminished our own resilience because we’ve distracted ourselves from what is stirring inside our hearts, minds, and bodies. 

We take our vulnerability and shove it deeper and deeper inside, plunging it into a dark corner. We ignore its need to be seen and heard. We keep our vulnerability out of the light, and we tell ourselves it’s better this way, safer. Meanwhile, our hearts remain disconnected from the feelings we refuse to encounter.

There is a disconnect. 

It’s kind of like this …

A horrific event occurs and every avenue of media is flooded with their version of the details. Every single statement or social media post comes with a backpack. Hundreds and hundreds of these tragedy backpacks are thrown at the audience.

Well, you’re in the audience. You have put yourself in the audience, and those backpacks are coming straight at you. So, what do you do? You grab your tragedy backpack and sling it over your shoulder. Three minutes later, another one comes. 

Before you know it, you are weighed down with an unmentionable amount of tragedy luggage. You can’t move. You’re stuck in front of your screen. And even though you can’t handle any more weight. You keep grabbing those backpacks without knowing what’s inside.

Meanwhile, the parents, the little brothers, the older sisters, the aunties, the best friends, cousins, and grandparents are all intimately acquainted with what they just lost. Before this tragedy, they were already carrying memories and love in their hearts for the lives that will no longer make new memories. Their grief is wrapped in context and inescapable truth.

For those people, there was no backpack to pick up and put on. The burden of grief filled a place inside of them that was touched by someone they love. 

For the rest of us, we are voluntarily picking up media trauma and wearing it when we are meant to be connecting to our own grieving hearts, responding with compassion, and recognizing that we may very well have the capacity to bear one another’s burdens. 

We cannot bear one another’s burdens the way God intends when we aren’t connected to our hearts. If we remain distracted by the words coming at us from screens, we lose sight of the only Word that brings healing, comfort, and truth in a crisis. 

The truth is we cannot fix it. We cannot make another person‘s devastation go away. And we cannot make this horrific loss okay. 

Reality gives us the option to hop around on the surface or feel the truth of its sting. Tragedy leaves its mark. Tragedy wounds. 

Let’s be a community that takes the time to recognize the wounds in our own hearts before speaking to the wounds in our neighbors. Let’s be a community that turns to the Cross rather than our phones.

Let’s be a community that learns to be present in our grief. And in this present grief, may we experience collective compassion, comfort, and grace.

Blog written by Shelby Rawson

Shelby is a local writer, ghostwriter, and editor by trade. She avidly supports the mission of The Refuge Center and its pursuit to intentionally care for the mental health of our community.

An Open Letter: “A Mother’s Grief”

I wish I didn’t have the credentials to write this letter. What I am about to write has been learned through the hardest road of my life: the road of grief over my child who died suddenly and tragically. When tragedy occurs, it stirs up a multitude of emotions in every human. Not just the ones involved in the loss. As it should. The definition of the word itself means an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress. 

Every tragedy is different. Every beautiful child and family is unique. Out of respect for each story, I am not focusing on specific tragedies. My note is to help give you insight and some understanding of how you can love me, the parent in the middle of my worst nightmare filled with such anguished grief, well. 

From my heart to yours, please remember:

*It is not helpful for you to post social media stories of how you were “so close” to the tragedy and how horrified you are about what has taken place, while you simultaneously hold your own kids in your arms and speak of how grateful you are that they are safe. I am glad your children are safe, but I was not given that privilege. Please be respectful of me and give me space. Even space on technology. Do not provide more chances for me to hear how unlucky I was from the tragedy. How the odds just must not have been in my favor. Instead, something you could do is take your kiddos and choose to play in the warm sunshine with them and make the most of the moments you have with them. I would give anything to do that with my child who is now gone.

*Keep space for grief. Especially your own grief that you feel about whatever tragedy has taken place and how it has impacted you. Please know a way you can care for me is to take care of your own self so you are better able to be a healthy, functioning member of the community. I have lost a child and need community now more than ever in my life. And not just for a week or two. But for the long haul. Sit in silence. Hear the inner thoughts. Feel the feels. Ask all of the questions. Seek help and support. Take care of yourself. When you don’t do this, you instead lean into control by fixating on the details of what went wrong in my tragedy and whispering with friends about all the new information you found out, and game-planning how you will protect yourself from anything like that happening to you. I want you to know that I hear the whispers of “can you believe?” and “I heard…” as I walk by. I see the looks of pity and “thank God it wasn’t me” eyes.  It’s not helpful, it’s hurtful. When you have taken care of yourself, you have more space to be a healthy support for me.

