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Processing Communal Trauma

For the past three years, the community where I live has been processing trauma.

February 14, 2018, a gunman walked onto my son's high school campus, entered a building, and proceeded to randomly shoot into the classrooms where innocent teachers and students were finishing up their day of learning. But he didn't stop there. He violently fired bullets into innocent teachers and students who happened to be in the hallways and stairways unprotected.

What was left was 14 teenagers dead, three teachers dead, and 17 others with horrific gunshot wounds. Teachers and students performed triage on the dead and the wounded. Fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen-year-old students had to step over and run by dead people who were alive just moments before. At the same time, other students jumped over fences to run away from the campus out of fear of their lives.

And our community was left trying to understand what, why, and how all this could have happened in our safe, sleepy little community. We were all in shock.

Processing a communal trauma as big as the shooting is quite complicated. And there is no easy way to move through it.

As a Christian, I believe in fundamental truths about God. I know God. I know God has a plan and purpose for everything. But this trauma has been difficult to process. How do I mourn, grieve, honor, and remember the victims and their families while moving forward in my own life and with my family? How do I process seeing the trial and shooter in the media? How do I react to the anger coming not only from the victims' families but from myself? How do I advocate for my student's mental and emotional health as he attends school, while the victims' parents and spouses advocate for plaques with photos in the new replacement building? How do we tell the victims' families that we have enough reminders on campus without adding more memorials to a new building? How do we stop looking at the building where the massacre happened? They've put a decorative fence around it, but we all still know what happened in the building on February 14, 2018. Our kids still walk past it. It stands there as a reminder.

How do we move forward as other families are still left grieving? Their lives stopping while ours move forward. It's not an easy answer. I wish it were easy.

Before the shooting at our high school, all I knew about communal school shooting trauma was Columbine and Sandy Hook. But now I understand communal school shooting trauma first hand.

It's not pretty, and it doesn't go away quickly. The shooting will always be with us. It changed us.

As I've been on this three-year journey, I've learned that each one of us in the community needs time and space to process the trauma at our own individual pace. We need to give each other grace and compassion to heal. We need to celebrate each other's victories and support each other in the individual setbacks. We need to see the kids who still jump and dive for cover when they hear firecrackers or sirens. We need to be aware of each other's triggers and reactions while moving forward.

Our community is diverse. There's no one right way to process trauma -- except to acknowledge it instead of running from it.

Friends, I have no idea where you live or who is reading this post. It's my prayer that you will find a community and support system to help you process any trauma you might have experienced in your life. If you want more individual help, seek out NAMI or a local mental health provider specializing in trauma near you.

And if you are looking for a spiritual connection, I pray you seek out God. There is a promise: If you seek God, you will find him. I pray you seek and find what you need to help you process your trauma.

Love to all of you,

The Small Town Girl.

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