December 14, 2012
Even when tragedy strikes on the other side of the country, ripples are felt in Colorado.
Distant tragedy, trauma and death can trigger the same reactions as if they were personal experiences, said Kate Holbrook, Colorado College chaplain. The deadly school shooting Friday in Connecticut can remind people of traumas in their own life, she said, renewing grief and other emotions.
It also triggers questions, and can make people feel as if their life is out of their control.
“Everyone reacts differently,” Holbrook said. Some people will be sad or angry, some a mix of the two, she said.
Soon after such an event, many experience disbelief, she said, adding that people are still processing the news.
“There’s a full spectrum of response,” Holbrook said.
The mass shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 and at an Aurora movie theater this summer mean some people may be hit even harder by the Connecticut tragedy, especially if they have close ties to the Colorado shootings, counselors said.
“It’s kind of like PTSD. Whatever the stresser is, that kicks in again. You do have to relive it and reprocess it again,” said Marlene Bizub, a therapist and counselor in Colorado Springs that worked on a response team at a Colorado Springs church after the Columbine tragedy. “There is a certain amount of stress that you will have again.”
Constant attention to the mass shooting tragedy isn’t healthy, counselors said.
However, having outlets such as Facebook and twitter can be therapeutic, Bizub said.
“That’s just what I would call collective grief,” Bizub said. “Whatever it is you need to do, that’s much better than just sitting there and bottling up whatever is bothering them.”
The reactions and stress applies to kids too, especially since this tragedy happened in a school.
Kids will hear adults talking about it, see it on television, and possible see bits and pieces about it online, said Jordan Voltz, school counselor at Frontier Elementary School in Academy School District 20. Kids also notice how adults react emotionally.
“They soak it up like a sponge,” she said. “You might not think about having a conversation with kids about it, and that can create a larger fear.”
Families with kids must find a balance, she said. Parents need to know how much is appropriate for their kids depending on age, and they need to put it in perspective and make it clear that shootings on such a scale are not common, and that schools have safety measures in place.
“There is a fear in the community,” Voltz said. That’s part of the fallout from such a tragedy.
“We’re all processing it,” she said.
Educators and parents need time to deal with what are very natural worries. She said the overall reaction will be more telling as kids return to school on Monday.
Parents also need to check back with their kids, and pay attention to any significant change in behavior.
“That’s always good advice,” Voltz said. “They’re not always verbalizing what they are worried about.”
Some advice is for adults and kids, Bizub said.
“Encourage them to talk. Talk about it. Cry about it. Whatever you need to do.”
Gazette Reporter Matt Steiner contributed to this report.
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