* Please stop saying my child is in a better place. Or that Heaven just gained an angel. To me, my child who has only known the safety and love of my arms through sleepless nights and bedtime cuddles is still best in my arms. Would you still say that phrase to yourself if it was the child we were talking about? Please stop trying to make yourself feel better about your faith by repeating coined phrases that might still hold for you but for me those words hold no weight to my current grief. Phrases like “God never gives you more than you can handle” burn rage in me. What you can do is quietly pray for me. What you can do is intercede for me to the Father that somehow, I will not succumb to the weight of doubt and pain. How a “good, good Father” has allowed my child to die while you still get to tuck yours in at night will never make sense. I know God has numbered our days. Why did my child get such a low number? The road of questions and struggles losing a child takes on a soul is a long one. And I will work those struggles out with my Maker Himself. Stop trying to mend me overnight. Please. 

*It’s ok to say nothing. Let me make this easier for you: there is nothing to say. Losing a child is the ultimate loss. In light of such extravagant loss, human language falls short. What you can do is reassure me of your presence. Rather than, “I just cannot imagine” which comes across as “so glad it wasn’t me,” you could say “I just want you to know I am here” or “I’m keeping space with you.” Which ultimately means you are just holding this sacred space of loss and you don’t have any expectations of me. It may not seem like that is doing much, but it means tremendously more to me than you know.

 * When you continuously watch the news and support the news stations who sensationally report on the tragedy please know that the released videos of the tragedy and talk of the timeline of events, gut me. They are a before and after of when my child was alive, and then gone. I wish the media would stop talking about the timeline in such a sterile, black-and-white way when the events were anything but sterile. Horrifying, traumatizing, panic-inducing, and devastating are words to describe it. If this was your child would you want them to handle the story differently? Would you want to protect those final moments of your child’s life in a way that felt honored and not splattered across the nation? And when the media interviews you about my child and I hear you talking about how you knew my child can you understand that hearing my child spoken about in the past tense is traumatizing too? That I am so shocked by the events that have just taken place that I can’t even begin to believe my child is truly gone. Their clothes are still scattered on the floor of their room. Stuffed animals still smell like their scent because they would hug them at night as they slept. Dishes from their last meal at home are still in the sink. Halfway colored coloring sheets sit on the art table. My child is still so much alive to me and it is going to take a very long time for my brain and heart to catch up with the reality that my child is not coming home. 

I am one mom in, unfortunately, a crowd of many who know the loss of a child. This is my voice. I hope you hear it full of great love, not great anger. Full of big hope and not big despair. A voice that has fought hard through the valley of the shadow of death to share my heart with you today.

Navigating and Processing Post-Covenant

Just a week removed from the devastating Covenant shooting, many are still struggling and encountering unfamiliar emotions. We are collectively left with more questions than answers and those closest to us may still be experiencing grief. This post is designed to act as a resource in helping you and those closest to you navigate and process the Covenant shooting.

How do parents explain this to children?

We encourage parents to start the conversation by asking the child what they have heard. Clarify any misinformation with facts and provide the child with age-appropriate information about the event. Highlight the helpers who were at the school providing support during and after the event. Give your child space to ask questions, and know that it is okay not to have all the answers. Ask your child how they are feeling and try to normalize their feelings. 

Remind your child that this can be an ongoing conversation and that you are there for them if they have more questions or feelings they want to talk about. Additionally, help your child to identify other adults in their life who are available to talk when they feel emotional outside of the home.

How do to help those that are personally affected, friends and neighbors?

The most important thing a person can do for those who are personally affected by the school shooting is to listen and be aware.  

  • Allow the person(s) to experience their feelings which may include fear, sadness, anger, anxiety etc.
  • Allow the person(s) to talk about how they are feeling. Don’t debate or discredit their feelings
  • Encourage those affected to take care of themselves in healthy, supported ways.
  • Realize that everyone experiences trauma differently and be empathetic to each person’s feelings, thoughts and needs.
  • Provide practical needs ie. meals, a listening ear, a walk with hurting people, or brief care for their children so that adults can have some adult processing time.
  • Remember that you have been affected by the trauma too.  Be kind to others but be kind to yourself as well.

How do we take care of ourselves when we feel helpless?

The feeling of helplessness is awful, and it is so normal in the face of an unexpected tragedy. When we notice ourselves in a moment of feeling helpless, questions we can ask are, “What would make me feel a tiny bit better right now? What would be a kind thing to do for me at this moment? Is there something that could make this feeling of helplessness a bit more bearable?” Instead of focusing on finding a solution, answer, or action step to “fix the problem,” we can turn toward ourselves with tenderness. Small things like a hug, a cup of tea, a walk, naming feelings, talking to someone, or deep breaths may be the tender kindnesses that ease our sense of helplessness a bit and/or make the moment of helplessness more bearable. The truth is, we can usually find ways to take care of ourselves, even if simple and small, and that action step is the opposite of helpless. Also, when we take care of ourselves with kindness, we step into a calmer state in which problem-solving and taking action are easier and more productive. 

How can we help others who we see struggling with mental health?

Our body, mind, and spirit respond to life circumstances all the time and our emotions, like
intrusive, unwelcome red lights on the dashboard of our cars, are the early warning system to
direct us to self-care or toward others who can help.  When tragedy occurs people experience a
the flood of their emotions which can feel overwhelming at times.  They need time, a safe place, and the presence of one or more emotionally safe people who can listen with empathy and who do not offer solutions or quick fixes.  It is very important not to interpret emotional expression as a problem that the hurting person doesn’t know how to solve.  They will know what they need to do, but they need time to process their emotions first.  Helping others with their mental health in times like this is as simple as acknowledging the emotion(s) that the other is feeling, and then respectfully reflecting that awareness.  Words like, “of course you would feel that way“, and “what hurts the most right now?”, for example, or just saying, “I don’t know what to say, but I’m just glad you told me so I can be here with you.” is all that is needed. Then, when it feels appropriate, simply ask, “what do you think you need right now?” and offer
to help with their request if you can.  Listening and reflecting on emotions is exactly what helps people move through their emotions.  And afterward, they will have a very good idea of exactly what they need to do and where they need help and they will especially appreciate your presence and allowing them to lead their healing process.

Where can we find mental health resources? (Find Hope Franklin)

Help is everywhere around us. We can start by inviting our children and teens to reach out to a trusted adult with whom they can share more about their stories and struggles. Our responsibility as adults is to attune to the needs of children and teens in our care, or other adults we know, support them mindfully, and encourage them to seek the help they need and deserve as soon as possible. If you or someone you know are struggling with mental health concerns, please know that you can find a listening ear and mindful heart at a counseling center near you. 

Some local resources include and

If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please dial 988 or text 741-741 for immediate support. There is hope for a better tomorrow and it starts today. 

Finding Your Way in the Face of Traumatic Loss

A traumatic event in our community takes our breath away. It sends us into fight, flight, or freeze. Our
minds spin trying to make sense of it all. We look for answers and reasons and don’t always get them.
We make calls and send texts and hit “refresh” on news apps, trying to gather information and
reassurance. We are devasted and gasping. We picture ourselves in the shoes of those whose lives have
been changed forever. We imagine how moments, seconds even, might have changed an outcome. We
vacillate between anger, fear, grief, denial, overwhelm, and a myriad of other emotions. We notice we
are nauseous; our shoulders and back are tight and it might feel hard to breathe. We look for signs of
hope. We turn to music, books, blogs, sermons, and anything that can help us name our pain and remind
us we are not alone.

When we are faced with sudden, life-altering, and devastating loss what we need most are the basics.
Here are a few practical suggestions for navigating the traumatic grief that our community is facing
together today:

Go on a walk. Trauma energy gets lodged in our bodies. We need to move and breathe. Waking
is a form of bilateral stimulation and that can be a healing part of our processing. It gives our
bodies a sense of agency, rather than a sense of helplessness.

Talk with someone. Call a family member, a friend, a pastor, a counselor, or a coach. Tell them
how this experience has felt to you. What it reminds you of. The fear it brings up. The questions
you have. Everything you are experiencing is important and valid and deserves to be witnessed
by another.

Attend a vigil. “The deepest healing happens in collective spaces.” (Deran Young) Grieve with
others. You are not alone. The stress hormone (cortisol) is extracted from our bodies when we
can cry and grieve in the loving presence of others.

Write. Light a candle and set aside some time to write tonight. It may be a journal entry about
what has happened and how you are feeling. It may be a letter to those who are suffering
alongside you tonight. It might be questions for God. Seeing our thoughts and feelings on
paper, in our own handwriting, has a special healing quality.

Draw. You may not be able to access words yet. That is okay. Get some crayons or colored
pencils. Draw an outline of your body on the paper. Draw where you feel your grief or your anger.
What color is it? How much space does it take up in your body? How heavy is it? If it had a
sound, what sound would it make? Draw all these things. Sometimes images allow us to process
things in ways that words cannot.

Ground yourself. Check-in with your five senses. Come back to this exact moment and notice
what you feel, taste, smell, hear, and see. Drink a large glass of cold water. Make a pot of hot
tea. Walk up and down your sidewalk with bare feet. Slowly. Mindfully. Keep breathing.

Listen to guided imagery. Here is one that could be particularly useful in the coming weeks, as
you discern where, when, how, and with whom to process your grief. Having a “container” for all
of this can be very helpful.

Click here for an example

By Amy Alexander, CEO/Therapist, The Refuge Center for Counseling